After years of relatively little change in the library e-book market, there has finally been some movement—unfortunately, librarians say, it is movement in the wrong direction. Leading Sci-Fi publisher Tor Books, a division of Macmillan, has announced that, beginning with July 2018 titles, newly released e-books, will be no longer be available to libraries for lending until four months after their retail on sale date.
In a statement to libraries through their vendors, Macmillan officials said the new embargo was part of "a test program" (although an “open ended” test, the release states) to assess the impact of library e-book lending on retail sales. But the statement goes on to say that the publisher's “current analysis on eLending indicates that it is having a direct and adverse impact on retail eBook sales," and that Tor will work with library vendors to “develop ongoing terms that will best support Tor’s authors, their agents, and Tor’s channel partners.”
In a statement to PW on Wednesday, Macmillan officials confirmed the change to their library terms, but stressed again that the move was part of a "pilot," and softened its previous statement to libraries that directly connected e-book lending to a drop in Tor's retail e-book sales.
"We have been seeing an adverse impact on our e-book sales over a period of time," Macmillan executives told PW, "and are using this test to determine if library e-book lending is one of the contributing factors."
The publisher told PW that there are no plans "at the moment" to add other divisions to the pilot, and that they will run the test "until we have enough data to judge the efficacy of the program and its impact on our retail sales."
Since 2014, like all the Big Five publishers, Macmillan has made its full catalog of e-book titles available to libraries for lending.
In a post on its website, ReadersFirst, a coalition of some 300 libraries dedicated to improving e-book access and services for public library users, called the move a "giant leap backwards" for libraries, and disputed the idea that library e-book lending is hurting Tor's retail e-book sales. The post said ReadersFirst members are considering "different courses of action" in response, and encouraged librarians and library patrons to email Macmillan reps with their feedback.
Notably, after years of relative stability in the library e-book market and improved relations between publishers and libraries, the move caught librarians by surprise.
"You could have expressed your worry about lost revenue, offered us evidence, and engaged us in dialogue about solutions,” reads a communication directed to Tor officials on the ReadersFirst site. “Instead, you chose with no advance notice to disadvantage our readers, many of whom discover your products through libraries.”
Michael Blackwell, director of St Mary's County Library (Maryland), and a ReadersFirst member, told PW he was disappointed that Tor officials chose not to discuss any concerns with librarians ahead of the move. Just weeks ago, he notes, there was a major "summit" around digital content held at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, which Blackwell says Macmillan reps were invited to, but did not attend.
Tor’s surprise move also suggests there may be something of a communication void reemerging between libraries and publishers since the ALA’s Digital Content Working Group (DCWG) officially ceased last year, following the expiration of its six year charter. Formed in 2011, The ALA DCWG was credited by many with helping to break the initial impasse over library e-book lending in 2012, and its lasting achievement, according to librarians and publishers, was said to be the establishment of a communication channel between library leaders and publishing executives.
Meanwhile, despite pulling back on its e-book lending, Macmillan officials also offered libraries a ray of hope, announcing that the publisher will participate in the recently launched Panorama Project. With initial funding provided by OverDrive, the Panorama Project is designed to track key digital and print data to gain insight into how libraries, publishers, booksellers, and distributors work together to impact book discovery, author brand development, and impact sales.
"With data from both programs, we will be in a better position to analyze and understand the impact of eLending on our publishing program," Macmillan officials said.
In her June PW column, Sari Feldman, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, a former co-chair of the ALA DCWG and now an advisor to the Panorama Project, wrote about the challenges facing libraries in the digital marketplace going forward, and how the next phase of the digital discussion between libraries and publishers will be data-driven.
"I believe that collecting and sharing data and analytics is critical to defining the value libraries can deliver," she wrote, "and can help tell a more complete story about the potential in library market."
Update: On July 19, American Library Association president Loida Garcia-Febo issued the following statement:
“The American Library Association and our members have worked diligently to increase access to and exposure for the widest range of e-books and authors. Over years, ALA made great strides in working with publishers and distributors to better serve readers with increasingly robust digital collections. We remain committed to a vibrant and accessible reading ecosystem for all.
I am dismayed now to see Tor bring forward a tired and unproven claim of library lending adversely affecting sales. This move undermines our shared commitment to readers and writers—particularly with no advance notice or discussion with libraries. In fact, Macmillan references its involvement with the Panorama Project, which is a large-scale, data-driven research project focused on understanding the impact of library holdings on book discovery, author brand development, and sales. For this reason, this change by Tor—literally on the heels of Panorama’s launch—is particularly unexpected and unwelcome.
"The ALA calls for Macmillan to move just as quickly to reverse its course and immediately lift the embargo while the Panorama Project does its work.”