Monday Musings: Are Big Publishing Companies Anti-Library?

Summer Sale!! During the month of July, all my books and stories will be on sale at SmashwordsThree, including the first two stories in my urban fantasy series, The Yo-Yo Files, are free. My short fantasy collection is half off, as is my latest sci-fi novel, Two’s Company. My first novel, Circle Unbroken, is at even more of a discount. Ebooks are available in many formats. The sale begins July 1 and ends July 31. I hope you find something that interests you, and please tell your friends.

This article was brought to my attention recently:

After Tor Experiment, MacMillan Expands Embargo on Library E-books

It’s long, but has a lot of good information. In a nutshell, the article says that as of November 1, MacMillan will expand its embargo on e-books purchased by libraries to cover all of their new releases. Libraries will be able to purchase only one perpetual access e-book in the first 8 weeks of a book’s release. After that, they will go to a metered model, where prices will be lower but the license for the book expires after a certain period of time or a certain number of lendings. Many of the other Big Five have moved to a metered only scenario, which has the advantage of lowering the initial cost of an e-book. MacMillan is the only one that has instituted an embargo on new titles. All of the other Big Five publishers are making new releases available immediately.  MacMillan’s claim is that the experimental embargo they imposed on just their Tor imprint about a year ago proved that library’s lending of e-books impacted their profits and this embargo will protect that and their authors. The claim is also that this system will protect libraries’ mission to provide access to information and entertainment to everyone.

Well, I don’t know. The publishing companies claim that allowing libraries to purchase multiple copies of e-books is turning readers away from purchasing to only wanting to read for free. I use the library to borrow e-books, but it hasn’t stopped me from buying books, either. One look at my owned-but-not-yet-read lists will tell you that. I suspect that what may happen in my case is that it will keep me from buying some books that I might have otherwise. I often will read a new to me author’s book by borrowing from the library, and if I like it, I will then go on to buy more of their work. With this one copy only system, if I go to check out a new and popular book and see one copy in circulation with a gods know how many week waiting period, I will likely move on to something else. By the time that book is down to a reasonable wait time, I will probably have another dozen on my radar, and that one may never get read. Which also means I will not be buying other titles by that author. I have a sneaky suspicion this will be a common occurrence. I know many people who do things the way I do. And that, Big Five, is not going to help your profits, either.

The other part of this that is disturbing is that this model does not protect libraries’ prime mission: to make books and information available to everyone, regardless of whether or not they can pay for it. Kids are going to be hurt by this, I think. When I was a kid, I would check out armloads of books from the library, fiction, non-fiction, history, all sorts of things. My parents could never have bought all those books. I doubt I would be the reader I am today if not for the library having lots and lots of books of all sorts. And many readers, young and old, use e-readers for the convenience. I know older readers who like the fact that the e-reader is lighter in weight than a book. Kids have electronic everything these days and if they can carry books along with them on their devices they might just read more. If the books they want to read aren’t available for those e-readers they won’t get read.

Why only e-books? Libraries’ ability to purchase and lend physical materials (such as hardcovers and paperbacks) is protected by law. There is no such protection for digital materials and so libraries are left with having to agree to whatever terms the publisher sets out.  And that puts libraries at a crossroads: it’s becoming expensive to maintain a good selection of digital and audio materials at the same time consumer demand is rising.

In the long run, I think policies like this are going to hurt. And hurt everyone. I suspect publishers won’t see a huge increase in e-book purchases. People who want to read books but can’t buy are going to lose out. Authors who may have found new readers because of a library book are going to miss those people. And people who might become regular readers may not bother because of the lack of books that are readily available or have unreasonably long wait periods. There must be a better solution.

Some further reading:

Libraries Must Draw the Line on E-books

Penguin Random House Changes Library E-book Lending Terms

65 Libraries Reach 1 Million Checkouts in 2018

Do you borrow e-books from your library? What do you think about this change in MacMillan’s policy? Will it hurt the company? Libraries? Consumers?