There is a major change happening among the largest book publishers that will have a very negative impact on library users. One recent decision by Macmillan Publishers has not just sent ripples or waves through the library community – but more like a tsunami of concern.
Earlier this summer, Macmillan announced that it would be making a significant change in the way it prices and licenses eBooks for libraries, limiting the number of newly released eBooks that libraries could obtain. Much of their reasoning and justification for this is questionable at best. Understandably, publishers are in business to make money, but Macmillan is thinking about short-term earnings and not considering the long-term impact. Also, many publishers do not realize how libraries actually create the market for their product. At least one author has told me that the library is her greatest supporter (hosting events and promoting her work) and that if publishers really wanted to help her, they should go after the people illegally downloading her titles – not libraries.
Over the past several years, publishers have created pricing models for libraries that are several times higher than the price they charge other consumers. Some publishers are even creating embargoes that prevent libraries from buying certain books when they become available. In other markets, this might be considered an anti-competitive commercial practice. Other than items restricted for health and safety reasons, it’s rare for a company to flat-out refuse to sell their product to someone who is willing to pay for it.
These new regulations will create a negative library experience for customers. Library staff across the country work very hard to provide a great customer experience, and these publishers’ actions will not only significantly limit consumer access to materials (something which libraries have worked for years to expand, promoting the idea that all citizens deserve access to information, regardless of financial status), but it will also harm the relationship between customers and their local libraries, eroding all this hard work.
If publishers won’t sell to libraries, it will create long queues of people waiting for weeks or months to read a book. It will frustrate library customers – rightfully so – and seem as if libraries are not meeting their customers’ needs. Libraries take their responsibility to spend the revenue citizens entrust to them very seriously, making it all the more difficult to justify buying the same content in multiple formats when one format, in particular, costs several times more than another. This means that ultimately some libraries may have to re-evaluate their commitment to downloadable formats.
This is not what any library wants to do. Access is the library’s mission. That said, these publishers’ policies are forcing libraries to make hard choices. If you would like to continue to have great content in downloadable formats from libraries, you can help. We encourage you to sign the online petition at ebooksforall.org. You can also contact your legislators in Washington, D.C., and your state attorney general and ask them to look into the trade practices of the publishing industry, specifically why publishers are placing public libraries in an unfair purchasing position.