Ohio libraries fighting publisher limits on digital content, eBooks

A move by publishers to limit libraries’ access to e-books, e-audiobooks and other digital materials has prompted the Digital Downloads Collaboration, a consortium of 18 public library systems in Ohio, to announce it will no longer buy newly released eBooks from Macmillan Publishers.

Starting Friday, Macmillan — one of the five major publishers in the country — decided to limit libraries to one digital copy of its new release through licensing agreements.

Local libraries have already ramped up the fight against the limited access to to digital materials. The Digital Downloads Collaboration includes the Troy-Miami County, Washington-Centerville and Greene County public libraries, plus the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Dayton Metro Library, which is not part of the collaboration group, planned to send an email to its 30,000 patrons who use digital material to explain the Macmillan policy, according to Michelle Francis, executive director of the Ohio Library Council.

When a new release is coming, public libraries look at anticipated demand based on pre-holds that patrons place and then decide how many licenses to purchase for the first year, Francis said. Increasingly, patrons want or need electronic material that is provided on-demand, she said.

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Statewide, 8.5 million Ohioans are library-card holders and Ohio has the highest public library use per capita in the nation, based on items circulated and the number of card holders, according to the Ohio Library Council. “Ohioans love their libraries,” Francis said.

Digital checkouts are growing in popularity and in 2018, the Dayton Metro Library circulated about 785,000 e-books and e-audiobooks directly to electronic devices.

The American Library Association organized an “e-books for all” campaign to push back against Macmillan’s plan and Ohio had the highest number of signatures for the campaign in the country, Francis said. Public libraries are trying to exert their “major buying power” to get Macmillan to change course, she said.

Macmillan CEO John Sargent sent out a memo (addressed to authors, illustrators and agents), saying that starting on Nov. 1, the publisher will begin a two-month embargo on all e-books to public libraries.

Under the publisher’s new digital terms of sale for libraries, they will now be allowed to purchase only one perpetual access e-book during the first eight weeks of publication for each new Macmillan release, at half price ($30).

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Additional copies will then be available at full price (generally $60 for new releases) after the eight-week window has passed. All other terms remain the same: e-book licenses will continue to be metered for two years or 52 lends, whichever comes first, on a one copy/one user model.

Tim Kambitsch, executive director of the Dayton Metro Library, told the Dayton Daily News on Friday that he supports the actions of other libraries around the country in response to Macmillan’s library embargo.

“Dayton Metro Library has been vocal in expressing its opposition to Macmillan’s policies. The reality is that Macmillan’s embargo is designed to allow only a lucky few library patrons access to the ebook versions of its popular titles,” Kambitsch said. “It hardly matters whether or not we buy the one copy Macmillan allows us to purchase, all library patrons are being victimized and they are being paid an incredible disservice by this embargo.”

He added that the Dayton Metro Library is currently accepting hold requests for the embargoed titles.

“Our eBook partner, Cleveland-based Overdrive Inc., has been incredibly helpful. For instance, they will be putting notice in our catalog for these embargoed titles telling our patrons, ‘Due to publisher restrictions, your library is unable to purchase any more copies of the book,‘“Kambitsch said. “Neither Overdrive Inc. nor public libraries should be blamed for where we find ourselves today. Patrons should take out their wrath on Macmillan.”

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Other major publishers, such as Penguin Random House, have followed a policy that “books should be available to readers – no matter the format, no matter the location,” Kambitsch said. “We hope other publishers follow the lead of Penguin, not Macmillan.

“Amazon is another major player in the publishing world and they have had a permanent embargo against libraries.” Kambitsch said none of Amazon’s content is available for libraries to purchase.

“When we look at the rapidly changing publishing world, as libraries are being denied access to a growing body of published information and thought, our ability to fulfill our mission is being eroded,” he said.

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