After Tor Experiment, Macmillan Expands Embargo on Library E-Books

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From Publishers Weekly:

More than a year after imposing a controversial four month “test” embargo on new release e-books in libraries from it’s Tor imprint, Macmillan announced today that it will now impose a two month embargo on library e-books across all of the company’s imprints. The terms take effect November 1.

Under the publisher’s new digital terms of sale for libraries, “library systems” will be now be allowed to purchase a single—that is, one—perpetual access e-book during the first eight weeks of publication for each new Macmillan release, at half price ($30). 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. A Macmillan spokesperson confirmed to PWthat the single perpetual access copy will be available only for new release titles in the first eight weeks after publication—the option to buy a single perpetual access copy expires after that eight week window, and the offer is not available for backlist titles.

In what counts as a measure of good news for libraries, however, no changes were announced for Macmillan digital audiobooks.

Macmillan is now the fourth Big Five publisher to change its terms for digital content in libraries in recent months—but its changes, and the views expressed by Macmillan CEO John Sargent, are by far the most unique and contentious of the group. In a July 25 memo (addressed to authors, illustrators, and agents), Sargent not only delivered the news of Macmillan’s library e-book changes, he basically called out libraries for depressing author payments.

“It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an e-book for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American e-book reader is starting to lean heavily toward free,” Sargent wrote. “Our new terms are designed to protect the value of your books during their first format publication. But they also ensure that the mission of libraries is supported.”

In the memo, Sargent asserted that 45% of Macmillan’s U.S. “e-book reads” were now “being borrowed for free” from libraries,” a trend he attributed to a mix of factors, including the lack of “friction” in e-lending compared to physical book lending, the “active marketing by various parties to turn purchasers into borrowers,” and unnamed apps “supporting e-book lending regardless of residence, including borrowing from libraries in different states and countries.”

. . . .

Alan Inouye, ALA’s senior director, for Public Policy & Government Relations, offered a blunt first assessment of Macmillan’s plan: “Worse than expected,” he told PW. “Embargoes violate the principle of equitable access to information that is at the core of libraries,” he added, pointing out that Macmillan’s policy is curiously out of step with the rest of the industry. “Within the past year, three of the other Big Five publishers revised their library e-book business models, and none of them concluded that libraries were a threat to their profitability,” Inouye observed. “Indeed, these other publishers believe that libraries benefit their businesses. Macmillan stands alone with its embargo.”

. . . .

“This is just Sargent using fear tactics, trying to gaslight authors and agents,” said PW library columnist Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains Public Library, citing Sargent’s references to “mysterious” data that “is never shared” and suggestions that libraries are somehow circulating e-books outside their service areas. “My library is able to share its e-book collection with other libraries in my consortium, but with the consent of all the publishers involved. And it rarely involves sharing frontlist titles, since an algorithm ensures that my e-book copies go to fulfill requests from my users first. And for every four requests, we purchase another copy.” As for an app that would allow libraries to circulate e-books to patrons outside of their service area, Kenney says he is unaware of any.

. . . .

Susan Caron, director, Collections & Membership Services, for the Toronto Public Library, which racked up the most digital lends in 2018, according to vendor OverDrive, said the claims in Sargent’s memo left her speechless. “I don’t know where to start,” Caron said. “Active marketing to turn purchasers into borrowers? There is no friction in e-lending? Except that people have to wait months for a title. I just randomly picked Normal People by Sally Rooney, published in August 2018. One year later, people still have to wait 29 weeks for a copy and we have 130. Hardly frictionless.”

And both Kenney and Caron suggest Macmillan clearly did not listen to librarian input, because the single perpetual access copy is not useful. “If we need more than one copy of a title, we’ll just wait. [Otherwise] our users will be upset if we don’t buy more to reduce holds, as we normally do. And if we can wait eight weeks, we may decide not to buy the title at all.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that this is a ham-handed, short-sighted action by Macmillan and other members of the Big Publishing Groupthink Boys Band.

But it’s what PG has come to expect from a declining, antediluvian industry that is out of original ideas.

PG remembers when publishers believed that exposure of their books and authors among library patrons helped to spur additional sales. Avid readers who use the library frequently are often regarded as excellent sources for information on great new books for their friends. Many a book club selection was first discovered as a book borrowed from a library.

