Publisher’s Policy Change May Bring Longer Waits for New E-Book Checkouts

Last modified: 
Friday, November 1, 2019

A heads-up to lovers of books by Nora Roberts, Liane Moriarty, and other select authors: You might see increased Library wait times for their newly released e-books.

Here at the Kansas City Public Library and nationwide.

Beginning Friday, November 1, 2019, Macmillan Publishers is limiting libraries’ access to new titles, allowing them to acquire and offer just one e-book version in the first eight weeks after a book’s release. We can and will offer additional copies after those eight weeks – as we’re able to do now – though our cost per copy usually is several times higher than what consumers pay.

We’re not happy with the new Macmillan policy, and we’re not alone. It has drawn widespread criticism from the library world. Our director, Crosby Kemper III, has joined Sean Casserly of the Johnson County Library and Steve Potter of the Mid-Continent Public Library in asking members of the community to join in “protesting these actions to limit the availability of e-books, most notably to those in our community who are poor and rely on free access through their libraries.”

The American Library Association is waging a national advocacy campaign, including a petition citing the mission of libraries to ensure that all people have access to the world's knowledge, regardless of format. Some libraries, including Seattle’s King County Library System, which leads the nation in digital lending, and the Nashville Public Library, are boycotting new Macmillan e-books.

Macmillan argues that library checkouts are eating into digital sales, discouraging readers from purchasing e-books themselves.

“Over time,” Kemper says, “we expect that libraries, readers, authors, and publishers will work this out. In the meantime, Macmillan’s restrictions on libraries’ access to new books is harmful.

“Yes, there is a small core of well-to-do readers who take advantage of library access by checking out books for free. But for libraries, especially in urban areas, it is equally true that the most important and coveted service we provide is access to literature – particularly for younger readers who can’t afford the cost of books, be they printed or digital.”

Macmillan’s new policy, Kemper says, "may yield a handful of customers who’ll buy books in the absence of immediate access at the library. But the publisher is sacrificing a much, much larger number of readers and potential customers who won’t be able to access its books in libraries, who also won’t be introduced and drawn to its lineup of authors and many other titles.”

Libraries have long struggled with complicated terms and high prices for e-books. What once were lifetime purchases have been whittled to two-year or other limited-term licenses by Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, and Hachette as well as Macmillan. Licensing costs can be as much as four times higher than single-copy prices for consumers.

No other publisher, as yet, has joined Macmillan in the eight-week, single-copy embargo for new releases. In addition to Roberts and Moriarty, its lineup of authors includes the likes of Louise Penny, Kristin Hannah, and Jonathan Franzen.

The Kansas City Public Library has chosen, for now, to keep their newest works and those by other Macmillan authors as available to patrons as it can, and so it has not joined the growing boycott of Macmillan e-books.

E-books and other digital materials are increasingly popular, accounting for more than a third of all checkouts from the Kansas City Public Library in 2018-19 – nearly 690,000 of the total of 1.9 million. That’s a nearly 10-percent jump from the previous year.

For more reading on the Macmillan policy change and reactions to it:

https://overdrivesteve.com/macmillan-publishes-a-work-of-fiction/

https://www.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/pa78wv/one-of-americas-largest-publishers-is-screwing-over-libraries?__twitter_impression=true

https://www.timesnewspapers.com/webster-kirkwoodtimes/limitations-on-ebooks-to-area-public-libraries/article_be68c046-f668-11e9-8aa9-d76376ae11e6.html

http://www.kake.com/story/41115733/major-publisher-puts-sharp-limits-on-libraries-lending-new-ebooks 

https://www.toledoblade.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/2019/10/14/join-library-effort-for-ebook-access/stories/20191014017

https://katu.com/news/following-the-money/multnomah-county-library-in-the-fight-with-publishers-over-price-of-ebooks

https://www.kentreporter.com/news/kcls-boycotts-macmillan-publishers-ebook-embargo/

http://liherald.com/stories/library-joins-battle-against-global-publisher,118984