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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.

Read ULC's Statement on Equitable Public Access to E-Books where North American mayors and county executives from major urban jurisdictions have urged e-book publishers to institute equitable and transparent pricing for public libraries. 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

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.


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?


Ebook and audiobook license terms


2-year licensing model


26-use licensing model

Perpetual audiobook license


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 — Macmillan Publishers implements 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

"Guest column: Publishers unfairly putting the squeeze on libraries"
Steven V. Potter, library director and CEO of Mid-Continent Public Library, pens op-ed in The Examiner
November 2019

"NPL Suspends Macmillan eBook Purchases"
Nashville Public Library blog post featuring statements by Kent Oliver, NPL director
November 2019

"Columbus libraries taking stand against Macmillan Publishers after limits to e-book access"
Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO Pat Losinski quoted in ABC6 article
November 2019

"Libraries, e-books, and the freedom to read"
Patty Uttaro, director of the Rochester Public Library, pens guest commentary for the Rochester City News.
November 2019

"Metro libraries join nationwide protest of policy limiting e-book access"
Kansas City Public Library Director Crosby Kemper III quoted in KSHB article
November 2019

"This battle between libraries and a top publisher will impact how New Orleanians rent e-books"
Jessica Styons, the acting director of New Orleans Public Library, quoted in Gambit Weekly article.
November 2019

"Libraries: Macmillan unfairly restricts access to e-books"
Heidi Daniel, CEO and president of Enoch Pratt Free Library and Paula Miller, director of Baltimore County Public Library, pen op-ed in Baltimore Sun.
November 2019

"Ohio libraries fighting publisher limits on digital content, eBooks"
Tim Kambitsch, executive director of the Dayton Metro Library, quoted in Dayton Daily News article
November 2019

"Libraries Chafe Against Publisher’s E-book Purchase Restriction"
Aimee Fifarek, executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, quoted in Business Journal Daily article
November 2019

"Libraries to boycott publisher's e-book policy"
Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO Pat Losinski quoted in Star Tribune article
October 2019

"How a publisher is punishing library users with eBooks limit"
Michael Lambert, San Francisco Public Library City Librarian, pens op-ed in San Francisco Chronicle
October 2019

"Multnomah County Library in the fight with publishers over price of e-books"
Vailey Oehlke, Multnomah County Library Director, quoted in KATU2 article
October 2019

"King County Library System faces off against one of nation's largest publishers"
King County Library System Library Director Lisa Rosenblum interviewed by KIRO7
October 2019

"Equitable eBook Access under Attack!"
Prince George’s County Memorial Library System encourages patrons to sign ALA's #eBooksforAll petition
October 2019

"On Macmillan's ebook embargo: A letter from Library CEO Lee Keesler"
Lee Kessler, Charlotte Mecklenburg CEO, pens blog post about the library's opposition to Macmillan's new eight-week embargo against all public libraries for all new e-book titles
October 2019

"Book publishers putting embargo on libraries"

Dayton Metro Library Executive Director Tim Kambitsch pens op-ed in the Dayton Daily News
October 2019

"New publisher policies will limit your access to eBooks"
Paula Brehm-Heeger, the Eva Jane Romaine Coombe Library Director of the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, pens blog post about how the changes on licensing and loaning of e-books by Macmillan Publishers will negatively impact Library customers
October 2019

"New e-book limit could force readers to wait for new releases"
Steven Potter, director and CEO of the Mid-Continent Public Library, quoted in KSHB article
October 2019

"Library CEO urging patrons to join fight for e-books"
Ottawa Public Library CEO Danielle McDonald quoted in CBC News article
October 2019

"KCLS boycotts Macmillan Publishers’ eBook embargo"
King County Library System Director Lisa Rosenblum quoted in Kent Reporter article
October 2019

"Publishers, please don't limit e-book access"
Janet Mills, interim director, Hennepin County Library and Catherine Penkert, director, St. Paul Public Library join other Twin Cities library system directors in co-authoring commentary piece in StarTribune
October 2019

"Petition to stop Macmillan Publishers from restricting public libraries' eBook access"
Tana Elias, digital services and marketing manager for Madison Public Library, quoted in Channel3000 article
October 2019

"Publishers, please don't limit e-book access"

MELSA library directors pen op-ed in the Star Tribune
October 2019

"Join library effort for eBook access"
Toledo Lucas County Public Library Director/Fiscal Officer Jason Kucsma pens op-ed in The Blade
October 2019

"The battle for the future of e-books is happening at your local library"
Nashville Public Library Public Information Representative Ed Brown and San Antonio Public Library Library Services Administrator Ron Suszek quoted in Fast Company article
October 2019

"Calgary Public Library joins fight against publisher restrictions on e-books"
Calgary Public Library CEO quoted in CBC News article
October 2019

"Column: A threat to public library access: e-books no more?"
Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO pens op-ed in Columbus Dispatch
October 2019

"Major publisher puts sharp limits on libraries lending new eBooks"
Wichita Public Library spokesperson Sean Jones quoted in KAKE article
September 2019

"Limiting library e-books a blow to literacy"
San Antonio Public Library Director Ramiro S. Salazar pens op-ed in the San Antonio Express-News
September 2019

"Library fights to protect eBook access for all"
Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO press release featuring statements by CEO Patrick Losinski
September 2019

"Publishers Are Changing E-Book Access for Libraries"
Central Arkansas Library System blog post featuring statements highlighting that libraries pay much higher prices for e-books and e-audiobooks
September 2019

"New publishing policy could limit new release e-books, e-audiobooks, and Northeast Ohio libraries aren’t happy"
Cuyahoga County Public Library Executive Director Tracy Strobel and Cleveland Public Library Director of Collection Services Jean Duncan McFarren quoted in article
September 2019

"Library users blocked from new e-books as publishers impose tough restrictions"
Multnomah County Library blog post written by Vailey Oehlke, Director of Libraries
September 2019

"TLA Response to Macmillan eBook Embargo"
San Antonio Public Library Director Ramiro S. Salazar quoted in statement from Texas Library Association press release
September 2019

"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
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
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