This move also strikes PG as an attempt to manipulate the masses by executives who are far-removed from the masses and lack any real comprehension about how the proletariate will react to efforts to manipulate more money out of their pockets.

Here are some unintended consequences that PG suspects may result from this strategy:

  • Those who are inclined to remove copy protection from ebooks will feel more justified if ebooks are expensive and not readily available through libraries.
  • If an ebook is unavailable at the library due to the publisher’s strategy, librarians will be more inclined to recommend other books that are available. By the time the publisher’s embargo finally expires, more than a few readers will have forgotten their interest in a book/author because the effects of launch publicity will have faded.
  • More readers will turn to KDP and Kindle Publishing books and discover a lot of excellent ebooks at much more reasonable prices or at no cost through Kindle Unlimited and/or Prime Reading or simply among indie authors on Amazon.

From Wikipedia:

The [Titanic’s] eight musicians – members of a three-piece ensemble and a five-piece ensemble – were booked through C.W. & F.N. Black, in Liverpool.They boarded at Southampton and traveled as second-class passengers. They were not on the White Star Line’s payroll but were contracted to White Star by the Liverpool firm of C.W. & F.N. Black, who placed musicians on almost all British liners. Until the night of the sinking, the players performed as two separate groups: a quintet led by violinist and official bandleader Wallace Hartley, that played at teatime, after-dinner concerts, and Sunday services, among other occasions; and the violin, cello, and piano trio of Georges Krins, Roger Bricoux, and Theodore Brailey, that played at the À La Carte Restaurant and the Café Parisien.

After the Titanic hit an iceberg and began to sink, Hartley and his fellow band members started playing music to help keep the passengers calm as the crew loaded the lifeboats. Many of the survivors said that Hartley and the band continued to play until the very end.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

30 thoughts on “After Tor Experiment, Macmillan Expands Embargo on Library E-Books”

  1. “We’re losing money so we need to find ways to charge more for less. I know! We’ll hit up the libraries! What could possibly go wrong?”

    • If I see a book has a wait list I just put it on hold and forget about it. Sooner or later it shows up in my email and I check it out and read it. My TBR list is long enough that I don’t sit around “waiting” for books.

  2. PG suggests that this is a ham-handed, short-sighted action by Macmillan and other members of the Big Publishing Groupthink Boys Band.

    Somebody has to pay for their new digs on Broadway. It appears they’re not only occupying more space than they were before, they’re now paying more per sq. ft. as well.

    Macmillan Heads Downtown, Leaving Flatiron Building

    • They were being ribbed by the rest of the Manhattan Mafia for the tres declasse Flatiron. They were also being left out of the coordination three martini lunches.

  3. They just will not learn, will they? Libraries are not going to buy more library-edition hardcovers because of the embargo. Nor will readers rush to buy the hardcover because of the embargo. All Macmillan will do is push readers to other publishers and their authors.

    That doesn’t even make fiscal sense using Whale Math™.

    • It looks to me like someone at McMillan has actually looked at the libby app, because the complaints in their letter are closely aligned with the app features.

      • It might be possible to borrow from a library out of their service area using a VPN to fool Overdrive, Libby, and Amazon about one’s location, but to sign up for a library card usually involves an actual visit to the library and ID to prove residence. I could see college students and military retaining their hometown library membership and then moving out of the service area. TBH, I’m not even sure that Overdrive/Libby checks user location at time of login.

        • Just for the record, OverDrive doesn’t check for IP address locations. The only thing they check is the library card number the item is checked out on. Lots of folks check out from OverDrive while they are traveling far from their local library. When issuing cards, most public libraries check addresses to determine if the applicant is a resident of the appropriate taxation district, although policies vary.

        • That’s the one area in this discussion that I think the libraries could be vulnerable on. Generally, I think most libraries are diligent about checking member eligibility (doesn’t really have anything to do with Overdrive, they’re the middleman) but there are some systems, even large ones, that provide for paid application by mail, no residence required. And there are reader discussion forum threads on the subject, comparing availability. Brooklyn Public Library and Philadelphia Free Library come to mind.

          • In California, my state, most library systems will issue you a card as long as you are a state resident, regardless of what city you live in. I have five cards, two are from the largest cities in the state. They offer excellent selections.

