1. Macmillan Embargoes New Release E-books in Libraries
More than a year after imposing a controversial “test” embargo on new release e-books in libraries from Macmillan’s Tor imprint, executives at the company announced in July that it would impose a modified version of the embargo across all of its imprints. And as the ALA Midwinter Meeting draws near, it stands as one of the most contentious disagreements between libraries and publishers in memory.
Macmillan was not the only Big Five publisher to make waves in the library e-book market in 2019. In June, Hachette became the first major publisher to apply a two-year term to digital audiobook licenses. And in July, Simon & Schuster doubled its license terms from one year to two—potentially a good thing, except that the publisher also more than tripled its prices in some cases.
So what’s behind Macmillan’s embargo? In an October 29 letter to librarians, Macmillan CEO John Sargent said he believed “the very rapid increase in the reading of borrowed e-books” was decreasing “the perceived economic value of a book” and “causing book-buying customers to change habits.” In an earlier memo to authors and agents, Sargent claimed that 45% of the company’s “digital reads” were through libraries—a new and still unexplained statistic. Beyond those memos, however, Macmillan executives have mostly declined repeated media requests (including from PW) to discuss the embargo, and declined to share any real data about the house’s library e-book business.
If Macmillan executives are hoping that librarians will eventually move on and maybe even come to appreciate Macmillan’s new terms (as many librarians eventually did with HarperCollins’s 26-lend model) the fallout suggests otherwise.
Steve Potash, CEO of leading e-book vendor OverDrive has deemed Sargent’s rationale for the embargo “a work of fiction.” An online ALA petition opposing the embargo is approaching a quarter million signatures. The issue continues to generate critical headlines and editorials across the nation. It has also attracted the attention of federal, state, and local lawmakers, including a House Judiciary subcommittee exploring competition in the digital market. More recently, in a December 6 letter, Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal wrote to Sargent directly, asking the CEO to respond by Jan. 5, 2020, to five questions about its library e-book policy, including questions about pricing and equity issues. And, as librarians prepare for the 2020 ALA Midwinter Meeting, a number of library systems are boycotting Macmillan e-books.
Notably, more than 16 months after Macmillan imposed its Tor test, Sargent is engaging with librarians. In November, he met with a group of state librarians. And Sargent and other Macmillan executives plan to attend the Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, where Sargent is scheduled to appear at an “Ask Me Anything” session (Saturday, January 25, 8:30–10 a.m., PCC room 108B).
But it’s not clear what Sargent hopes to achieve at Midwinter, unless he is prepared to abandon the embargo. Because what he will hear in Philadelphia is sure to be the same message librarians have voiced clearly and consistently from the start: virtually everything else can be on the table but this. Embargoes strike at the very heart of the public library. Embargoes violate a core library value. Librarians will never accept this embargo. Period.
2. The Trump Administration Seeks to Eliminate Federal Support for Libraries... Again
For a third straight year the Trump administration has proposed the permanent elimination of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and with it virtually all federal library funding. But as 2019 draws to a close, legislators are instead poised to deliver a funding bump to the agency.
Released on March 11, Trump’s $4.7 trillion “Budget for a Better America” was the largest federal budget ever proposed, featuring a $34 billion increase for the Department of Defense, $8.6 billion for the border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for, as well as deep cuts to social programs and nothing for libraries.
Library leaders were quick to criticize the proposal. “Elected decision-makers, including appropriators in both the House and Senate, agree that funding IMLS programs such as the Library Services and Technology Act is a sound investment,” said ALA president Loida Garcia-Febo, in a statement. And the messages delivered by library supporters once again resonated with lawmakers. In September, the House Appropriations Committee passed its fiscal year 2020 funding bills with a $25 million increase for IMLS, bringing overall IMLS funding to $267 million.
And, in another positive sign for the future of IMLS, the Trump administration in November nominated Kansas City (Mo.) Public Library executive director R. Crosby Kemper III to be the next IMLS director. When confirmed by the Senate, Kemper will succeed Kathryn Matthew, whose four-year term is ending.
“The next leader of IMLS needs to highlight the many ways America’s libraries and museums bring opportunity for all,” said ALA President Wanda Brown in a ringing endorsement of Kemper’s nomination. “ALA believes Crosby is the right person to shine that spotlight, and we are pleased to endorse him to be the next IMLS director.”
Though a final budget bill has yet to move in the Senate, ALA is upbeat about its 2020 prospects for passage. It would be nice, too, if Kemper, once confirmed, would help persuade the Trump administration to stop calling for the elimination of the IMLS.
