Librarians are making a direct plea to Macmillan CEO John Sargent: please listen to your readers and abandon plans to embargo new release e-books in libraries. That was the appeal delivered at an American Library Association press conference on September 11, held at the Nashville Public Library, coinciding with this week’s Digital Book World Conference.
“ALA’s goal is to send a clear message to Macmillan CEO John Sargent,” said ALA executive director Mary Ghikas, while announcing the launch of a new national library e-book advocacy campaign. “E-book access should be neither denied nor delayed. Our members are telling us their patrons want an easy way to join this movement and demand e-book access for all. We heard them, and today’s launch is the beginning of a public advocacy campaign in support of that. Libraries have millions of allies out there. And we’re inviting them to take action.”
So far, that action includes two rather modest initiatives, unveiled on Wednesday. One is an online petition (eBooksForAll.org) urging Sargent and Macmillan to reconsider the publisher’s recently announced embargo. The other is a new online book club, in partnership with OverDrive. The “Libraries Transform Book Pick” will offer library users unlimited access to a selected e-book for two weeks, with no holds list and no waiting. The first pick is Kassandra Montag's debut novel After the Flood (HarperCollins), which will be available for unlimited e-book checkouts at public libraries from October 7-21.
But, as Ghikas and a slate of speakers hammered home, the press conference’s clear aim was to help create public awareness of the issues libraries face in the e-book realm, and specifically to enlist the public's help in persuading Macmillan executives to abandon their plan to withhold new release e-books from libraries.
As previously reported, beginning on November 1, Macmillan’s new digital content terms for libraries will allow libraries to purchase a single perpetual-access e-book copy of each new Macmillan title for the first eight weeks after a book’s release. After eight weeks, libraries can then license access additional copies for about $60 per copy for a term of two years or 52 lends, whichever comes first. Indeed, librarians have long wrestled with complex terms and high prices for library e-books, prices which often run as much as four times the consumer price for a two-year license. But librarians say Macmillan’s embargo is a bridge too far because it undermines a core library value: equal access. Macmillan is currently the only major publisher pursuing an embargo policy for new release e-books.
Among the speakers at the press conference, Nashville Public Library (NPL) director Kent Oliver told reporters that the Macmillan embargo would further extend wait times for digital readers, with some waits already stretching for months. “But most troubling of all is the indirect message this embargo sends,” Oliver said, “that only those who are able to and willing to pay for literature and information deserve to have it as soon as it is available. That goes against everything we stand for."
San Antonio library director and PLA president Ramiro Salazar added that the Macmillan embargo not only compromises timely access to popular books, it portrays library patrons and libraries themselves as "villains" for depressing author incomes. "The policy must be reversed,” said Salazar.
The campaign comes after the ALA Council passed a resolution this summer directing the association to engage in national outreach on the e-book issues facing libraries and to open discussions with regulators and legislators.
In a blog post this week, Alan Inouye, director of the ALA Office for Information and Technology Policy, explained why the new effort to harness public attention is critical. "The most obvious reason is trying to persuade Macmillan to change its course," Inouye wrote. "But a strong public showing will also serve to discourage other publishers from going down the embargo road. In addition, such action is critical to any legislative, regulatory, or judicial path. Broad community and public support strengthens the case that our position is correct public policy, and supporting us is advantageous to prospective political partners."
Meanwhile, another speaker, Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO Patrick Losinski, of Ohio, pointed out that the issues facing libraries authors and publishers in the e-book world are "solvable." Though librarians may not like high prices and term-limited licenses, they accept that there are trade-offs to be made in the digital realm, he stressed. However, access is not one of them. Losinski urged Macmillan to abandon its embargo, and return to talks with library leaders about how to best satisfy everyone's needs.
“This is not the time to drive a wedge between the proven partnership for success that authors, publishers, and public libraries have enjoyed," Losinski said. "We believe our investment in purchasing e-books for our collections, even at much higher prices than the average consumer, supports everyone. Libraries are not competitors, we’re collaborators."