Posted September 25, 2019
Earlier this year, several major publishers altered their digital lending models to public libraries, some drastically limiting patron access to newly-released titles. The Reading Library District, comprised of Berks County Public Libraries member libraries and the Wyomissing Public Library, have collectively decided to join the national movement to boycott these and other publishers to protest the recent restrictions placed upon public libraries.
Beginning September 30 and lasting for at least six months, public libraries part of the Reading Library District will boycott eAudiobooks from the following publishers: Macmillan, Blackstone Audio, Hachette Book Group, and Simon & Schuster.
How Publisher Restrictions Affect Public Libraries and Patrons
John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Publishing, announced in July that they would be instating an 8-week embargo on eBooks for public libraries. One copy of new releases in digital formats would be made available for libraries to purchase followed by a two-month embargo on purchasing additional copies. The one-copy restriction applies to library systems as well. Sargent cited the reasoning behind this change was due to the “growing fears that library lending was cannibalizing sales.”
The current purchase-to-holds ratio for Berks libraries is approximately 14:1, meaning that when the number of holds on a newly-released digital title exceeds 14, another copy is often purchased for the collection. Presently, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens currently has 120 active holds on 14 copies. Limiting entire library systems to a single copy would increase hold times to years.
By restricting library offerings to just a single electronic copy, library patrons have two choices: wait on an exponentially growing holds list or purchase the eBook copy for themselves. Macmillan is hoping patrons will grow frustrated with the long hold times and purchase their own copies.
Similar to Macmillan, Blackstone Audio enacted their own embargo for public libraries where select titles would not be available for purchase until 90 days after they are released.
Two other publishers have also made recent changes to library lending models for eBooks and eAudiobooks. Hachette Book Group and Simon & Schuster have revoked their perpetual (permanent) ownership model to a two-year expiration. Previously, any book purchased would have been permanently available for patrons. The new model gives titles a two-year shelf life before removing them from the library’s digital collection.
While Hachette and Simon & Schuster have not placed embargos on library sales, their shift in lending models is especially concerning as libraries currently pay almost five times the consumer price ($39.99-$79.99) per copy for an eBook or eAudiobook, which would now need to be repurchased after 24 months to stay in the collection.
Limiting access to new titles for libraries means limiting access for patrons most dependent on libraries.
—American Library Association President Wanda Brown
How will this affect Berks County patrons?
From September 30, 2019, to March 30, 2020, libraries of the Reading Library District will boycott eAudiobook titles from the following publishers: Blackstone Audio, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster. Libraries will continue to make sure patrons can access titles by authors under these publishers by purchasing print books, eBooks, and audio CD's. Newly released eAudiobooks from these four publishers will not be available until after the conclusion of the boycott.
In a report showing circulation counts on OverDrive from purchases within the last year, 57% of all eAudiobook circulation were from titles by Blackstone Audio, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster.
What can the public do to help?
Anyone interested in helping can send comments to publishers through email or social media - the more times they hear the message that library patrons deserve equal access to content the more likely they will listen!
Additionally, the American Library Association (ALA) has launched a petition for Macmillan to end its embargo. You can sign the petition by clicking here and share your support on social media with the hashtag #eBooksforAll.