Library Association Turns to Public for Help Fighting E-Book Embargo

The American Library Association is asking the public to speak up against a decision by Macmillan to severely limit the number of e-books libraries can carry upon a title’s initial release.

Faced with a decision by a major publisher that could negatively affect the ability of its members to carry new books, the American Library Association is trying a new tactic: It’s asking the public for help.

This week, ALA made a push for the public to speak out against Macmillan Publishers’ decision to effectively put a two-month embargo on electronic copies of its new books at libraries, starting November 1. The publishing firm will allow library systems to have only a single electronic copy of a new book upon its release, despite the fact that a library system can cover a major metropolitan area.

When Macmillan announced the move in July, the company’s CEO, John Sargent, argued that library readers were “cannibalizing our digital sales” and that a remedy to the rising use of electronic books in libraries was necessary.

“It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an e-book for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American e-book reader is starting to lean heavily toward free,” he said in a letter to the company’s authors, illustrators, and agents.

ALA has spoke against the move ever since, calling it “unacceptable,” but the push to get the public interested in the issue is new and was announced this week at a major industry conference, Digital Book World. The association also launched a website titled e-books for All, which includes a petition aimed at Sargent, and it will include materials to place in libraries.

The website notes that Macmillan’s policy harms readers with disabilities in particular. From the petition page:

This embargo would limit libraries’ ability to provide access to information for all. It particularly harms library patrons with disabilities or learning issues. One of the great things about e-books is that they can become large-print books with only a few clicks, and most e-book readers offer fonts and line spacing that make reading easier for people who have dyslexia or other visual challenges. Because portable devices are light and easy to hold, e-books are easier to use for some people who have physical disabilities.

Speaking at the event, ALA Executive Director Mary Ghikas said the move threatened libraries’ relationships with their local communities.

“Libraries serve the local needs of their communities,” Ghikas said, according to The Associated Press. “Macmillan’s embargo will make that impossible.”

Libraries already pay much more to access e-books and often must repurchase copies after a multiyear licensing period. ALA worked with major publishers on the issue, but the decision by Macmillan greatly increases the stakes.

Macmillan’s move has also found critics within the publishing industry, including major authors such as Neil Gaiman and industry groups such as the Romance Writers of America, according to American Libraries magazine, which noted that the advocacy movement was also important in discouraging other publishers from following suit and creating a base for future advocacy.

ALA’s Ghikas added in a news release that the campaign was driven by library patrons as well as the association’s members.

“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,” she said this week. “Libraries have millions of allies out there, and we’re inviting them to take action.”

(Kritchanut/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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