Books · Publishing

E-Book Drama

I love libraries. Growing up, I spent hours in my local libraries, roaming the aisles between the shelves, inhaling that comfortable old-book smell, pulling titles that caught my eye. I researched school papers (this was before the internet, of course) and topics for stories I wanted to write. I learned how to read the Dewey Decimal System and discovered so many new ideas. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t go to the library as often as I used to. Partly because I like to own books, physical copies, and also because the internet is so damn convenient for research.

But libraries still play an important role in our society. It’s a repository of human knowledge, or art and ideas. Kids can still attend story time, people on fixed incomes can access books and newspapers they otherwise couldn’t afford. It’s a valuable resource for the community.

So I was disappointed to read that Macmillan Publishers is making it harder for libraries to access e-books. It’s interesting to note that in many communities, e-book checkouts are outnumbering physical books on loan. Despite this, or maybe because of it, Macmillan is tightening the reins on library access to non-physical books.

A post on the Toledo Lucas County Public Library blog describes the situation they’re having to deal with. Macmillan is now delaying library access to e-books for two months after release. Physical copies are available immediately.

According to the blog post, TLCPL spent $345,505 on e-books, up 25% over the past four years. That’s a lot of money, but apparently not enough for Macmillan.

The blog points out just how badly libraries are treated in regards to e-book costs. One of the examples they give is a book titled “Summer of ‘69”, which lists at Amazon for $15.40 for hardback, $14.99 for Kindle. The library, however, pays $65 for a digital copy. What?

Not only that, but the license for the e-book copy expires after two years. Double what?

And to clarify one thing, buying a digital copy does not mean the library has “unlimited copies” of the book. That’s $65 for one copy, one license. One. That’s insane.

I’m not trying to bad-mouth Macmillan here. I’m sure they have some reasoning behind this, but to me it doesn’t make sense. As I noted above, libraries often serve the less-privileged members of our communities. These are people who want to read, want to learn, want to discover new ideas. It seems that Macmillan assumes if the library customers can’t get the e-book on loan, they’ll just go out and buy it. People living on a fixed income or paycheck to paycheck and rely on lending libraries are not going to suddenly log into their Amazon accounts and buy a copy.

If you feel as strongly about this as I do, please contact your local library and ask them what you can do to help. Maybe enough angry writers voicing their disapproval will make publishers reconsider how they are treating libraries.

It shouldn’t be about the bottom line, it should be about access to education and ideas.



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