3. The DPLA Creates a Free E-book Edition of the Mueller Report
It was big news when the Mueller Report dropped in April—and a huge disappointment that after more than two years of media coverage and an investigation of vital importance to the American people, the government decided to make the report available only as virtually unreadable PDF. It’s almost like the Department of Justice didn’t want people to read the report?
So, as part of my April 26 Week in Libraries column, I reached out to the Digital Public Library of America to ask if there was a role for libraries here. Turns out, there was. And by the end of May, the DPLA had published an outstanding e-book edition of The Mueller Report—a real, flowable e-book, not a scan of a PDF—that readers anywhere can download for free, even without a library card, and that libraries can keep in their own digital collections.
But it’s not enough to note that the DPLA created a free e-book version of the report—what it created is by far the best, most readable e-book edition out there. Adding to DPLA’s efforts, consultants Bill Kasdorf and Thad McIlroy from Publishing Technology donated their time and resources, as did vendor Code Mantra, to make the DPLA version totally accessible, which means that those with print disabilities can now also make use of the e-book. And the staff from the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive pitched in and began the arduous effort of fully hyperlinking the report, which now contains more than 800 hyperlinked citations to primary sources, all archived on the Wayback Machine to avoid link rot.
“For something so critically important to the body politic, it was unconscionable for the report to be inaccessible to so many citizens,” noted Kasdorf and McIlroy in a PW column earlier this year.
The effort did not go unnoticed. The DPLA e-book won the 2019 Digital Book World Award for best nonfiction book. And the DPLA says the e-book has been downloaded roughly 70,000 times directly from the organization, and many thousands more times from DPLA’s partner libraries.
4. ALA Votes to Strip Melvil Dewey’s Name from Its Top Honor
Some 88 years after his death, Melvil Dewey’s #TimesUp moment finally came. Citing his history of racism, anti-Semitism, and sexual harassment, the council of the ALA on June 23 voted to strip Dewey’s name from the association’s top professional honor, the Melvil Dewey Medal.
The move to rename the ALA’s top honor came a year after the ALA Council made headlines at the 2018 ALA Annual Council for voting to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a prestigious honor that each year recognizes an author or illustrator whose books have made “a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature.” That award is now called the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.
But while both moves reflect the ALA’s desire to better align the organization’s honors with its core values, the moves differ in at least one crucial way: the Wilder decision came months after an ALA task force delivered a detailed report on the scholarly debate surrounding Wilder’s “complex” legacy. Dewey’s legacy, on the other hand, is not at all complex.
Best known by the public for creating the Dewey Decimal Classification System and as a cofounder of the ALA in 1876, Dewey has long been revered as the “father of the modern library.” But whatever his professional legacy, his personal behavior was recognized to be so abhorrent during his lifetime that he was ostracized from the ALA in 1906.
The resolution to rename the Dewey medal is now in the hands of the ALA Awards Committee. An announcement regarding a new name for the award is expected soon.
5. A Major Library Vendor Calls Out Amazon
Behind the recent drama in the library e-book and digital content market lies one of the most whispered about secrets in the publishing world: Amazon has been sharing data with publishers and authors that reportedly paints library e-book lending in a negative light. But in a remarkable August 27 message sent to library customers, Tom Mercer, senior v-p at library e-book vendor Bibliotheca bluntly called out Amazon for meddling in the library e-book market.
“There is only one company that has access to readers’ digital retail purchases as well as library users’ digital library borrowing habits, and that is Amazon,” Mercer wrote, concluding that it is “highly probable” that Amazon is using its proprietary data and powerful position to portray libraries as bad for retail sales. “This is a major concern that we need to understand and face together as an industry,” he warned, urging librarians to “pressure their existing vendors” to terminate relationships with, or refuse to share data with, Amazon.
Though Mercer didn’t mention any specific vendors, the obvious inference was to market leader OverDrive, the only library e-book provider that currently offers Kindle compatibility. Via OverDrive’s Kindle partnership, when a library user wants to read a library e-book on the Kindle platform, the user is delivered to Amazon, which then manages the loan—and captures the usage data generated. OverDrive CEO Steve Potash told PW that he was sensitive to the concerns about Amazon’s market power but stressed that Kindle compatibility was implemented at the request of librarians, and that the decision to read via the Kindle platform ultimately rests with the patron.
Mercer’s message to librarians built on previous statements he made to Library Journal at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference. In response, an Amazon spokesperson conceded to Library Journal that Amazon does share data with publishers and authors but denied that the company was seeking to torpedo the library e-book market. “Publishers make their own business decisions regarding library lending,” the spokesperson said.
