‘They want to create friction’: Publishers cutting library access to ebooks, audiobooks

Local News

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Over the last year, publishers began tightening access libraries have to eBooks and audiobooks. It’s left Dayton Metro Library fearing it may eventually not have any new titles from big publishers to offer while paying quadruple for titles from some publishers.

Macmillan Publishing recently announced it will embargo libraries from buying multiple copies of new eBooks and audiobooks for two months.

This limits every library to one copy of new titles for the first two months it’s on sale, whether it’s the Dayton library, a public library in New York City or a library in a small town.

Dayton Metro Library Format Statistics

Graphic: Dayton Metro Library

The move by Macmillan was enough to push Dayton Metro Library’s Executive Director Tim Kambitsch to reach out to library patrons with a message: their access to books will change dramatically and not for the good.

“If we can’t even buy more than one copy of a new title, it limits those books to only people who can afford to pay the retail price,” Kambitsch said. “It’s contrary to the values we have as libraries.”

Do publishers want to push libraries completely out of the eBook and audiobook market? Kambitsch said the answer is a definitive no, but the larger publishers are trying to keep libraries from having access to their newest and most popular titles early when they’re the most profitable.

“Libraries are a significant market for print sales,” Kambitsch said. “(They) aren’t wanting to completely alienate this market.”

Book consumption by format: 2011 to 2018

Graphic from Statista.com

But there are different distinctions between publishers – mainly the big publishers with the best-sellers like Macmillan and the smaller publishers looking for an audience. The big publishers have been the issue.

“(The big publishers) are apparently very happy to push libraries out of the eBook and audiobook market when sales potential for new releases are at their highest,” Kambitsch said. “Once titles drop sales and drop from the best-seller lists (publishers) are scrambling like all the rest to maximize any sales and profits from other markets, including libraries.”

2 NEWS emailed Macmillan Publishing on Monday requesting comment or an interview, but as of the publication of this article, had not heard back.

Kambitsch said several top state and national library associations have also tried contacting Macmillan and haven’t heard back.

In 2018, the Dayton Metro Libraries circulated 785,000 eBooks and audiobooks to readers. With eReaders and tablets becoming more popular, people with eye issues or those who couldn’t regularly visit the library began using them to download books at home or use the screen to adjust to an easier to read format.

Growing popularity also means libraries will be loaning out more books on digital platforms than hard copies. These changes make it difficult for them to do so and are a problem for libraries in the long term

Kambitsch said he understood the need of publishers and authors to make money on their products, but libraries have been a part of the growth of these formats as well as the front line for educating people on how to use the latest technology in getting these electronic titles.

“After Christmas, we get such a deluge of people who come in and train them on how to be good electronic book readers,” Kambitsch said. “That’s a part of the role we play.”

Kambitsch said several library associations are making plans on how to combat pressures from major publishers. His letter to library patrons and local media was one step.

“It’s been a conversation that’s been going on for two years,” Kambitsch said. “But it’s getting more strident in terms of this issue. My hope, we find a way for libraries, publishers and authors to be successful.”

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