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The eBook Embargo: What You Should Know

We are committed to promoting literacy and a love of reading with diverse collections, programs and services for all ages. One way we are doing that, in our increasingly digital world, is offering eBooks that give readers of all abilities greater access to books.

But why is it taking so long to get some eBooks from the library?

What’s the holdup?

On November 1, one of the nation’s largest book publishers, Macmillan Publishing, enacted an embargo for new eBook licenses. Libraries are only allowed to purchase one copy of a newly-released eBook for the first eight weeks after publication. For example, when John Grisham released his book, The Reckoning, we bought 12 copies to fill patron requests. So far, The Reckoning in eBook format has been checked out through NCRL on the Overdrive Platform more than 400 times. In the future, under this new embargo, we can only buy one copy which will result in really long wait lists for popular books!

How much do eBooks generally cost?

It may seem counterintuitive but eBooks and eAudiobooks are very expensive for libraries.

For example, the list price for the hardback version of Educated by Tara Westover is $28.00. Amazon (with Prime) sells the hardcover copy for $14.04 and the Kindle digital version for $14.99. However, NCRL had to pay $55 for the eBook. The audiobook on CD costs $26.30 on Amazon but the eAudio book costs $95.

Why was the embargo imposed by Macmillan?

The publishing company believes that library lending is hurting its bottom line. However, Macmillan CEO John Sargent has not provided any data to support this charge. In fact, even if some readers choose to buy the eBook instead of waiting for a library copy, it is hard to imagine those sales making up for 2 months of lost sales to libraries.

What authors are included in the embargo?

Some of the popular authors that are published by Macmillan include: Nora Roberts, Louise Penny, Marissa Meyer, Jeffrey Archer, Kristin Hannah, CJ Box, JD Robb, Tomi Adeyemi, Mary Kay Andrews, Tara Westover, John Grisham, Lee Child, Jojo Moyes, Michael Connelly, Margaret Atwood, and Celeste Ng, just to mention a few.

Does this include physical books?

No, the embargo only impacts eBooks. We are still able to get physical books and eAudio when they are newly released by the publisher.

Other than a longer wait, why is this embargo bad?

According to the American Library Association, the embargo limits a library’s ability to provide equal access to everyone. It especially harms library patrons with disabilities and learning issues because eBooks can come in large-print and offer fonts and line spacing for easier reading for those with dyslexia and other visual challenges. Portable devices are often lighter than books, so they are also easier to hold for those with physical difficulties. The embargo also hurts lower income people who want to read eBooks but can’t afford to go buy a copy, like Sargent wants.

What are libraries doing about it?

Several major libraries across the country are now boycotting Macmillan Publishing. A few are boycotting all Macmillan products. Many are boycotting only Macmillan ebooks. NCRL has decided to buy the one copy available at the very end of the 2 month period. Additional copies will be purchased on a case by case basis. The American Library Association has also launched a campaign called #eBooksForAll. Learn more about it, and sign a petition urging the publisher to drop the embargo, here.

Want more details? Read Library Journal’s article, Macmillan CEO Discusses Embargo, Alternate Licensing Models, in “AMA”. Another great article is, ALA Midwinter 2020: Macmillan CEO John Sargent, Librarians Spar Over E-book Embargo.

 

 

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