Librarians have long voiced concern over Amazon’s practices—especially the company’s push into publishing, as Amazon digital content is generally not available to libraries. Further, the company has been aggressively pursuing exclusive deals with major authors as well as with other publishers, such as Blackstone Publishing, which struck a deal earlier this year that requires it to give Audible a three-month exclusive on new audiobook releases.
Amid the tension and uncertainty in the library e-book market, Mercer’s post emphasizes an important question that now looms for 2020. Are librarians ready to face their Amazon problem?
6. Congress Explores Competition in the Digital Library Market
Amid the torrent of national headlines and constituent letters following Macmillan’s embargo announcement, ALA leaders expected to hear from lawmakers. And on September 13, just days after ALA hosted press conference at the Nashville Public Library to call attention to issues in the library e-book market, they did, when the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee invited the ALA to submit a report for its investigation of competition in the digital market.
In an October 14 report, ALA told lawmakers that “unfair behavior by digital market actors,” including Amazon and some major publishers, is “doing concrete harm” to libraries.
“The worst obstacle for libraries are marketplace bans: refusal to sell services at any price,” the ALA report noted, pointing to Amazon Publishing. “This is a particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide; Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them, without the library alternative previously available to generations of Americans.”
The ALA report also called out the increasingly restrictive and costly license terms for e-books from the major publishers, citing most prominently Macmillan’s embargo on new release e-books. “Denying or delaying new content to libraries certainly is a market failure,” the report stated, explaining that such restrictions prevent libraries from fulfilling their “democratizing mission of providing equal access” to information.
“Libraries are prepared to pay a fair price for fair services,” the report stated, noting that libraries have spent more than $40 billion acquiring digital content over the last decade. “But abuse of their market position by dominant actors in digital markets is impeding essential library activities that are necessary to ensure that all Americans have access to information, both today and for posterity. If these abuses go unchecked, America’s competitiveness and our cultural heritage as a nation are at risk.”
It is unclear what the next steps will be, but ALA says it is now fully engaged with lawmakers on the issue. “When librarians and community leaders tell antitrust subcommittee members how unfair digital market practices impact their constituents,” ALA’s Alan Inouye says, “Congress will listen.”
7. The University of California Takes on Elsevier
For years, the open access movement has made slow progress. But in February 2019, the University of California staked out the boldest position yet for a major U.S. institution in support of open access, terminating its subscription deal with the world’s leading scientific publisher, Elsevier, and demanding that the publisher agree to an open access alternative.
As the world’s largest scientific publisher, Elsevier is no stranger to tough negotiations, periodically clashing with institutions over the high cost of access to scholarly journals. Over the years, there have been many tough negotiations and impasses. But this time is different. In terminating its Elseiver deal, the UC system isn’t just haggling over price but staking out a broader position of principle.
“As a leader in the global movement toward open access to publicly funded research, the University of California is taking a firm stand,” university administrators said in a February 28 release. “UC aims to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by ensuring that research produced by UC’s 10 campuses—which accounts for nearly 10% of all U.S. publishing output—will be immediately available to the world, without cost to the reader.”
The negotiations have not been easy for either party. In July, Elsevier began cutting off access to Elsevier journals for UC researchers. Meanwhile, some UC researchers are refusing to submit articles or serve on Elsevier journal editorial boards until an acceptable open access deal is struck.
And they are doing so with the swelling support of a global movement behind them. In Europe, for example, a coalition of major funders of scholarly research are moving forward with an ambitious, controversial initiative, called Plan S, which launched with the initial aim of making open access a reality by 2020.
8. Citrus County Commissioners Veto the Library’s New York Times Subscription
If there is one library story that captures the contentious, fractious information world we now live in, it is the story that came out of Citrus County, Fla., in October, about the fact that the county’s commissioners voted to block the library from spending $2,700 on a digital subscription to the New York Times for the county’s 70,000 library cardholders.
“Fake news, I agree with President Trump,” proclaimed commissioner Scott Carnahan in voting to deny the library’s subscription. “I don’t want the New York Times in this county. I don’t agree with it. I don’t like ’em. It’s fake news. And I’m voting no.” And just like that, a routine meeting made national headlines, raising the prospect of local politicians around the country banning public libraries from spending taxpayer money on resources that don’t align with their personal politics.
The move even prompted a rebuke from the ALA. “The core mission of public libraries is to provide access to a wide range of information and ideas that enable each person to become an informed and active member of society,” read an ALA statement on the subject, adding that the county’s move was “contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment’s promise of freedom of speech and freedom of belief.”
But the story didn’t end there. Amid the national headlines, the commission decided to hear an appeal of its decision, and this time the room was packed with citizens on hand to share their views. Tampa Bay Times reporter Zachary T. Sampson was there, and wrote a lengthy, detailed report.
