Why We Are Boycotting: The eBook and Digital Audiobook Landscape in Libraries

Timberland Regional Library, like many libraries in the US, uses a company called OverDrive to provide ebooks and digital audiobooks to library patrons.  OverDrive provides the platform and technology to make digital checkouts possible – website, apps, and the marketplace for the library to buy/license the books. OverDrive works with publishers to make their titles available to the library market – to you, the library user.

Some publishers offer standard retail pricing to libraries.  A book that a retail consumer could purchase at $12.99, is also offered to libraries at those terms.  Many publishers, though, charge libraries much more than retail price and place restrictions, such as the number of checkouts or a time limit, or both.

For example, The City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin Random House, 2019), can be purchased by Kindle/Nook retail consumers for $14.99.  Libraries pay $55.00 per copy AND those copies “expire” after 24 months so the library has to purchase additional licenses if there is still demand.

Here are a few more examples:

  • Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown and Company, 2019)

    • Kindle/Nook: $14.99

    • Libraries: $65.00, expires at 24 months

  • Under Currents by Nora Roberts (St. Martin's Press, 2019)

    • Kindle/Nook: $14.99

    • Libraries: $60, expires at the earlier of 52 checkouts or 24 months

  • The New Girl by Daniel Silva (Harper Collins, 2019)

    • Kindle/Nook: $14.99

    • Libraries: $28.99, expires after 26 checkouts

For many years, digital audiobooks were a bright spot for libraries, with no “expiring licenses,” but this has recently changed with a number of publishers. An example of this new model is The Pioneers by David McCullough. To provide this to library patrons, libraries must pay $89.99 per copy AND those copies will expire after 24 months, forcing the library to license additional copies if there is still demand.

Blackstone Audio, a publisher that libraries have worked with for years, recently restricted titles from libraries after making an exclusive deal with Amazon/Audible. A group of Pacific Northwest libraries decided to boycott Blackstone Audio for six months (August 2019-Jan 2020) to protest these exclusions and bring awareness to the increasing difficulty that libraries face in providing their patrons with timely and fair access to digital materials. TRL is participating in this boycott.

Publisher Macmillan recently announced that they will be holding back all their new ebook titles from libraries for 8 weeks from publication. During those 8 weeks, libraries will be allowed to only purchase one (1) copy for lending to library patrons. After the 8 weeks, libraries will be allowed to license additional copies at $60 each.  Those copies will expire at 24 months, or 52 checkouts, whichever comes first. This new model began November 1, 2019.

The CEO of Macmillan has claimed in a letter to Macmillan authors and agents, with no evidence shared, that library ebook lending is suppressing sales. The American Library Association released a statement condemning the new terms and the characterizing of library lending. OverDrive has also stated that they do not agree with Macmillan’s claim, and have published their own response - Macmillan Publishes a Work of Fiction.

Libraries pushed back, reminding Macmillan of the role that libraries play in growing readers, promoting books and authors, and connecting readers to books and authors they choose to purchase later. Library directors in Washington State sent a letter to the Macmillan CEO asking him to reconsider the terms and his approach to libraries and a petition was started by the American Library Association.  Macmillan stood by its new terms, as expressed in this statement from John Sargent.  

Starting November 1st, Timberland Regional Library (TRL) joined other libraries across the country by boycotting new release eBook titles from Macmillan to protest this policy. TRL will continue to buy Macmillan titles that are not limited by this new policy. This would include print books, physical audiobooks, and older copies of in-demand eBooks. Downloadable audiobooks also are not included in this new policy and will continue to be purchased. Macmillan Publishers includes Tor, Henry Holt, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, St. Martin’s Press, and Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.  

We believe that this new policy is harmful to libraries and the patrons we serve. As use patterns change, digital equity and access to information are at risk when publishers withhold books from the digital library market. We will buy titles from publishers who do not limit library purchasing and who support equitable digital access for library eBook borrowers. If you would like to express your concerns about access, please visit https://ebooksforall.org to sign a petition organized by the American Library Association. You can also email Macmillan Publishers at press.inquiries@macmillan.com or via Twitter at https://twitter.com/MacmillanUSA.

TRL will evaluate this important decision to boycott Macmillan on February 1, 2020, or earlier if Macmillan reverses the policy. This decision was not taken lightly as we know that it will negatively affect some of our eBook users for the next few months, but we believe fighting for your continued digital access is vitally important.

Here are a few articles, highlighting the responses from libraries in the Pacific Northwest: 

FAQ

I see the book is on Amazon, but I don’t see it on OverDrive. What is going on?

There are many ebooks available on Amazon or other platforms that are not made available to the library market.  If an author has signed an exclusive agreement to Amazon that means their titles are only sold on that platform.

I found an audiobook on Audible, but I don’t see it on OverDrive. What is going on?

Audible is owned by Amazon. There are “Audible Exclusives” not available anywhere else, including libraries. An example of this would be “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.  The digital audiobook is exclusive to Audible.  Timberland would love to provide this to you in digital audiobook, but it’s not possible for us to do so.

Why do I have to wait? It’s just a digital file – can’t it be used by multiple people at once?

Publishers set the terms of use. It is one copy / one user for most everything.  Some exceptions here at TRL are an audiobook collection that is simultaneous use (50 titles licensed for one year) or an event book that we’ve negotiated a special price on, such as a title for Timberland Reads Together.

Do libraries pay more for print books or audiobooks on CD?

There are usually no restrictions placed on physical materials purchased by libraries.  For print books, libraries may even get a better price than the retail market based on discounts received through our book suppliers.  Prices have generally been high for CD audiobooks and there used to be “library editions” that were packaged for library use (strong plastic cases, etc.) and came with disc replacement plans.  Many of these plans have been phased out, though libraries still pay to repackage audiobooks into better boxes for circulation.

 

Here is a chart that breaks down the licensing that the “Big 5” publishers offer to libraries.

Publisher

eBook

Audiobook

Hachette Book Group

 

One Copy/One User licensed for 2 years (new titles purchased as of July 1, 2019)

 

Prices: $65 for adult, $35 for romance and picture books, $45 for children’s/YA, $15 for digital originals

One Copy/One User licensed for 2 years (new titles purchased as of July 1, 2019)

 

Prices: Most at $65 for adult regardless of length, $45 for children’s/YA, $15 for shorter content

 

HarperCollins

One Copy/One User licensed for 26 circulations

Some backlist titles available as Cost-per-Circ model

Prices: Vary, but are generally the same as the print cost.

One Copy/One User

 

Some backlist titles available as Cost-per-Circ model

 

Macmillan

One Copy/One User 

New release ebooks - 1 copy purchased (for perpetual access) for the first eight weeks, additional copies can be licensed after for 24 months. (Nov 1, 2019)

Prices: New releases $60/copy, older titles can range from $40-60. 

One Copy/One User

 

Penguin Random House

 

One Copy/One User licensed for 24 months. 

Prices: Adult titles capped at $55, YA capped at $45, and Juvenile capped at $35

One Copy/One User

 

Simon & Schuster

One Copy/One User licensed for a 24 month metered term (new titles licensed effective 8-1-19)

Some backlist titles available as Cost-per-Circ model

Prices: Most ebooks will be priced from $38.99 to $52.99

One Copy/One User licensed for a 24 month metered term (new titles licensed effective 8-1-19)

Some backlist titles available as Cost-per-Circ model

Prices: Most audio will be priced from $39.99 to $79.99

Blackstone Audio

 

Select new titles will be windowed for 90 days (effective 7/1/19)

 

If you have additional questions or comments, please contact Andrea Heisel, Collection Services Manager, aheisel@trl.org.