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Libraries want public to protest publisher’s e-book embargo

Travis Loller
Associated Press

Nashville, Tenn. – The American Library Association asked the public for help Wednesday to press Macmillan Publishers to rethink a planned embargo on electronic copies of new releases to public libraries.

The publishing house recently announced that beginning on Nov. 1 it will allow library systems to purchase only a single electronic copy of its new releases during the first eight weeks after publication. Some of those systems serve millions of patrons.

In a letter announcing the policy, Macmillan Chief Executive John Sargent said e-book library lending is growing rapidly and hurting sales.

Library Association Executive Director Mary Ghikas speaks at the Nashville Public Library Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. The American Library Association is asking the public to help pressure Macmillan Publishers to rethink a planned embargo on e-books purchases by public libraries.

“It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free,” Sargent wrote.

Macmillan is one of the largest book publishers operating in the U.S. Sargent did not respond to an email from The Associated Press requesting an interview.

Library Association Executive Director Mary Ghikas announced the campaign to pressure Macmillan during the Digital Book World conference in Nashville. The organization is asking readers to sign a petition at . They are also promoting the campaign at local libraries.

The association worked with the biggest U.S. publishers over the last decade to broker e-book agreements that both parties could accept, said Alan Inouye, senior director of public policy and government relations. Libraries pay a premium for e-books and, while agreements vary between publishers, most of those digital copies come with an expiration date. After two years or a certain number of checkouts, libraries often have to repurchase the e-books if they want to keep them in circulation, he said.

Ghikas said libraries have had lingering concerns about the agreements, but the embargo “represents the greatest threat.”

“Libraries serve the local needs of their communities,” Ghikas said. “Macmillan’s embargo will make that impossible.”