“They donned Trump hats and military hats. They lined up single file from the lectern, next to the placard that read: ‘Gentlemen, please remove hats and caps while in Commission Chambers.’ One man read a book, Triggered, by Donald Trump Jr. A woman in a pink Women for Trump shirt wore American flag boots on her feet and a Confederate flag purse on her shoulder,” Sampson observed. “What followed was a history lesson on the year 2019, typed in real time, with fury and haste.”
In the end, the commissioners voted 3–2 to uphold their decision.
9. Will Controlled Digital Lending Land Book Scanning Back in Court?
If you thought the controversy over library book scanning ended with the Google case, think again.
After a white paper arguing for the legality of a practice known as controlled digital lending started getting some notice last fall, a number of groups—including the AAP, the Authors Guild, the International Publishers Association, and the U.K.-based Society of Authors—decried the practice by which a library or a nonprofit scans a copy of a print book it has legally acquired, then makes the scan available to be borrowed in lieu of the print book, using a DRM-protected one-user/one-copy model and, crucially, taking the corresponding print book out of circulation while the scan is on loan.
In February, the National Writers Union released a statement dubbed, “The Appeal to Readers and Librarians from the Victims of CDL,” cosigned by 36 national and international organizations, which asserted that there was “no basis for a good-faith belief that CDL is legal under either U.S. or international law.”
While the practice is not widespread, librarians who are engaged with CDL insist that the practice is legal and is undertaken in good faith. “Properly implemented, CDL enables a library to circulate a digitized title in place of a physical one in a controlled manner,” reads a statement on a website devoted to CDL, adding that the practice is not intended to act as “a substitute for existing electronic licensing services offered by publishers.”
Notably, the major library associations have mostly steered clear of the CDL issue. Rather, the most visible proponent of CDL—and the clear target of publishers and authors groups—is the Internet Archive and its ambitious Open Library project.
According to its website, the Open Library initiative was formed in 2006 with the vision of creating “one web page for every book ever published.” But over the past decade, the Open Library has evolved, and a recent post on the Internet Archive blog says the program now services about half a million e-book loans each month from a growing catalogue that includes about 3.8 million scans—including some books still under copyright.
Despite some saber rattling, legal action doesn’t appear imminent. But the issue has the attention of many publishing and author groups, and given the tensions in the digital realm, anything is possible.
10. More Change at the Copyright Office
Now into her fourth year as librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden is earning high marks from lawmakers. And she appeared to receive a clear vote of confidence in March, when she was finally was able to name Karyn Temple the 13th U.S. register of copyrights.
Temple’s appointment was neither unexpected nor controversial. After all, she had been doing the job to good reviews on an acting basis since Hayden’s abrupt removal of the previous register, Maria Pallante, back in October 2016. (Pallante is now the president and CEO of the AAP.)
But readers will recall that Hayden’s removal of Pallante was controversial, greatly upsetting the content and entertainment industries, which had viewed Pallante as a strong ally. And what followed was a campaign by lobbyists to paint Hayden as a radical “anti-copyright” librarian, and a subsequent House bill: the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, which proposed to take the register of copyrights position out of the purview of the librarian of Congress and make it a presidential appointment. That bill swiftly passed in 2017 before dying in the Senate last year. But for more than two years it served what critics say was its true purpose: it effectively blocked Hayden from appointing a permanent successor to Pallante.
So what unblocked Hayden and allowed her to permanently appoint Temple in 2019? For one, Congress passed the Music Modernization Act, a breakthrough piece of copyright reform legislation for the digital age, which will pretty clearly require more than an acting register of copyrights to administer it effectively. But most importantly, perhaps, was the fact that Hayden and her staff have shown lawmakers impressive progress in addressing the “significant weaknesses” in the library’s IT management that were pointed out in a scathing 2015 GAO audit.
At an oversight hearing last month, Hayden reported that the library had addressed “nearly 95%” of the shortcomings identified in the GAO report. “The library is a different organization from what it was just a short time ago,” Hayden told lawmakers at the hearing.
But now, a twist. Temple announced on December 9 that she is leaving the Copyright Office for the Motion Picture Association. Hayden said she will soon appoint an acting register, and that the library is developing “a transition plan.” And in a December 10 letter, senators Thom Tillis and Chris Coons urged Hayden to move swiftly in appointing a permanent replacement, suggesting lawmakers have confidence in Hayden's management, and don't have patience for another protracted legislative battle over the position.
Still, the question still looms: will Temple’s departure spur another attempt to remove the register of copyrights position out of the purview of the Library of Congress? Lobbyists, start your engines.