            • Not the case for Torrance and Redondo Beach Libraries. You must provide residency proof. Can’t use my CA DL since it lists my POB, not a physical address.

      • If a town council decides its residents should have access to the latest bestselling novels at taxpayer expense, what obligations do publishers incur to make it so? Independent authors?

        • None. Neither do states.
          Interstate commerce is a federal matter.

          No law forces them to sell to libraries. They only do it, grudgingly, because they need the money.

      • Well, I’m getting that horrendous home page screen this morning. If I click on a title, the actual post is fine. The home page “More” just displays the same short list of posts without paging to the next page.

  4. “Sargent not only delivered the news of Macmillan’s library e-book changes, he basically called out libraries for depressing author payments.”

    I call BS on this. What he’s really concerned about is depressing McMillan’s payments.

    • “What he’s really concerned about is depressing McMillan’s payments.”

      Yup, and he can’t understand that after a certain price-point raising prices lowers what you’ll make on things. It’s that new math thingy. 😉

    • He needs a scapegoat: Germany is not pleased.

      Worth remembering that before Agency Part Deux ebooks made up a quarter or so of their sales. He’s been pushing Agency since last decade (and was a ringleader of the conspiracy) thinking a 30% boost in ebook prices would boost the bottom line by 7% or more.

      Instead, ebooks sales are down by some 25% and, by his own (likely made up) numbers 45% of their readers are on libraries. Best guess is maybe half oftbe lost sales have moved to libraries and thd other half to Baen, Indies, and video.

      Lost in the rants is that Netflix and Prime are both actively boosting their SF&F catalogs because those genres are among their most popular product. (GOOGLE RED too but nobody is watching those. IMPULSE is pretty good but itgot near zero buzz. Google Red.)

      And the big guns are still coming: Disney+, Watchmen on HBO, Expanse on Prime, Witcher on Netflix, etc.

      At a time when the competition for entertainment cash is at an all time high, they raise prices on their high margin product? Only in NYC publishing…

      • “Worth remembering that before Agency Part Deux ebooks made up a quarter or so of their sales. He’s been pushing Agency since last decade (and was a ringleader of the conspiracy) thinking a 30% boost in ebook prices would boost the bottom line by 7% or more.”

        And the joke there was that McMillan was getting their full price per sale before Agency – it was Amazon that wasn’t making as much for the ebook being sold cheaper. Agency won’t have made McMillan any extra – it just forced Amazon to take their full cut (which Amazon knew would be less as they lost volume.)

        • Amazon’s volume on BPH titles moved to non-agency smaller publishers and Indies. And APub. Amazon’s total volume and market power actually grew because of Agency. It was everybody else thzt suffered.

          The BPHs used to be two thirds of ebook sales at Amazon. The market exploded after agency but the increased sales went to everybody but the conspirators. The BPHs are now less than a quarter. And the bottomline remains flat.

  5. At a time when the competition for entertainment cash is at an all time high, they raise prices on their high margin product? Oly in publishing…

    What effect will their price change on one product have on close substitutes they also produce? Retail eBooks? Retail paper?

    • Not what they dreamed of.
      Just flat print and declining ebooks.

      Five years of a failed policy.

  6. Thanks for the details on the band playing while the Titanic sank, PG. I like to think the musicians felt they were giving their art for a fine cause even as it cost them their lives. (And since they were presumably all male, I suspect there wouldn’t have been room on the too-few lifeboats for them anyway.) Here’s a fascinating article about how the bandmaster’s violin was actually rediscovered and authenticated in 2013:

    • Ah, the good old days of sexism at sea: the one time where you were better of being a woman in 3rd class rather than a man is 1st. Not that classism didn’t play its part, though I’ve never really understood why being a male travelling 2nd class was most likely to kill you when the Titanic sank.

      And there would have been room on the lifeboats as the combination of the Birkenhead Drill and an initial reluctance to board the boats left many of them half empty. However, I think the musicians would have been no more likely to leave the ship than the wireless operators (or the Captain).

      • I guess I do recall hearing that–that many of the lifeboats were not even full. A tragedy all around. At least Kate Winslet survived. 😉

        And the violin!

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