ALA’s eBooksForAll Petition Exceeds 100,000 Signatures

The American Library Association and Public Library Association last month launched a public outreach campaign to mobilize opposition to Macmillan’s new eight-week embargo period for library ebook purchases. The campaign has gained traction online, with an petition demanding the cancellation of the embargo garnering more than 103,000 signatures at press time.

the American Library Association's homepage with image of petition formThe American Library Association (ALA) and Public Library Association (PLA) last month launched a public outreach campaign to mobilize opposition to Macmillan’s new eight-week embargo period for library ebook purchases. The campaign has gained traction online, with an petition demanding the cancellation of the embargo garnering more than 103,000 signatures at press time. An analysis of the #eBooksForAll hashtag on Twitter last week indicated that the campaign is still generating almost half a million total impressions per day, as librarians, patrons, and official library accounts continue to raise awareness of the embargo on social media.

In an interview following the campaign’s launch, Alan Inouye, ALA’s senior director, public policy and government relations, described it as a “first step in reaching out to the public” about the issue. Signatories have provided contact information, and can opt in to receive emails and/or text messages regarding this campaign as well as future activism concerning library ebooks.

“We wanted to reach out to library users—the general public—and explain that this is happening,” Inouye said. “It’s pretty clear, on the face of it, that this is a really bad development for the library in your community.”

The lack of first sale protections for digital content enables publishers to set whatever terms they want on library ebook licenses, including terms of circulation, metering, and pricing. They can even, as Amazon does with its Kindle original content, refuse to license them to libraries at all. It’s a complex topic not easily explained. So the campaign focuses on simple messaging about a couple of specific terms libraries are currently faced with. Inouye believes the public will view those terms as unfair.

“For the general public, we focus on two main things. In the immediate sense, the biggest issue is this embargo,” Inouye explained. “That, by itself, is easy to understand…. [Patrons think], ‘Why would you do this to libraries?’ The next issue would be the pricing. If you don’t get into all of the details, that becomes easy to understand, too. You, a consumer, can buy an ebook for $12 or $14…. But then libraries are paying $50. Automatically, they think, ‘This is wrong, too.’”

The petition also notes that the embargo impacts the mission of libraries to provide all people with access to content; that it especially impacts patrons with visual and other disabilities, who rely on features such as adjustable text sizing; and that it will ultimately be detrimental to authors and publishers, who will miss out on the exposure that libraries provide.

For now, Macmillan appears unlikely to rescind the embargo, which is scheduled to go into effect on November 1. In a July memo, Macmillan CEO John Sargent explained that the publisher had instituted a year-long pilot test of the embargo with its Tor imprint “in response to our growing fears that library lending was cannibalizing sales.” Macmillan’s leadership believes the test confirmed that those concerns were warranted, according to the memo.

ALA immediately denounced the plan, with President Wanda Brown describing it as “the latest evidence of a troubling trend in the publishing industry,” and stating that the organization would begin an advocacy effort that “will extend several years, not several months, and will not be limited to one company.” That effort began in August with the publication of a customizable template for library systems, as well as state and local library organizations, to send letters to Sargent protesting the embargo. Inouye said ALA believes more than 200 institutions and organizations have sent letters based on the template.

The template focuses primarily on concerns about how the embargo will impact patron access to materials, but also notes that “Libraries not only pay for books; they market them. Lost marketing means lost publicity and sales for publishers and authors.”

The impact of this lost library marketing will be an important area to watch during the coming months. In his memo, Sargent stated that 45 percent of Macmillan’s ebook reads in the U.S. are borrowed from libraries. The publisher believes that the embargo period will boost sales, but this is a gamble. Macmillan already stands to lose thousands of institutional sales for every new title at launch. And while libraries will still have access to print copies of these titles, it seems likely that the lack of access to ebook versions will impact how those titles are promoted and recommended at every library in the United States. In aggregate, this could have a negative impact on the publisher’s ebook sales over time.

Inouye said that ALA will continue working to raise public awareness of ebook licensing issues, and continue discussing the impact of these policies with publishers, aiming to find solutions that will work for all parties involved.

“That’s certainly our intention—not just with Macmillan, but with other publishers, too,” he said. “Ultimately, publishers are a major component of the reading ecosystem, but so are libraries and others…. So, we have to figure out a way to work together to get to a solution that we can all at least tolerate—a compromise. I think we have to continue to try to educate and negotiate.”

Author Image
Matt Enis


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

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

scott fitzstephens

I say take their 8 week, 1 copy embargo and level up their game and don't even buy the one allowed copy. Don't have it on the eShelves, don't market it through having it available. Let them see how 50% of their eBook market sales goes when the libraries flat out refuse to participate. Heck, embargo them and don't even buy their print books either. Maybe then they will see, through their total loss of sales and the attributable marketing, how important libraries are to their business. If they think there is cannibalization going on through library lending practices, let them bite the hand that feeds them. Or, let them eat cake!

Posted : Oct 28, 2019 03:40

Nancy Schrott

Without ebooks I will have to drop out of my book clubs because I cannot hold open a print book, paper or hardback. I will still read, but the process of turning pages with an aid that holds up the book is slow. Books-on-tape? I don’t concentrate when someone is reading to me. That’s on me, but please do not take away my access to ebooks, any ebooks, all ebooks. I want to read what my book clubs are reading, and what is being discussed by my friends, not what is available on any given day.

Posted : Oct 22, 2019 02:28



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing