Libraries push back against publishing house decision to limit their access to e-books

Librarians are upset and banding together following a recent decision by a major publishing house to limit their access to e-books.

Beginning Nov. 1, Macmillan Publishers, one of the so-called Big Five publishing companies in North America, will only allow libraries to purchase one copy of each new e-book for the first eight weeks after it has been released.

Librarians who say the decision is unfair to readers are campaigning against it.  

“Don’t treat us like an adversary, we’re a stakeholder,” said Ignacio Albarracin, public service manager of the Prince George Library, in an interview on CBC’s Daybreak North.

Albarracin said the company is restricting sales because it thinks it will be good for their bottom line, but  libraries are a primary customer for publishing houses and would buy more e-books if pricing and licensing terms were better, he said.

‘We nurture a culture of readers, so I think we definitely put back into the marketplace more than we put out,” said Albarracin.

In a letter from Macmillan Publishers CEO John Sargent to Macmillan authors, illustrators and agents, Sargent says the company is responding to growing fears that library lending was “cannibalizing sales.” He writes the new terms are designed to protect the value of the author’s work.

‘A lot of frustration’

According to Albarracin, retail e-book sales have started to level off but are dramatically increasing at libraries. He said demand has grown in Prince George, and more than 65 libraries in North America have reached a yearly e-book circulation of at least one million.

“It doesn’t matter the size of the library, if you’re the Toronto Library or you’re the Prince George Library. Now, you have one copy for all of your readers so it leads to a lot of frustration,” said Albarracin.

All the Big 5 publishers, which include Harper Collins, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, have already moved away from a perpetual ownership model, which allowed libraries to keep e-books in circulation permanently. Now, they employ various short-term options with access to books expiring after a few years or following a set number of loans to library users.

The Canadian Urban Libraries Council, which represents more than 40 libraries across the country, is co-ordinating with the American Library Association and the Urban Libraries Council in the United States in an effort to encourage publishing companies to work with libraries to come up with solutions that balance everyone’s needs.

The American Library Association has launched an online campaign to try and stop Macmillan’s embargo.

Albarracin said he is concerned about the domino effect of Macmillan’s decision and that smaller publishing houses will follow the company’s lead. If attempts by the library industry to convince the publisher to reverse its decision are unsuccessful, he hopes the public will pressure elected officials to get involved.

To hear the complete interview with Ignacio Albarracin on Daybreak North, tap on the audio link below: 

Ignacio Albarracin, public service manager of the Prince George Library, on Macmillan Publishing’s decision to restrict e-book sales to public libraries in an effort to protect author profits. 7:25