Congress Looking into Anticompetitive Behavior in the Digital Library Market

From Publishers Weekly:

The American Library Association (ALA) has delivered a written report to the House Judiciary Committee telling lawmakers that “unfair behavior by digital market actors,” including Amazon and some major publishers, is “doing concrete harm to libraries.”

The report, delivered last week to a House antitrust subcommittee investigating competition in the digital market, comes as lawmakers are taking note of the growing backlash to Big Five publisher Macmillan’s decision to impose a two-month embargo on new release e-books in public libraries.

. . . .

Under Macmillan’s new policy, which is scheduled to go into effect on November 1, public libraries are allowed to license a singe discounted, perpetual access e-book for the first eight weeks after a book’s publication. After eight weeks, libraries can purchase multiple two-year licenses at the regular price (roughly $60 for new works). Librarians, however, say that not being allowed to license multiple copies upon publication unfairly punishes digital readers, and will only serve to frustrate users and will hurt the ability of the library to serve their community, especially if other publishers follow suit.

“Libraries are prepared to pay a fair price for fair services; in fact, over the past ten years, libraries have spent over $40 billion acquiring content,” the ALA report reads. “But abuse of their market position by dominant actors in digital markets is impeding essential library activities that are necessary to ensure that all Americans have access to information, both today and for posterity. If these abuses go unchecked, America’s competitiveness and our cultural heritage as a nation are at risk.”

. . . .

“The worst obstacle for libraries are marketplace bans: refusal to sell services at any price,” ALA officials notes, pointing to Amazon Publishing. “The e-book titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms. By contrast, consumers may purchase all of these titles directly from Amazon. This is a particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide; Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them, without the library alternative previously available to generations of Americans.”

. . . .

A “related problem,” ALA asserts—though it is surely the primary problem libraries face on a day-to-day basis—is the increasingly restrictive, and costly market for e-books from the major publishers.

. . . .

The inquiry comes after the House Judiciary Committee launched its investigation into competition in the digital market on June 3, 2019, with Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) citing “growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

5 thoughts on “Congress Looking into Anticompetitive Behavior in the Digital Library Market”

  1. I’m a little surprised the article didn’t reference the on-going boycott of all things Blackstone Audio. That goes back to July, at least, and you’d think there’d be some sense of where things stand. I’m kind of wondering if it fizzled out, but I don’t see any recent mention of it.

    The e-book titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms.

    But don’t we all know for a fact if it is in KU it is not worth reading?

    • are they not available because Amazon won’t provide terms? or are they not available because the providers of the libraries digital systems refuse to create an interface to download the books?

      • KU demands exclusivity if you’re enrolled. Your ebook can’t be anywhere else. The Hoopla site of my local library actually has quite a few audiobooks from people with the same ebooks enrolled in KU. Apparently different licensing rules apply.

        • Considering it’s the author’s choice to KU or not to KU, I don’t see that as an actual Amazon problem.

          Of course we know no authors will whine about any lost income if Amazon simply drops KU because of the library protests.

          • It’s not the author’s choice for people who sign with Amazon Publishing, beyond the act of signing up with Amazon Publishing in the first place. Not sure that point matters here.

            Amazon does not make Amazon Publishing books available to libraries. Libraries are not allowed to purchase them and distribute them. It’s definitely not a delivery mechanism issue, because Overdrive can deliver directly through Amazon to Kindles and Kindle Apps on the vast majority of their collection.

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