We have blogged quite a bit about the new Macmillan e-book embargo, which starts November 1, 2019, and which would limit the ability of libraries to provide equal access to information.* However, the fight for libraries to continue to serve their communities encompasses more than Macmillan. In June 2019, Blackstone Audio announced its own embargo to libraries. Starting July 1, Blackstone has prohibited libraries from purchasing select new audio book releases for the first 90 days after publication. Although never directly stated, it appears that Blackstone struck a deal with Amazon, in which titles published (not distributed) by Blackstone would be available exclusively only on Audible for the first three months after release. In other words, certain content is available temporarily only to paying Amazon consumers.
The message from publishing companies is clear: they see libraries as their enemies, instead of their partners. This attitude seems ridiculous when you consider that libraries spend 1.35 billion dollars each year on building their collections, while they also indirectly raise sales by introducing readers to new authors and new genres. A survey published by Library Journal indicates that 42% of adults had bought the same book they had borrowed from the library and that 70% bought another book from an author they had read from the library. Although the survey does not address which authors were most frequently discovered and bought, one can surmise that libraries are a particular boost to midlist authors and books, since bookstores like Barnes and Noble, for example, often stock primarily bestsellers, while libraries are more likely to purchase “worthy” overlooked titles (this includes diverse titles). Libraries create readers, who sometimes become buyers, according to their financial means. The new trend of setting embargoes for libraries ironically threatens a relationship that has historically been a benefit to publishers.
More importantly, however, the embargoes by Blackstone and Macmillan hinder the ability of libraries to provide equal access because they are literally prohibited from purchasing certain materials and providing them to the public. Blackstone and Macmillan are saying that only individuals of a certain economic status should have access to materials and information, while the rest of the world should wait. Perhaps this is unsurprising, since both are businesses, and presumably more concerned with making money than with supporting social equality. But the numbers indicate that working with libraries to provide equal access helps publishers long-term. Creating a culture of reading is what will ultimately drive book sales.
Some libraries have announced a six-month boycott of Blackstone audio titles in an effort to raise awareness of the issue and to send a message that their purchasing power matters. Even though such a move may temporarily inconvenience patrons, I believe this is an important move because money is what speaks to publishers. Libraries and the public need to stand together to fight for equal access. Diverting money from publishers who enact embargoes is a powerful way to voice dissent.
*Starting November 1, 2019, Macmillan will place a two-month embargo on libraries purchasing new e-book titles. Libraries will be allowed to buy one perpetual access copy of new titles for half price ($30) during the first two months after release. Once two months have passed, libraries can buy additional copies at full price ($60) for two years or 52 lends, whichever occurs first.