Starting in November 2019, Macmillan announced an embargo on all new e-book titles. Libraries will be allowed to buy only one copy of new e-books for the first two months after release, no matter how large the library system or how many patrons it serves. Only after the initial hype has died down will libraries be allowed to buy additional copies. Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent argues that this step is necessary because libraries are decreasing e-book sales. In essence, he is hoping that library patrons annoyed by long waits for e-books will buy the books instead. (Steve Potash, CEO of Overdrive, questions Macmillan’s assertion that libraries decrease e-book sales.)
This announcement has met with loud resistance from librarians, but has been generally overlooked by the public. Macmillan’s new business model, however, has troubling implications–ones that could become more widespread should other publishers decide to follow its lead.
Why Should WE Care about the macmillan e-book embargo? (Even If we don’t borrow library e-books)
The Macmillan e-book embargo negatively impacts the ability of libraries to serve their communities and provide equal access. Even as libraries have evolved over their years, their core mission to provide access to materials, education, and information to everyone, regardless of income or socioeconomic background, has not changed. The Macmillan e-book embargo prevents equal access by forcing people to pay for books; those without the means to do so will have to do without, or possibly wait months for the chance to read a popular new title.
The gap between the very wealthy and the very poor in the U.S. shows no immediate signs of narrowing. Libraries are one of the remaining institutions in the U.S. that seek to reduce this gap. Even if you do not personally need the library, even if you can choose to buy the e-books Macmillan withholds from libraries, libraries still benefit you. Creating equal access to resources and knowledge helps the community as a whole, enabling more people to graduate, more people to find employment, more people to learn a necessary language, and more people to seek help from other community organizations and resources. All these things create a better quality of life in a community and can possibly boost the local economy. In short, supporting the library means lifting up the entire community.
The Macmillan e-book embargo may seem like a minor annoyance, an obnoxious way to frustrate library patrons into purchasing Macmillan’s titles instead of borrowing them. However, the policy has long-term implications that threaten the mission of libraries to provide equal access. Accepting this policy as our new reality means accepting that some will have to continue to do without. Some will continue to be left behind. Anyone who believes that social inequality must be eliminated should oppose Macmillan’s embargo, even if they have never checked out a library e-book.
What Can You Do?
Contact Macmillan (Tweet, Email, Write!)
If you disagree with the Macmillan embargo, let them know! You can reach out to them at Twitter, email them, or even send snail mail to their office. The American Library Association (ALA) has all the ways you can contact Macmillan. It’s important that library patrons, as well as library workers, speak up!
Blog about the Issue
Blogging is what bloggers do best, right? Plenty of people may have missed the news about the Macmillan embargo, especially if they do not follow industry news. Get the word out to fellow bloggers and library lovers by letting them know! The more we talk about this issue, the more Macmillan will understand that people are willing to protect equal access and to reject a business model that purposefully creates consumer frustration to drive sales. (We first blogged about the Macmillan e-book embargo in early August.)
Tell Everyone You Know in Real Life
Informing people about the issue means more people can voice their disagreement to Macmillan. It also can help libraries, so patrons know that their frustration with long hold lists should not be taken out on librarians who wish they could buy more copies of titles, but cannot. Casual conversations about this issue may have more of an impact than you realize. I mentioned the Macmillan embargo to two employees at my local library–neither had heard of it. General readers who do not follow industry news are even less likely to be aware of the issue. So bring up the news with your friends, family, and colleagues! You never know what action they might be inspired to take.
Perhaps the obvious strategy to informing companies that you disagree with their policies is to boycott them. After all, money speaks. In this case, however, readers may be hesitant to boycott because such a move may also negatively impact authors and publishers. So readers will have to decide for themselves if they think it ethical to boycott. One solution, however, might be not to boycott the entire company, but instead to boycott only e-books, buying physical copies of books instead.