King County Library System Baulks at Publisher’s New eBook Policy

The King County Library System (KCLS) recently responded to an announcement from Macmillan Publishers, one of five major book publishers in the United States, regarding a new lending model that limits access to eBooks for public libraries.

The publisher’s new model limits public libraries, like KCLS, to only one copy of new release titles in digital formats, followed by an eight-week embargo before being allowed to purchase additional copies.

According to Wanda Brown, president of the American Library Association, the model will impact libraries’ ability to serve their communities.

“When a library serving many thousands has only a single copy of a new title in eBook format, it’s the library — not the publisher — that feels the heat. It’s the local library that’s perceived as being unresponsive to community needs,” Brown explained in a statement.

For a sprawling library system, like KCLS, with its 50 libraries serving more than one million residents, and nearly five million eBooks and audiobooks downloaded in 2018, KCLS Executive Director Lisa Rosenblum said she has no doubt her libraries will feel the heat.

“To understand the impact of Macmillan’s decision, it must be put in perspective,” Rosenblum wrote in a letter to patrons on the organization’s website. She explained that in order to shorten wait times for popular titles, KCLS maintains a 5:1 purchase to holds ratio, meaning for every hold placed on a new release, five copies are purchased in an effort to not exceed more than three months on a wait list.

For example, bestselling book Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens currently has more than 1,800 holds on 372 copies and Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover has more than 1,000 holds on 358 copies.

“If KCLS had been limited to only one digital copy of each of these high-demand titles and then have to wait eight weeks before being able to purchase more, the impact would be dramatic,” Rosenblum wrote. “Patrons could conceivably wait years rather than months for their eBook.”

As a result of Macmillan’s model, Rosenblum hopes the readers of King County will heed the American Library Association’s call for public comment.

“KCLS, like all public libraries, views its central mission as providing free and equal access to information. If libraries are shut out of performing this essential role in the digital realm, a unified public response is needed,” she said.

Concerned individuals may express their concerns to press.inquiries@macmillan.com or through the American Library Association’s public policy and advocacy office at alawash@alawash.org.

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is an assistant editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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