DULUTH — Local officials are chiming in with public libraries across the nation decrying a publishing company’s new policy that limits the sales of recently released e-books.
Four Duluth City Council members sent a letter Tuesday asking Macmillan Publishers CEO John Sargent to reverse course on his decision to prevent libraries from buying more than one copy of an e-book in the first eight weeks a title is released.
“Our concern is that your decision to place a two-month embargo on e-books to libraries comes at the expense of the public good and our ability to provide for our library patrons,” said the letter, which was signed by council members Noah Hobbs, Gary Anderson, Renee Van Nett and Arik Forsman.
Since Macmillan, one of the “big five” global publishing companies, announced it was instituting its new policy in November, national and local library groups have protested the change as unfair, highlighting the tensions between players scrambling to adapt to a book industry that is growing increasingly digital.
The American Library Association launched a petition demanding “e-books for all” that has received more than 200,000 signatures. Minnesota library staffs have written op-eds in the Star Tribune and Duluth News Tribune condemning the change.
Other libraries have boycotted Macmillan by refusing to purchase electronic versions of any of the company’s new releases.
“It feels like we’re moving in the wrong direction, when libraries and publishers should be finding ways to partner together for the benefit of readers,” said Carla Powers, Duluth Public Library manager.
Macmillian Publishers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an open letter to librarians in October, Sargent opined on the changing business model of a publishing industry, expressing concerns that as e-book lending becomes more common, the number of customers buying books is dwindling.
“We are not trying to hurt libraries; we are trying to balance the needs of the system in a new and complex world,” he wrote.
The latest Nora Roberts title, “The Rise of Magicks,” was released Nov. 26 by St. Martin’s Press, a subsidiary of Macmillan. Thirty people are on the waitlist for the sole e-edition of the novel in the Arrowhead Library System, which owns the e-book collection used by a number of public libraries in northeastern Minnesota.
In the past, the group would purchase more copies of the e-book to keep the hold list at 10 or less, Powers said. Now, readers must wait their turn or buy the e-book themselves.
In addition to warnings of long waits, the Duluth council members’ letter argues the Macmillan policy disproportionately affects those with disabilities like dyslexia or poor eyesight who rely on digital devices to access reading material.
Powers said it seems publishers feel some sense of competition with libraries, which she feels shouldn’t exist. She argues the same people who check out books from libraries are likely to buy them.
“We’re all trying to encourage people to read more,” she said. “So wouldn’t it be nice to work together toward that end?”