Libraries on the Front Lines: What You Need to Know About Changes to Your Ebooks

August 14, 2019

In the beginning, when libraries around the world started buying and circulating ebooks for the very first time, publishers were concerned. Very concerned. Suddenly the old lending models didn’t seem to apply anymore. Why should libraries be allowed to circulate digital titles, books that will never show wear and tear after multiple uses, without needing to buy replacement copies? With that in mind, publishers instituted “metered copies”. Essentially, a library buys an electronic book or audiobook, and then after a designated amount of time it “expires” and they have to buy another one to replace it. Publishers argue that this is only fair and that this books ebooks on the same level as their print equivalents. Libraries would disagree. After all, often times a “metered” copy circulates only 20 or 30 times. We have books on our shelves in decent condition that have gone out twice as long.

This all came to a head in the last few months when several of the large publishers of digital content decided to scale library accessibility. Hachette Book Group and Simon & Schuster became the first of the Big Five publishers to meter digital audio purchases in libraries. Now digital audio licenses from these two publishers will now expire after 24 months. Why was this done? Well, it certainly wasn’t because of poor sales. Digital audio sales have shown double digit growth in the last six years with no change in sight. Clearly libraries have been helping to expose people to audio titles that have been sold to new customers later. Tell that to the publishers, though.

The most egregious changes, however, have come from Macmillan and Recorded Books. Macmillan’s are amongst most extreme. In a new policy to embargo new titles for library lending, libraries everywhere (no matter how large or small) will only be permitted to purchase one (1) copy of each title for the first 8 weeks. You heard that right. No matter how big the book, we’ll only have one e-copy for the first few months of publication. Macmillan CEO John Sargent wrote an explanation to Macmillan authors, illustrators, and agents explaining that they ran a test of Tor e-titles in libraries and sales were low. However, when this research was challenged by the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Sargent “declined to be more specific” on the details of this study. Overdrive (the company that provides many of our e-titles and the Libby app) CEO and founder Steve Potash delivered a scathing indictment of this change in a piece called “Macmillan Publishes a Work of Fiction“. If you have five minutes to spare, I highly recommend that you Google it.

Meanwhile, the company Blackstone has offered its own embargo. Libraries must now wait to purchase an undetermined number of their eAudiobooks for 90 days after the books have been released to the public. They hope that library patrons will not wish to wait 90 days to borrow the book, and will buy the book privately instead. This move has angered libraries so much that it has inspired a widespread Blackstone boycott by nationwide library systems. Evanston Public Library has not joined the boycott as of this time.

Big changes are afoot and where this will all fall out, we don’t know. Please be aware, however, that we will do our utmost to bring you the titles you want and love, regardless of the restrictions placed on us in the future.

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