Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Last week saw several newsworthy announcements with regard to ebook lending. First, ALA President Maureen Sullivan published an open letter to American publishers calling for the end of discriminatory practices. The very next day, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) released a response letter to counter Sullivan’s stance. And lastly, Macmillan has confirmed that it has begun developing an ebook lending pilot program.
If anything, these three announcements only confirm that no one is in agreement when it comes to library e-lending. Publishers are working individually rather than together to come up with a permanent library sales policy, and libraries are beyond frustrated by it.
Sullivan’s letter, published in American Libraries Magazine, signalled a call to action: “Access to [books and knowledge] must not be denied,” she said. After singling out Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin, she proclaimed:
We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record. We must speak out on behalf of today’s—and tomorrow’s—readers.
In the AAP letter written in direct response to Sullivan, the organization pointed out that “the issues surrounding e-lending…are not as simple as Ms. Sullivan claim[ed].” It cited concerns such as anti-trust issues (publishers cannot, we’ve all too recently learned, meet to discuss and implement a unified sales strategy that the libraries are calling for), as well as digital intellectual property rights and the overall fairness of a program to everyone: authors, libraries, and publishers.
So was Macmillan’s announcement at all related to the back-and-forth bickering between the ALA and AAP?
Not according to Macmillan, who says the announcement didn’t come in reaction to increased pressure from libraries. (Oh, come on, Macmillan.) On the same day that Sullivan’s letter was posted, Publishers Weekly reported on Macmillan’s confirmation that yes, an ebook lending pilot program is in the works. Though the details of the program have not yet been disclosed, in the statement to Publishers Weekly Macmillan clarified, “‘We are currently finalizing the details of our pilot program and will be announcing it when we are ready, and not in reaction to a demand.'”
I like to think that the nudging from libraries and the ALA is in fact what has led to the flurry of ebook lending announcements by big six publishers in recent months, however. Macmillan’s announcement follows one from Random House in March; the June unveiling of a pilot program between Penguin, 3M, the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library; and a pricing announcement a few weeks ago from Hachette. (HarperCollins has employed a 26-loan limit on its library ebooks since February 2011.)
Simon & Schuster has suddenly become the odd man out in this debate. Perhaps with the pressure from Sullivan and increased public awareness of the unfair practice, it too will finally offer its titles to libraries.