Starting on November 1, 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. The move is intended to pressure library patrons to buy e-books when demand for them is at their highest, instead of borrowing them, as Macmillan CEO John Sargent claims that library loans are negatively affecting sales.
Given that I was aware both that more women report being readers than men, and that women are consistently more likely to be impoverished than men, I began to wonder if the Macmillan e-book embargo does not have an unintended consequence. I wondered if the embargo might unintentionally impact women more than men, keeping from them resources they may need more, since they are more likely to use the library and more likely to need to use the library. That is, if they read more, but have less money, they cannot just go out and buy books Macmillan is withholding from them.
To find out for certain if the embargo might disproportionately affect women, I tried to find some numbers.
A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center indicates that, in the U.S., women are more likely to read than men. Only 22% of women had not read a book in the past 12 months while 32% of men–nearly a third–reported not having a read a book in the past 12 months. So a policy that withholds books from libraries could affect women more. But do women read e-books? And do they use the library to read their books?
Women are slightly more likely than men to read e-books. According to a 2019 survey, 27% of women reported having read an e-book in the past 12 months; 24% of men had read an e-book in the past 12 months. However, the survey does not distinguish exactly how many e-books individuals read over the course of the year, only that they read at least one. This means that we cannot say, based on the Pew Research Center survey, whether men or women read a greater number of e-books in total over the course of the year.
A 2018 survey by Yougov, however, indicates that American women report reading more books in general than American men. 34% of men said they read 1-5 books per year compared to 29% of women, and 18% of men reported reading 6-10 books per year, compared to 14% of women. 8% of men read 11-15 books, compared to 10% of women, and 5% of men read 16-20 books, compared to 8% of women. Only 2% of men read over 50 books per year, versus 9% of women. If women read more books in total, they may need access to the library more, since reading more books is more costly.
A 2015 Pew Research Center study shows that women are more likely to use the library than men. 51% of women reported using the library in the past 12 months, compared to only 38% of men. And 38% of women reported using the library website in the past 12 months, compared to 25% of men. So policies that affect libraries will affect women more than men.
Women tend to earn less than men, meaning that accessing materials through the library could be more important to them, since they have less disposable income to spend on books, even though they read more books than men. The U. S. Census Bureau reports that the median income of women in the past 12 months was $44,573, versus $55,608 for men.
Additionally, women are more likely to live in poverty than men. The U.S. Census Bureau shows that about 14% of women live below the poverty line and 12% of men live below the poverty line. I wondered if this meant that more women might rely on public transportation than on cars, since they have less money, but was unable to find data on this. My thought was that e-books could be more important to those without ready transportation to a local library. However, it is also possible that someone who does not own a car does not have Internet access at home to download e-books. We cannot say for certain that those living below the poverty line need more access to e-books in particular, based on the data I could find.
I could find no data available breaking down specifically how many e-books on average men and women check out from the library. But we do know that women tend to read more in general, tend to read e-books more, tend to use the library more, and tend to find themselves in financial circumstances that make purchasing non-essentials more difficult. Consequently, it does not seem far-fetch to suggest that the Macmillan e-book embargo does indeed disproportionately affect women, even though the company probably never intended such an effect.
What do you think?