Where Are We in the Effort to End the Macmillan E-Book Embargo?

Starting on November 1, 2019, Macmillan will limit the ability of libraries to purchase e-books for their patrons.  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.  This move is intended to pressure frustrated library patrons into buying the e-book themselves, since wait lists will be high.  The embargo was justified by Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent as a necessary business decision as he claims libraries hurt publishers’ sales.

The Macmillan embargo as sparked an outcry among librarians, who understand that the embargo threatens their ability to serve their communities.  Patrons who rely on e-books because of transportation limitations or disabilities will be affected the most, as will library patrons who cannot afford to buy new e-book titles.  The embargo strikes at the core of the library’s mission to provide equal access to all, as it limits access to certain content for those who cannot afford to pay.  If more publishers enact their own embargoes, libraries will be facing a future in which they are unable to offer information to the public, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Macmillan announced the embargo back in July of 2019. So how far have we come since then in the effort to pressure Macmillan to end the embargo?

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The American Library Association (ALA) petition asking Macmillan to end the embargo has over 120,000 signatures.

The petition is still accepting signatures if you would like to add your name.

The ALA released a number of resources to help individuals speak out against the embargo. 

These include templates for writing to local media, as well as shareables suitable for Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  There is also a template for writing directly to Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent.

The King County Library System announced that it will not purchase embargoed titles from Macmillan.

They urged other libraries to boycott the embargoed titles, as well.

Macmillan has not publicly announced any plans to end or modify the e-book embargo.

The embargo starts in just over a week, promising long wait lists and frustrated library patrons.

smaller star dividerThe lack of response from Macmillan over the past three months is disheartening, but not surprising.  Presumably Macmillan is waiting to see how successful the embargo is (how much money they make on the embargoed titles) before announcing any major changes to–or a cancellation of–the policy.  This, however, makes it all the more important to keep spreading the word.  Frustrated library patrons should not be tricked into purchasing embargoed titles because of long wait lists; they should be fully aware that Macmillan is purposely withholding books from libraries to make patrons spend more money.  They should be able to decide whether they want to give their money to a company that treats their readers like this.  They should be able to use their boycott power to voice their dissent to the embargo if they wish.

The American Library Association does not typically ask for the public to help them advocate for libraries.  The fact that they have, and that they have provided easily shareable resources, is significant.  It means they need public outcry in this case in order to enact change.  So how can you help?

  • Write to Macmillan or contact them through social media.
  • Sign the ALA petition to end the embargo.
  • Share some of the ALA’s resources on social media..
  • Write to your library and ask them to make a public statement about the embargo. (This could be a blog post, letter to patrons, announcement on their website, letter in the local paper, etc.)
  • Write a post on your blog letting library patrons know about the embargo and that it’s not their library’s fault they don’t have more e-books.
  • Consider boycotting embargoed titles.  Money is, after all, what speaks to businesses.

The embargo may still be in place, but that does not mean the fight for equal access is over.  Every voice counts.  If we act now, we can ensure that more publishers do not follow Macmillan’s lead in withholding content from library patrons, many of whom do not have the option of choosing to buy instead.

29 thoughts on “Where Are We in the Effort to End the Macmillan E-Book Embargo?

    • Kay says:

      I’m going to be encouraging my book loving friends and family to just avoid buying from Macmillan and its subsidiaries period, digital or otherwise, until they pull themselves together. I’m an author, and it’s ridiculous to claim libraries are the enemies of sales. If libraries buy your books you get more sales from readers who like to try before they buy, and you get more name recognition and credibility for your writing if librarians choose to buy your books. Their digital sales are suffering partially because they are charging twice the average price for digital books and consumers are not willing to pay luxury pricing on books, and partially because more consumers are buying print again, and partially because it’s easier than ever to steal books and many people are more comfortable with digital theft than the prior minority who was willing to steal physical copies. Vilifying libraries who already pay such a high amount for every copy they carry compared to consumers buying is unhelpful to their sales, actively punishing low income people, and using Monopoly like tactics that could have really negative long term repercussions.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Krysta says:

        I think libraries are especially important for authors because they buy a lot of midlist books, ones people might never see stocked in a chain bookstore, where bestselling authors tend to be heavily marketed. Libraries spotlight worth y books that readers might otherwise never hear of! This has been really helpful, I think for the push for more diversity because librarians purposely curate diverse collections. Not all bookstores do.


