Access Denied: eBook embargo unfair to library readers

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We’re sorry, but there are 374 people ahead of you in line for our one copy of the eBook you’ve been anticipating all year.  

This is the message public libraries like Bossier Parish Libraries will be forced to relay to readers of eBooks published by Macmillan Publishers this fall.

Millions of people now use digital content as their preferred – or only – access to books, and yet the two-month embargo on new titles, to be imposed by Macmillan Publishers on November 1, will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information and content for all.

Libraries bring authors, publishers, teachers, and readers together for the purpose of boosting knowledge, creativity, literacy, ideas, and imagination. Libraries and library users are allies, not adversaries. 

This is true for so many reasons:

• Most of us can’t afford to buy every book that interests us. The library is a place of limitless learning opportunities for all, not just those with the money or inclination to buy books. 

• The Macmillan policy harms library patrons with disabilities or learning issues. eBooks can easily become large-print books, and most eBook readers offer options that make reading easier for people with dyslexia.

Andrea Gilmer

• Readers living in remote locations, and those without the ability to go to a physical library, along with students and researchers who need content from numerous sources, will also be negatively affected.

• Our military service men and women deployed overseas only have access to books through our digital platforms. Many of our local Barksdale airmen and women use their Bossier Parish Libraries’ card to access eBooks while deployed.

Bossier Parish is home to an estimated population of 127,000.  Enforcing the embargo for a library system the size of Bossier Parish Libraries will result in readers waiting a year or more to borrow an eBook in some instances.

The policy will also punish authors. Bossier Parish Libraries is willing to buy multiple copies of books that patrons want to read, even though libraries pay as much as four times the cover price for most eBooks. 

Finally, Macmillan’s policy harms booksellers. People who frequent libraries also frequently buy books. Readers are often known to download an eBook from the library and then be inspired to purchase more titles by the same author from a bookseller.  There is no data to support the idea that every copy borrowed from a library means a sale lost to a publisher. 

There are an estimated 116,867 libraries in the U.S. In 2018, Bossier Parish Libraries saw almost 400,000 visitors come through our doors and had more than 70,000 eBook and eAudiobooks check out, and those numbers are trending upward for 2019. As more and more people choose to read on mobile devices, we join libraries across the country in striving to meet readers’ needs and we need to find innovative ways to collaborate with publishers, not limit access.  

Libraries must remain vigilant about ensuring fair access, which is why we’re asking Macmillan to reverse its new policy. You can learn more about what is happening with eBooks at https://ebooksforall.org/.

Let’s revise this chapter in eBook access history so that library patrons will be able to read the books they want. We’d much prefer to send our readers the following message this fall: Your eBook is ready to download.

Andrea Gilmer is Community Engagement Librarian for the Bossier Parish Libraries