Breaking Down the Changes to E-Content in Your Local Libraries: What You Need to Know
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 puts 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 back on 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 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 the most extreme. In a 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 (a Macmillan imprint) e-titles in libraries and found that those titles’ 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“.
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.
Big changes are afoot and where this will all fall out, we don’t know. Please be aware, however, that your local library will usually do its utmost to bring you the titles you want and love, regardless of the restrictions placed on us in the future.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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