Overview of Issue
The Urban Libraries Council and the Canadian Urban Libraries Council strongly oppose 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 perpetual licensing.
ULC and CULC are working together on several efforts to 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. Click here to read ULC/CULC's Statement on Equitable Public Access to E-Books, which has been signed by over 100 mayors and county executives across North America.
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. ULC members can find additional resources related to this topic on the ULC Knowledge Center.
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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.
Where We Are Now
Marking an important victory in the fight for fair and equitable e-book access for libraries, Macmillan Publishers announced on March 17, 2020 that they it will end their controversial embargo policy effective at the end of the week. “There are times in life when differences should be put aside,” said CEO John Sargent in a brief memo. “Effective on Friday ... Macmillan will return to the library e-book pricing model that was in effect on October 31, 2019. In addition, we will be lowering some e-book prices on a short term basis to help expand libraries collections in these difficult times.”
On March 17, 2020, Penguin Random House also announced that they will discount the prices of e-book and e-audiobook titles sold through wholesalers to schools and public libraries. “In this time of unprecedented disruption, Penguin Random House wants to continue and to expand our unwavering commitment to public and school libraries the best way we know how: by making our books more accessible for educators and students, especially those engaged in remote learning, and to library patrons everywhere,” said Senior Vice President, Library Sales & Digital Strategy Skip Dye in a press release.
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.
Statements and Open Letters from Leading Organizations
ULC/CULC Statement on Equitable Public Access to E-Books Urban Libraries Council/Canadian Urban Libraries Council November 2019
ULC Statement in Response to E-Content Publishers' Changes to Licensing Models for Libraries
Urban Libraries Council June 2019
Statement on Changes to Digital Loans for Public Libraries Canadian Urban Libraries Council June 2019
A Message from Steve Potash on Recent Publisher Lending Model Changes OverDrive June 2019
ALA "Concerned" Over Hachette Book Group Ebook and Audio Book Lending Model Changes American Library Association June 2019
Statement on Macmillan Publishers U.S. Lending Model Change for Public Libraries Canadian Urban Libraries Council July 2019
ALA Denounces New Macmillan Library Lending Model, Urges Library Customers to Voice Objections American Library Association July 2019
Public Library Association Condemns Macmillan Publishers Library Lending Model Public Library Association July 2019
The Washington Digital Library Consortium Letter to Blackstone Publishing Washington Digital Library Consortium July 2019
Macmillan Publishes a Work of Fiction OverDrive August 2019
Romance Writers of America Concerned About Macmillan's New Library Terms Romance Writers of America August 2019
ALA releases template for state, local library action opposing Macmillan eBook embargo American Library Association June 2019