When Publishers Restrict Ebooks, We All Lose

by Hannah on 2019-11-01 12:00:00

You may enjoy reading ebooks from the library on your Kindle, or listening to digital audiobooks in the car, but have you ever wondered how the library is able to lend them out?

It's pretty simple - just like physical books, the library buys individual, digital "copies" of each ebook and eaudiobook. If you have a library card, you can log in to the Wisconsin Digital Library's Overdrive portal - click here - or download the Libby app here, sign in with your library card number and PIN, and browse the items we have available. 

West Bend library patrons are able to access so many different items because of our membership in the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC). This consortium was formed in 2001 as an organization in Wisconsin where library systems could pool their resources to serve more users, and to serve them better.  The most popular service the consortium has developed is the Wisconsin Digital Library, which is available to all Wisconsin residents with a public library card.  The digital library provides access for library patrons to digital audio and ebooks as well as other e-content on a wide range of subjects. 

This makes access to ebooks and eaudiobooks really easy, for the most part. Check out a book, send it and/or download it to your device, and off you go. Digital checkouts are great because it's impossible to lose or damage the item and, since they automatically disappear when they're due, there's no way to incur late fees. 

One inconvenient thing about digital library books, though, can be the wait times. Because individual libraries (and the Consortium) have to buy individual "copies" of digital books, digital holds work just like regular holds, where you wait in line for copies to be returned. One major publisher, Macmillan, is about to make that process even more painful for ebook readers. 

Macmillan is one of the “Big 5” book publishers in the United States, and publishes works by many best-selling authors, including Stephen King and Nora Roberts. The company has decided to severely limit the number of ebook copies that libraries are able to purchase in the first eight weeks after a title’s publication. This is called an “embargo.” After this embargo period, libraries will be able to provide full access to these titles, but at increased prices. 

Unfortunately for Wisconsin's Digital Library patrons, this means there will be extremely limited access to Macmillan titles the first eight weeks after publication. We will be allowed to purchase 16 copies of any title for the entire state.  Assuming two-week lending periods, only 84 patrons in the entire state of Wisconsin will have the opportunity to read these titles during the first eight weeks.

Because of this, hold times for Macmillan titles will increase. Because there will be more unmet demand from the first eight weeks of publication, hold lines will be longer unless the Wisconsin Digital Library chooses to purchase many more copies of Macmillan titles. The Digital Library - like all libraries - is on a budget, and has stated it is unlikely to choose to spend more of that taxpayer money with Macmillan, given their unfriendly policies toward libraries. Wisconsin's Digital Library would prefer to invest money with publishers that support libraries and library patrons, and may be making purchasing choices to redirect money away from Macmillan. 

But don't worry, all is not lost! The American Library Association (ALA) has a petition that you can sign to tell Macmillan you don’t agree with their new policy. Visit ebooksforall.org to sign the petition and learn more.