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Fair E-Book and E-Audiobook Lending for Libraries

The Urban Libraries Council and the Canadian Urban Libraries Council strongly opposes the recent decisions of major e-book and e-audiobook publishers to impose increased restrictions on digital lending models for libraries, including embargoes on new content and ceasing ongoing (perpetual) licensing.

ULC/CULC are currently working together to launch a communications campaign that will highlight these issues and demand responsive change. We want to work with the major publishers and/or legislators to find a solution that is reasonable for all parties.

Visit the ULC Member Knowledge Center to find more resources on this topic.

Below are key information highlights and resources to help library leaders gain a deeper understanding of this issue, as well as the need to take action.

This page receives updates on an ongoing basis. For suggested content and feedback, please contact crogers@urbanlibraries.org.

What's the problem?

Digital content is one of the fastest growing areas of borrowing for public libraries. Because of the unfair and restrictive pricing policies being implemented by the “Big 5” e-book/e-audiobook publishers:

• Public libraries will find it difficult if not impossible to fulfill their core mandate of providing universal access to information due to their decreased ability to purchase and license e-books/e-audiobooks.

• Intellectual freedom will be undermined because library patrons/customers will have limited access to information and resources in all its forms.

• Libraries will not be able to buy sufficient copies of popular titles to meet demand, or offer access to all titles in the formats that people want and need.

• The existing, troubling digital divide will widen, because e-content restrictions will impact people who rely on libraries the most — those with limited incomes who cannot afford to purchase e-books and e-audiobooks, and those with disabilities.

What can be done to fix this problem?

Public libraries must stand up for long-held values of universal, equitable access to knowledge and information as well as for intellectual freedom. We must advocate for all people while recognizing that recent publishing decisions will have a detrimental and disproportionate impact on those who rely on us the most. Equity, access, education and individual opportunity are all fundamental to the public library mission–and essential to a healthy, vibrant democracy.

Libraries must vocally oppose these lending practices and pricing models, engage the public and encourage patrons to express their concerns and opposition.

FAQs

Who are the "Big 5" publishers?

Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.

Why are the current pricing models "unfair"?

The Big 5 publishers already charge public libraries excessively high prices for e-books. In some cases, libraries are charged three to five times the consumer price.

Additionally, libraries have lost perpetual access to all of the Big 5 publishers’ titles, which is essential to creating and building deep and varied collections and to supporting long-term preservation and archiving.

What do the pricing models look like?

Publisher

Ebook and audiobook license terms

Hachette

2-year licensing model

HarperCollins

26-use licensing model

Perpetual audiobook license

Macmillan

1 perpetual license available for new e-books, with additional metered licenses available only after an 8-week embargo

52-use/2-year* licensing model

Perpetual audiobook license

Penguin Random House

2-year licensing model

Perpetual audiobook license

Simon & Schuster

2-year licensing model

*Whichever comes first

Is this issue new?

Discussions about the fairness of publishers' e-book/e-audiobook pricing and access for libraries have been ongoing for at least a decade. However, the challenges for libraries intensified rapidly in 2018/2019 as publishers implemented drastic changes to their digital content pricing. Below is a timeline of changes to e-content lending models for libraries:

July 2018 — Tor Books (a division of Macmillan Publishers) implements a four-month embargo on availability of new e-book title for libraries. Learn more >

October 2018 — Penguin Random House ceases perpetual e-book licensing for libraries and implements a two-year metered model. Learn more >

July 2019 — Hachette Book Group ceases perpetual e-book and e-audiobook licensing for libraries and implements a two-year metered model. Learn more >

July 2019 — Blackstone Audio imposes a 90-day embargo on new e-audiobook titles for libraries. Learn more >

August 2019 — Simon & Schuster ceases perpetual e-audiobook licensing for libraries and implements a two-year metered model. Learn more >

November 2019 (pending) — Macmillan Publishers will implement a two-month embargo on all new e-book titles for libraries. Learn more >

Have public libraries contacted the Big 5 publishers?

Yes, but so far to no avail. Individual libraries and national associations have attempted to work with major publishers to develop a purchasing model that works for both sides, but with little success.

Are publishers' high prices and limited-access pricing models justified?

In short, no. Libraries lend e-content to readers on a one-copy-per-user basis, just like print books. However, libraries pay much more than individual readers for e-books/e-audiobooks — a disparity that has no precedent in historical library pricing for physical books.

Publishers, such as Macmillan, have stated that the high pricing and limited lending models are necessary to counterbalance a loss of profits on e-books/e-audiobooks due the library's "free" lending. However, data does not support this claim; in fact, studies show that library users are engaged readers who are more likely to buy books that non-library users. Libraries support the marketing of e-books/e-audiobooks (and their authors) through events, programs, reading lists and library communications.

How can libraries emphasize the integral role they have played in the book industry?

Libraries promote a love of reading for learning and enjoyment, encouraging people to seek out content of all varieties, borrowed AND purchased. Studies show that library users are engaged readers who are more likely to buy books than non-library users. Libraries also have significant purchasing power.

ULC Members Speak Up

"Publishers’ decisions mean bad news for ebook lovers"
Pima County Public Library blog post
September 2019

"Calgary Public Library joins library network calling for fairer e-book rates"
Calgary Public Library CEO Mark Asberg interviewed by Globalnews.ca
September 2019

"ALA Announces #eBooksForAll Campaign"
San Antonio Public Library Director Ramiro S. Salazar, Nashville Public Library Director Kent Oliver and Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO Patrick Losinski presented at an ALA press conference calling attention to Macmillan Publishers’ new library ebook lending model and urging library supporters to sign a petition opposing it
September 2019

"Mississauga Libraries Still Fighting for Access to Popular eBooks"
Jennifer Stirling, manager, digital library services and collections, interviewed by insauga.com
September 2019

"Libraries face increasing costs due to publishers"
Michelle Simon, deputy director of support services Pima County Public Library, interviewed by Tucson Local Media
August 2019

""‘They want to create friction’: Publishers cutting library access to ebooks, audiobooks"
Dayton Metro Library Executive Director Tim Kambitsch interviewed by WDTN
August 2019

"Macmillan Publishers Further Restricts eBook Access for Libraries"
Toledo Lucas County Public Library blog post featuring statements from Library Director Jason Kucsma
August 2019

Message from bibliotheca's SVP of Digital Products Tom Mercer
Email message to bibliotheca customers
August 2019

"Council Votes to Help Edmonton Public Library Fight for Better Access to E-Books"
Edmonton Public Library Director of Branch Services and Collections Sharon Day interviewed by CBC
August 2019

"Why Doesn’t the Library Have Unlimited Copies of Digital Books?"
Pima County Public Library blog post
August 2019

"Publisher's Decision to Limit eBook Access Is Bad News for Library Patrons"
King County Library System blog post by Library Director Lisa Rosenblum
July 2019

"Libraries Must Draw the Line on E-Books"
Publishers Weekly Op-Ed by Former Cuyahoga County Public Library Executive Director Sari Feldman
July 2019

Statements and Open Letters from Leading Organizations