Blackstone Audio’s Library Embargo: Another Blow to Equal Access

Blackstone Audio Embargo

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.

15 thoughts on “Blackstone Audio’s Library Embargo: Another Blow to Equal Access

  1. MetalPhantasmReads says:

    Seriously?! I don’t understand why they’re doing this… 😦 but I’m really thankful that you two are making us aware of this issue. I feel like it’s not well talked about. I don’t know how my library district has been affected but I really hope they fix this.

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  2. Grab the Lapels says:

    The thing I don’t get is that Audible subscribers aren’t purchasing books at full price, either. It’s something like you get one credit per month, regardless of how much the book cost if you bought it without the Audible subscription. For people like me, who don’t want an Audible subscription, I’m not willing to pay the full price for a new audiobook, which can be fairly steep.

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    • Krysta says:

      Considering how Amazon basically controls the market for digital books (e-book and audio book), I do find it bizarre that publishers would think libraries are to blame for decreased income. I think the larger problem is that Amazon has made people expect to buy books for less than market price. So of course no one wants to pay $25.00 for an audio book now. I wouldn’t pay that, either, as that’s not an insignificant amount of money for me.

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      • Grab the Lapels says:

        I’ve seen some audiobooks that are closer to $40.00. That’s more the price range I’m thinking of. I’ll pay $25, but the bummer about not using the library is when you start an audiobook and right away in the first 30 minutes you can tell if it is terrible or not — and then I’ve wasted $25.

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        • Krysta says:

          That’s a good point. I tend to read a lot of children’s literature and prices for that will generally be lower. I can definitely see adult titles, YA titles, and bestselling titles being far more than $25.

          Here’s a wildly unpopular opinion–but I wonder how the advance system works into all this. Currently, publishers pay authors advances and they only earn royalties if they earn back the advance. Many authors never do, and it’s my understanding publishers will often keep afloat through their franchises like Harry Potter or LotR. So, again, are libraries causing publishers to lose money? Or is it the fact that they knowingly lose money on so many of the books they publish? What if there was a new model where they didn’t have to outbid each other and pay six figures for books that never earn back the money?

          Of course, authors already think they are underpaid for their work, so suggesting that the advance system be changed would probably be unthinkable.

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          • Grab the Lapels says:

            Hmmm…. I’m not sure. I know Cheryl Strayed said she put herself into massive debt while writing Wild, and all the advance did was pay off that debt — even though Wild was very successful.

            Colleges actually work similarly to the model with Harry Potter that you mentioned: the lecture hall classes with 100 students, 1 professor, and a few TAs pays for those graduate and upper undergrad classes with 10 people in them.

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            • Krysta says:

              I think part of the problem is that advances vary so wildly. You don’t know what you’re going to get. It could be 10,000 or 100,000. It would be nice if advances could be a set amount corresponding to cost of living. But, of course, cost of living varies based on where you live….

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