Illustration for article titled Major Book Publisher Abandons Terrible Plan to Keep New Ebooks Out of Libraries
Photo: Mario Aguilar (Gizmodo

Trying to maintain social distance while not losing your mind from boredom? Your public library’s collection of ebooks is an excellent resource, and now you have an even larger selection: One of the Big Five U.S. publishers walked back its 8-week delay on licensing new ebook releases to libraries.

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“There are times in life when differences should be put aside,” Macmillan CEO John Sargent wrote in a memo to librarians obtained by Publishers Weekly. “Effective on Friday (or whenever thereafter our wholesalers can effect the change), Macmillan will return to the library e-book pricing model that was in effect on Oct. 31, 2019. In addition, we will be lowering some ebook prices on a short term basis to help expand libraries collections in these difficult times. Stay safe.”

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Macmillan enacted the embargo last fall, claiming that the free availability of its ebooks at public libraries cannibalized its book sales. Librarians were, unsurprisingly, not happy about the move, which was instituted on top of the already-onerous fees and licensing terms that libraries have to agree to in order to offer ebooks. Macmillan was the only publisher to embargo new releases.

“Equitable access to digital content is more important than ever as libraries continue to serve their communities amid rapidly changing circumstances,” Alan Inouye, the American Library Association’s director of public policy and government relations, said in a statement provided to Gizmodo. “Macmillan’s return to its original lending terms signals a new starting point for all publishers to consider how they can work with libraries to ensure—and expand—access for all readers. ALA looks forward to working with publishers to make that happen.”

The move comes in the thick of a global pandemic, when libraries across the country are shutting their doors to curb the spread of coronavirus. Without access to physical books and in-person programming, library-goers are turning to ebooks and live-streamed read-alongs to stay entertained. Macmillan’s move was clearly influenced by current events, but it’s unclear if the publisher’s data reflected its original hypothesis that library ebooks discourage people from buying books.

Either way, the American Library Association plans to continue its campaign for state legislation that makes library ebook licensing prices and terms more fair. But for now, readers will no longer feel the pinch (though the ebook waits might be just as long—or longer than ever).

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Consumer tech editor, Gizmodo.

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