Anthony W. Marx: Major Publishers to Make E-Books Available to Libraries!

Dear Commons Community,

Anthony W. Marx , president of the New York Public Library, has a piece in today’s New York Times announcing that Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster, which publish roughly two-thirds of the books in America have agreed in principle to make e-books available to public libraries. This is a big step, as it represents, for the first time, a consensus among the major publishers that their e-books should be made available to library users. Details are still being worked out such as:

“E-books might not seem like a priority given those daunting tasks — but as the nature of reading changes, access to these books is essential for libraries to remain vital. The New York Public Library helped lead talks with the publishers over e-books. Before today’s breakthrough, we had some false starts. While HarperCollins, in 2003, was the first to provide access, after the downturn, it limited the number of times each e-book could be lent, while Hachette decided to no longer sell new e-books to libraries, and Penguin, which had agreed to do so, said it might back out. To their credit, the publishers have now each come around.

Last September, Penguin agreed to make its e-books available to patrons at the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library, but with a six-month lag for new titles. Penguin recently agreed to release e-books to libraries at the same time its hardcovers came out. In April, Simon & Schuster agreed to sell e-books to the city’s libraries. Today’s announcement by Hachette (whose imprints include Little, Brown) is the capstone of that process.

Many issues still need to be sorted out. Five of the Big Six are making their entire e-book inventory available to us to choose from, while Macmillan is offering only a limited selection. HarperCollins allows us to lend each e-book we acquire only 26 times per title; Penguin and Simon & Schuster offer one-year licenses; and Random House sells licenses without time limits but charges much more per license. (In all cases, an e-book can be borrowed by only one patron at a time.) Prices charged to libraries vary widely according to the kind of license agreement, and we hope they will be reduced as demand increases.”

All in all, this is a good step for  public libraries and their readers.


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