Embargoes Aren’t the Answer | Editorial

I join those from the library community urging a reconsideration of Macmillan’s recent decision to limit libraries to one copy of new ebooks for the first two months of publication. This one size fits all embargo is, at best, an insensitive blockade. Libraries are key engines of book culture, and willing collaborators in the process of finding a path to access.

Rebecca Miller head shotLibraries drive engagement with books, and sales

I join those from the library community urging a reconsideration of Macmillan’s recent decision to limit libraries to one copy of new ebooks for the first two months of publication (see LJ’s coverage by Matt Enis). This one size fits all embargo is, at best, an insensitive blockade. Libraries are key engines of book culture, and willing collaborators in the process of finding a path to access.

LJ’s own consumer research confirms what we and others have found before, that book borrowing spurs purchasing, and that this extends across formats. In response to LJ’s Generational Reading Survey 2019, 42 percent of U.S. adults sampled reported that they had bought the same book they had previously borrowed from a library, a number that jumps to 60 percent of millennials. And 70 percent reported that they had bought another book by an author whose other work they had borrowed from a library, a number that jumps to 75.4, 76.1, and 77.2 for Gen X, Gen Z, and millennials, respectively. [To help spread word, share LJ’s infographic with patrons and publishers.] This reinforces findings from our prior Patron Profiles research, the Pew Research Center, and the Panorama Project.

Libraries large and small actively market books through displays, effectively offering publishers 16,000 showrooms across the country. These spaces actively celebrate the book, book culture, readers, and the work of authors both living and long gone. They are staffed by passionate lovers of books, expert reader advisors unmatched by the best hand sellers around. These book-centric spaces, which embrace all formats, are special in our society. All the more so, as the shift to online retail means fewer people have access to a physical bookstore.

 

 

Publishers understand the importance of physical space when it comes to bookstores: they even pay for premium placement in them through coop dollars. When it comes to libraries, placement is free, but that doesn’t mean it is without value. Publishers should be embracing what libraries offer, not casting their shared lending as “cannibalizing” a bottom line that will only diminish if book culture dissipates from lack of engagement.

Many library voices have been raised in the days leading up to and after the Macmillan announcement—Sari Feldman, Jessamyn West, Steve Potash, and Lisa Rosenblum, among others. Each is worth reading to gather perspective on the issues in play, the public access put at risk, public libraries’ major investment in digital content, and the need for advocacy that protects the patrons’ access to it, not to mention setting the record straight on persistent inaccuracies about how library lending works.

This type of embargo can’t be accepted as a new low bar, setting a higher barrier for library patrons to access ebooks.

There has been much advocacy over the years to clarify how libraries are publishers’ friends. Macmillan’s short-sighted embargo approaches this key relationship in the reading ecosystem in competitve terms. Access to readers shouldn’t be viewed as a zero sum game. It’s in everyone’s interest to foster more readers. If we succeed, and we must, we can grow a more robust reading culture together.

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Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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