ALA Responds to Macmillan Letter

October 31, 2019

On October 29, Macmillan Publishers CEO John Sargent wrote a public letter to the library community explaining Macmillan’s pending embargo on new ebook titles for libraries. The American Library Association’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office issued the following response on October 30:

“Hours before the American Library Association (ALA), the Public Library Association and allies were to deliver more than 160,000 petition signatures opposing the planned November 1 embargo on library ebook purchases (and two months after the campaign began), Macmillan Publishers CEO John Sargent directly addressed librarians for the first time. Unfortunately, the letter misrepresents ALA’s longstanding and good-faith efforts to equitably balance the rights and privileges of readers, libraries, authors, and publishers.

“To begin to correct and clarify the record, ALA asserts:

• ALA (and all the library systems we are aware of) has consistently opposed any effort to delay or deny library access to digital content. Macmillan Publishers is the only large publisher (of the “Big Five”) that perceives a business need to limit library purchases. ALA has frequently requested but never received data or analysis that demonstrates that library lending undermines book sales. It is simply false to state otherwise.

• Providing perpetual access and reducing the price for a single copy is important to ensuring all people have access to the world’s knowledge through our nation’s libraries, regardless of format. Libraries in communities of all sizes deserve the right to fair prices and terms consistent with consumer access, period.

• As San Francisco Public Library Director Michael Lambert wrote on October 30, ‘Right now, there are 450 holds at San Francisco Public Library on an eBook that currently tops the bestseller list. That’s despite the fact that the library carries 100 copies of this particular popular title in a digital format.’ With contracts limiting library lending to one eBook per reader at a time, we can assure Macmillan there is plenty of ‘friction’ in our current system. In fact, don’t take our word for it. Look at your local library’s wait list for any best-selling title right now.

• Since 2012, ALA leaders have met with major publishers, distributors, authors, and representative associations to seek sustainable solutions for library eBook lending. Restricting access to authors’ works through libraries hurts discovery, reading choice, literacy, and the simple love of reading. Libraries are committed to a vibrant ecosystem that enables authors to find their audiences and allows readers to explore the broadest range of materials. We reject simple binary solutions in a complex and dynamic environment and urge Macmillan to work harder with us to find fair and equitable paths forward.

• Whether intended or not, delaying or denying access to content hurts libraries and readers. An embargo is the wrong answer to an unsubstantiated problem that no other major publisher seems to face. If Sargent cannot or will not hear us, we will continue to take action with our community leaders and patrons, with Congress, with state legislators and attorneys general, and with publishers and authors who view libraries as allies rather than adversaries.

“Find more information at ebooksforall.org. Follow the conversation at #eBooksForAll.”

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