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Proposed Changes to eBook and eAudiobook Access


Digital checkouts are growing in popularity, and DML is thrilled to have circulated approximately 785,000 eBooks and eAudiobooks last year directly to your eReaders and devices (a huge leap over 2014, when we circulated 381,731 digital titles). Unfortunately, that ease of access to enjoy titles from popular authors such as David McCullough, Nora Roberts, and Colson Whitehead is threatened now. Publishing houses such as Blackstone Audio, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan, owners of many book imprints, have recently changed their eBook and eAudiobook purchasing policies for public libraries, and I want you to understand what's happening, how it affects you, and how your library is responding.

In short, the new policies mean that publishers will:

  • Charge libraries higher costs for titles;

  • Only "rent" the titles to libraries, meaning that DML may have to pay for the same copy over and over again if there is patron demand;

  • Embargo the sale of multiple copies of the newest titles to libraries, in hopes that patrons will get frustrated with long wait times and opt to purchase instead (specific to Macmillan Publishing and its many imprints for the time being).


There will be delays and fewer copies of many titles. The trend for establishing higher cost for libraries has been in place for many years. Now we see a more dangerous trend of requiring libraries to re-purchase popular titles every few years. This will further stretch our budgets and force us to make hard choices between what books and other materials we buy and will reduce funding for other services we offer.


The new policy is specifically designed to limit the number of digital copies libraries can purchase for lending. Public libraries are accustomed to being charged much higher prices than consumers for eBooks and eAudiobooks, but now public libraries will be further discriminated against and forced to wait months before we can purchase the titles you want to read in electronic formats.


Macmillan (owner of scores of publishing imprints such as Tor and St. Martin’s Press) has announced that they will only sell a single copy of their newest releases to libraries, even though we are willing to pay more for multiple copies to ensure your easy access. They will make us wait up to two months before we are allowed to buy additional copies to meet demand.

Publishers want Amazon and other eBook and eAudiobook vendors to have privileged access, because they want to give priority to people who can pay for the material. They assume library patrons won’t want to endure artificially long wait times for these popular titles, and digital users will feel compelled to purchase material rather than borrow from the library.


To share a very specific example of how these policies affect you; let's look at a book that was just released last month from Macmillan.

DML currently has 26 digital copies of Nora Roberts newest release, Under Currents, to serve eBook users. As of right now, each copy is checkedout and there are 141 patrons waiting their turn. DML paid $60 for each eBook license for this title -- a total of $1,560.

Under the proposed policy:

    • Readers who purchase their own books directly to their Kindle (via Amazon) only have to pay $15 for their copy of this title, yet libraries have to pay $60 for each license. Publishers are already charging libraries a huge mark up. Of course, we are willing to pay these overcharged prices because we are committed to making titles accessible in the community, but as budgets are stretched, libraries have to make difficult decisions regarding what to buy.

    • Unfortunately, when we purchase the title, we aren't actually getting perpetual access to the book. We have to purchase eBook licenses under "metered access." This means that when we purchase a title, we don't get to keep it. After 2 years, the publisher takes access to the book away, and DML must purchase another license to meet your need.

    • Under the publishers' new policy, DML can only buy one copy of the book when it is first released to the public, resulting in an incredibly long wait list. When we can finally purchase additional copies (months after it's been publicly released), the wait list would be 216 patrons long. WHY? Publishers are hoping that you get frustrated waiting in such long lines and instead opt to buy the book.


Libraries have always provided equity of access for those who cannot afford to purchase their own materials. When it comes to access to digital information these changes in purchasing policies will make it impossible for us to fulfill our mission. All libraries must adhere to this new policy, but it specifically discriminates against larger urban libraries as we try to meet the needs of our larger population. With these changes, the most vulnerable in our region are most likely to find themselves disadvantaged.

The American Library Association, the Ohio Library Association, other national and state associations, and library leaders across the country are speaking out. At Dayton Metro Library, we are adding our voice to request meetings with publishers in hopes to find common ground.

We have long considered ourselves partners with the publishing community. Libraries play by the rules; we adhere to copyright laws, and we are willing to pay fair prices for the content we buy for you. Not only are we spending significant revenues on electronic content, but studies have found that borrowing eBooks and eAudiobooks actually leads to increased consumer sales for publishers, as patrons find a new favorite author at their library and purchase future titles. Libraries want to purchase books from publishers and support the authors they represent, but these policies need to be rescinded so we can continue to effectively serve you.

This policy shift is an attack on the mission of the library, and we hope this can be resolved to support all parties. I'll keep you updated on this important issue.

Tim Kambitsch
Executive Director
Dayton Metro Library


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