On July 25, Macmillan Publishing announced it would become the only major (Big 5) publisher to limit eBook lending for U.S. libraries. Under its new licensing model, scheduled to begin November 1, 2019, a library or library system may purchase one “perpetual access” copy upon release of a new title in eBook format $30, after which the publisher will impose an eight-week embargo on additional, temporary license copies of that title sold to libraries ($60 for 2 years).
American Library Association (ALA) President Wanda Brown asserted that same day, “Macmillan Publishers’ new model for library eBook lending will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all. Macmillan’s new policy is unacceptable.”
Public Library Association (PLA) President Ramiro Salazar stated, “Access to digital content in libraries is more than a financial issue: it is an equity issue. We encourage Macmillan Publishers to reverse course before libraries and the people they serve are harmed.”
The New Hampshire Library Association (NHLA) Executive Board joins the ALA and the PLA in denouncing this measure and calling for Macmillan Publishing to cancel the embargo and restore full access to its complete eBook catalog upon release to the public.
While dire predictions of the book’s demise have been incorrect and many library users still prefer print items, millions of people now use digital content as their preferred or only access to books, music, and movies. Digital content is portable, accessible to people with print disabilities, available anywhere 24/7, and brokered by libraries to provide diverse options to our diverse communities. Often, those awaiting a new title are already frustrated by the wait because the cost connected with digital content may mean fewer copies can be obtained.
While many library users currently wait quite a while for eBooks, if library systems are limited to purchasing only one e-book of a title for the entire system, the wait times for popular books will be astronomical. Such is the case with the New Hampshire Overdrive consortium, for instance, which serves libraries throughout the state. Library users may not be aware of the different pricing and licensing models that publishers impose on libraries for digital content versus physical books. While the purchase price paid by a library may be similar to the price paid by an individual and the library owns that book for as long as it lasts, digital “purchases” are actually licenses and they may have a date limit or a limited number of uses before the item is removed from a collection unless the library pays for it again.
Libraries not only pay for books; they market them. Lost marketing means lost publicity and sales for publishers and authors. But libraries must use taxpayer funds in a responsible manner and will weigh how best to serve library users against the prices and practices of publishers. Currently libraries may pay as much as three times the price an individual pays for digital
content, which limits how many materials a library can add to its collections. More restrictions and higher prices mean that libraries may need to limit the number of titles they can purchase from some publishers or in some formats, which does not serve library users appropriately.
The Executive Board further affirms the principles that:
- All published works must be available for libraries to purchase and lend to library users.
- Access to and use of eBooks must equitably balance the rights and privileges of readers, authors and publishers.
- Digital content must be accessible to all people, regardless of physical or reading disability.
- Library patrons must be able to access digital content on the device of their choosing.
- Reading records must remain private in the digital age.
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