Responding to Congress, ALA Denounces Amazon, Macmillan

Dated October 15, ALA’s report to Congress summarizes challenges facing the library field with regard to ebooks, streaming content, the pricing of digital academic journal subscriptions, anti-competitive behavior in digital textbook publishing, and the publishing industry’s capture and use of student data.

Seal of the U.S. House of RepresentativesOn June 3, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee launched a bipartisan investigation into competition in digital markets. The American Library Association (ALA) today published its official response to the Committee’s request for information.

In recent weeks, media coverage of the investigation has focused primarily on implications for companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Illustrating the broader scope of the inquiry, ALA’s report goes on record in an investigation that aims to document the current state of competition in digital content markets; examine whether companies are engaging in anti-competitive conduct; and assess whether existing antitrust laws, policies, and enforcement efforts are adequately addressing these issues, according to the Committee’s announcement.

Dated October 15, ALA’s response summarizes challenges facing the library field with regard to ebooks, streaming content, the pricing of digital academic journal subscriptions, anti-competitive behavior in digital textbook publishing, and the publishing industry’s capture and use of student data.

“Unfair behavior by digital market actors—and the outdated policies that have enabled them—is doing concrete harm to libraries as consumers in digital markets,” the response reads. “Libraries are prepared to pay a fair price for fair services; in fact, over the past ten years, libraries have spent over $40 billion acquiring [all] content. But abuse of the market position by dominant actors in digital markets is impeding essential library activities that are necessary to ensure that all Americans have access to information, both today and for posterity.”

The report explains that ebooks have become almost 20 percent of the U.S. book market, but libraries face major barriers to providing this content to patrons. Notably, Amazon Publishing now ranks as the fifth largest publisher of ebooks by dollar sales, yet the company refuses to license any of its digital content to libraries, at any price. Macmillan’s pending eight-week embargo on new ebook sales to libraries is also raised, as is “abusive pricing” of library ebook licenses by many publishers.

In a section focused on streaming content, the report notes that a growing amount of media content is offered exclusively through streaming services, with no analog equivalent available for libraries to purchase. Streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have terms of service that limit viewing to personal, noncommercial use, and do not permit the creation of preservation copies.

Academic libraries are facing their own pricing crisis, with five large publishers controlling the majority of the academic journal market. During the past 25 years, “double-digit annual price increases have raised the cost to subscribe to these publications” even as these publishers transition content to digital formats and “leverage the low marginal cost of digital distribution into more recurring revenue.”

Similarly, textbook prices have risen 184 percent during the past two decades, the report states, noting that nearly two-thirds of students have reported skipping the purchase of a required textbook because of cost. Three companies currently dominate the market, accounting for 85 percent of industry revenues, and the current shift toward digital distribution has the potential to further restrict competition by reducing the secondary market for used print textbooks. The report also points out that publishers are beginning to use digital textbooks to collect data on students, with little transparency or oversight.

The investigation is being led by Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Doug Collins (R-GA), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee; David Cicilline (D-RI), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law; and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law.

“There is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications," Nadler said in a prepared statement. "Given the growing tide of concentration and consolidation across our economy, it is vital that we investigate the current state of competition in digital markets and the health of the antitrust laws.”

ALA’s full response to the inquiry can be downloaded as a PDF here.

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Matt Enis

menis@mediasourceinc.com

@MatthewEnis

Matt Enis (matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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Mel Morgan

Amazon needs to stop censoring as well.

Posted : Nov 02, 2019 02:13


Heywood Jabuzov

The fact that right of first sale doesn't apply to eBooks is ridiculous, and the core source of all the other problems.

Posted : Oct 31, 2019 07:45


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