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Libraries stand strong against publishing giant

Local librarian is part of statewide consortium boycotting Macmillan’s new e-book policy


December 16, 2019

Librarians across the country are miffed, and it’s not because patrons are dog-earring the books again.

This time librarians have turned their watchful eye to a certain publisher.

Macmillan Publishing, one of the five-largest publishers in the United States, has placed restrictions limiting the number of newly released titles that libraries are able to purchase. Essentially, for each newly released e-book title, a library may purchase only a single e-book copy, and then must wait until the ninth week before purchasing additional copies, regardless of the size of the library or community. On average, only four customers will be able to read a new e-book from the library in the first two months after release.

Eddy-New Rockford Librarian Susie Sharp also serves as the purchaser for the North Dakota Digital Consortium. “This is a problem,” she says. “It’s bad enough that libraries already pay high rates for e-books. I just made a purchase for 25 e-book titles. It totaled $1,500.”

It’s a staggering total– $60 per book on average. However, the purchase doesn’t allow libraries to keep the books indefinitely. Instead, libraries are purchasing a license that must be renewed. Each publisher varies, but in most cases, the library copy of the e-book will expire after two years or 52 checkouts. Only one person can check out one copy at a time.

The number of digital selections available through Digital Consortium’s Overdrive system totals 28,425, with more than 6,000 of these duplicates. Because the consortium is organized to serve the rural and urban libraries throughout North Dakota, they too would be limited to the purchasing restrictions.

“One book is not enough— not for the whole consortium,” Sharp asserts. It is the pooling of resources via the consortium that make online digital downloads available throughout the state. Larger libraries are able to budget more toward titles, which can be shared with smaller libraries.

When it comes to popular books, Sharp says, “We don’t buy just one copy.” Currently there are 370 patrons waiting to read “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens via Overdrive. There are 26 copies available for digital circulation.

Sharp makes her point, “Libraries aren’t the problem. They’re actually big players in the digital market.”

While public libraries tend to be non-profit, they still understand the idea of for-profit. They understand that publishing and writing are businesses. They also know library users buy books— especially after finding a new favorite author.

As of press time, 45 library systems have suspended purchases from Macmillan Publishing. The North Dakota Digital Consortium is included. The message of this boycott rests upon the understanding that libraries are an essential part of a functioning democracy. Denying or delaying new content to libraries prevents libraries from accomplishing their mission to providing equal access to information to American citizens.

In a press release from the North Dakota State Library, Librarian Mary Soucie said, “In addition to limiting access by libraries to purchase adequate numbers of copies to serve their patrons, many people don’t realize that libraries pay a significantly higher amount for e-materials than the general public does. We wish that publishers would look at libraries as partners instead of a competition.”

The Chief Executive of Macmillan Publishing, John Sargent, said “Library reads are currently 45% of our total digital book reads in the U.S. and growing,” Macmillan Chief Executive John Sargent said in an interview. “They are cannibalizing our digital sales.”

The North Dakota State Library encourages patrons to reach out to Macmillian Publishing’s CEO John Sargent and ask him to eliminate this and other policies that limit not only libraries’ but patrons’ access to their materials.

Macmillan Publishers

Attn: Mr. John Sargent, CEO

120 Broadway Street

New York, NY 10271


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