    • Krysta says:

      I see myself as paying a flat fee already for the library since I pay tax dollars for it every year. Plus libraries already pay far more than market price for e-books that they’re only allowed to keep usually for two years before re-purchasing, so they’re giving money to publishers for e-books. I don’t think Macmillan can argue that libraries buying e-books is the sole reason Macmillan isn’t making as much money as they would like. The reality is probably far more complicated than that, and probably has something also to do with Amazon basically controlling the e-book market and training consumers to expect to pay less for e-books than for physical copies. E-book piracy is also probably a bigger problem than libraries purchasing e-books. It’s a multi-faceted problem and it doesn’t make sense for Sargent to position libraries as the enemies of authors when libraries are often the reason readers are introduced to new authors–and later go on to buy them. Like many others, I have bought books and authors I first read at the library!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Kay says:

      Libraries in the United States at least are completely free for the public to be members of and to check out books from. Kindle Unlimited is only accessible for those of Middle Class or higher incomes who can afford discretionary spending. Libraries still pay for those books same as any other consumer, so blocking them from buying does feel more like corporate greed and disdain for the poor than a reasonable concern for profits. Besides all of that though, people who would be inclined to buy KU still buy it anyways even with libraries offering ebooks to avoid waiting for titles to be available, so it really wouldn’t increase KU sales at all to punish libraries but would definitely hurt the people who can’t pay for KU.


      • Krysta says:

        Yeah, I’m not going to go out and buy a subscription service when I already pay for the library with my tax dollars. With interlibrary loan, I can get just about anything delivered to me, too! KU can’t do that!


        • cryptomathecian says:

          That’s because the traditional publishers don’t allow their writers to make their works available through Kindle Unlimited. You take the traditional publishers out of the equation and you’ll get a fairer system for author AND reader.


          • Krysta says:

            I guess the question is whether the Macmillan embargo will convince more readers they should read self-published authors instead and thus buy a KU subscription. But that might not happen unless the other Big Five impose their own embargoes because, for now, they can just check out a different ebook from the library. And even then not all library patrons can afford or will pay for a subscription.


            • cryptomathecian says:

              I believe that, just as Netflix has rendered the traditional video rentals obsolete, traditional publishers and public libraries will on middle long term also become redundant. This government funding can flow into a public network based upon the Kindle unlimited system for ALL books. Good for the tax payer, for the environment, the readers and the writers. Maybe not so good for the librarians.


            • Krysta says:

              I don’t worry about libraries becoming redundant since they do more than house books. They provide Wi-Fi and computer access, serve as a community space, offer educational programs, and provide free research and computer help, as well as readers advisory. They are a safe space for the homeless and many librarians now act as social workers for those who slip through the system.

              The idea of paying authors by pages read is interesting. I think that system would disproportionately end up benefiting popular authors, though. Midlist authors would possibly make less than they do under the advance system, since not many authors earn our their advance.

              I also don’t know about using Kindle Unlimited as the model since print text is still popular. I don’t think readers would be willing to lose access to physical books in favor of a government run ebook system in lieu of libraries. This would also mean everyone would have to have access to Internet and a device to read ebooks on. So people who can’t pay for that would lose access to books.

              Liked by 1 person

  1. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Such an important post to do- it’s such a frustrating topic. I don’t think Macmillan get that they’re not going to make people (who incidentally don’t have money to purchase all their ebooks) to somehow fork out the money for their ebooks. Doubtless, library patrons will just choose other ebooks (or face long waits). I feel bad for the authors who are picked up by Macmillan- not only will they not get as many people borrowing their books, but that will decrease their visibility with other potential readers, because they’ll get fewer reviews etc. No one is winning with this embargo.


  2. Grab the Lapels says:

    Seriously, thanks for keeping us all up-to-date on this. I don’t have much to add to the conversation except to say that I added my name to the petition and read the articles you linked, so thank you for that.

    Oh, I guess I will add this: I’ve almost completely stopped purchasing books to better support my library and the function of libraries.


  3. Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

    I so appreciate your continued updates on this and keeping us in mind. I meant to bring this up the other day at the library and forgot. Mondays tend to be slow, so probably, I’ll have this conversation tomorrow, as I’m sort of curious about how this will impact us. Probably not my library, specifically, because it’s so small and doesn’t deal a huge ton with e-books directly.

    I think the most frustrating thing is that the majority of the population of book patrons likely know absolutely nothing about this. It’s not widely publicized, and I know that if I weren’t in blogging circles and bookish circles on Twitter, I never would have heard of this, either.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I like that some libraries are sending emails to patrons, though that of course assumes people are signed up for the newsletter and that they open it. I’m not sure what else libraries do besides possibly make fliers or, if possible, find a way to write it right on the website page where you check out ebooks.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks says:

    Even though I live in a far away country and this does not personally affect me in any way, I am still appalled and concerned at this situation. I really hope it can be resolved soon. I can understand the need for profitability, but there is a limit to everything, and this kind of decision on the publisher’s part just makes me really sad.


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