In a letter sent to “Macmillan Authors, Macmillan Illustrators, and Agents“ on Thursday, July 25th, Macmillan CEO John Sargent announced new lending terms and pricing for library ebooks, claiming library lending was “cannibalizing sales“ and impacting royalties as revenue from library sales are “a small fraction of the revenue we share with you on a retail read.” While the embargo is disappointing news for libraries, authors, and, most importantly, readers—it reinforces the need for a cross-industry initiative to identify ways publishers and libraries can continue to support their intrinsically related missions while delivering mutually beneficial outcomes.
With few exceptions, publishers don't really know what drives most book sales, so the industry's focus on chasing bestsellers and trends lends itself to an unscientific combination of last-click attribution, confirmation bias, and way too often, scapegoats. Publishers have relied on booksellers and libraries to connect with readers for decades, but—despite the continued decline of physical bookstores, the intersectional challenge of "book deserts," and a lack of consistent and verifiable data on ebook sales—libraries seem to have become an easy scapegoat. Again.
Since publishers are so concerned with the “perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability” of their ebooks, I have to wonder if libraries shouldn’t just help them out and hit the STOP button themselves? Stop buying ebooks across the board, at any price, under any terms.
Basically, Amazon one-upped Barnes & Noble's Read In-Store feature that allows Nook customers to "read NOOK Books FREE for up to one hour per day" in any of their 700+ stores, and put the exact same feature in every Kindle customer's living room via 11,000+ public libraries, without the physical and timing limitations.
The public library is one of the fundamental pillars of our peculiar flavor of democracy, and yet, recent events in both political and publishing circles suggest that our commitment to them is wavering. And there's certainly no shortage of opinions about their place in the "digital future," some optimistic, but most some ignorant variation on "Who needs libraries when we have Kindles, Netflix and Wikipedia?"