And then there was one. After Penguin announced this week that it was pulling its frontlist e-book titles from libraries and disabling all Kindle library lends, Random House remains the only “Big Six” publisher to embrace library sales of e-book editions. But with the e-book market changing, and discord over Amazon’s recent moves in the marketplace simmering, is the company reconsidering its position?
In a brief statement, Random House officials said that for now the company was "maintaining its current policy regarding digital library sales," but added it is “actively reviewing” that position. Asked if that meant changes were under discussion, Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum told PW it would be “inappropriate and premature” to infer that the company’s review of its policy meant a change was coming. “We regularly review our sales practices and policies for all channels,” Applebaum noted, adding that the company was engaged “in internal and also external discussion with our partners."
At a libary panel at Digital Book World earlier this year, and reiterated at a Tools of Change panel a month later, Random House v-p, director of account marketing Ruth Liebmann described Random House's position on libraries: “A library book does not compete with a sale,” Liebmann said. “A library book is a sale.” Liebmann acknowledged that libraries' economic power is in “the same ballpark as indie bookstores.” And, they “never send books back." She added that Random House's goal was to have books available in libraries at the same time and in the same format they are available in retail.
The library e-book landscape is evolving rapidly, however, spurred by the September launch of OverDrive’s library lending program for the Kindle. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the already growing popularity of library e-books has surged dramatically since the Overdrive/Kindle library lending program launched weeks ago, stoking fears among some publishers that the program could cut into sales.
Librarians, however, counter that library e-books fuel sales, not only as a direct sales channel but in promoting authors and reading, a position that appears to be bolstered by a recent study published by Library Journal. "Our data shows that over 50% of all library users reported purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library,” Library Journal executive editor Rebecca Miller told PW, and noting that libraries are "an active partner with the publishing industry in building the book market, not to mention the burgeoning e-book market.”
Of the "Big Six" publishers, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not sell e-books to libraries. Hachette no longer sells frontlist e-book editions to libraries. And HarperCollins drew the ire of librarians in March when it capped the number of library e-book lends at 26 before the title must be re-purchased. HarperCollins has since mended its image somewhat by at least engaging the library community on its policy.
Meanwhile, Penguin's abrupt decision to suspend library sales of frontlist titles in e-book format, as well as the way it communicated that change, citing unexplained "new security concerns," while assuring librarians they could still buy print books, is yet another sign that despite considerable talk of librarians and publishers coming together to work out solutions, the tension over digtial content is in fact escalating. In 2011 alone, two major publishers have scaled back their policies on library e-books; the Authors Guild is suing university libraries over its plan to digitize out-of-print and orphan works for use in an educational setting; and three publishers, backed by the AAP, went to trial in Atlanta over Georgia State University's use of e-reserves.