Libraries, publishers, and the battle over e-books : Planet Money In 2019, a group of librarians (quietly) stormed the offices of a major publisher, Macmillan, to protest a controversial policy on e-books. On this show, how a tiny change - a book on a screen - threw an industry into war with itself.

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The E-Book Wars

The E-Book Wars

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ALA members Alan Inouye, Barb Macikas, and Sari Feldman march towards the offices of a major publisher, Macmillan, in Manhattan. They carry boxes of petitions addressed to John Sargent, at the time Macmillan's CEO. The petitions protest a controversial policy on e-books in libraries. American Library Association/ALA hide caption

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American Library Association/ALA

ALA members Alan Inouye, Barb Macikas, and Sari Feldman march towards the offices of a major publisher, Macmillan, in Manhattan. They carry boxes of petitions addressed to John Sargent, at the time Macmillan's CEO. The petitions protest a controversial policy on e-books in libraries.

American Library Association/ALA

In 2019, a group of librarians (quietly) stormed the offices of a major book publisher, Macmillan. They carried boxes stuffed with petitions. They'd collected thousands of signatures, and now, they wanted to deliver them in person. Their goal: to put an end to a controversial policy known as "windowing." It would prohibit libraries from loaning out more than one copy of a new e-book in the first 8 weeks after its release, leading to long wait times for bestsellers. Librarians saw this as a threat to their mission to freely share knowledge with the public.

But Macmillan said: we're the ones who are threatened here. More and more people are borrowing e-books from libraries. And of course, when you borrow a book, you don't buy it. Publishers began to feel that libraries were threatening their business model, and making it harder for authors to stay afloat, too.

It's in some ways a familiar story. An industry goes digital, and that changes the calculation of who makes money. Think music streaming–Spotify comes along, and musicians and labels have to adapt. Except, in this case, the organization that Macmillan said was disrupting the whole system was...the friendly local library.

On today's show, we go inside the battle between libraries and publishers over e-books. The stakes couldn't be higher: everyone feels like they're fighting for their very right to exist.

Music: "Tales from the Attic," "Hunky Dory," and "When You're Gone."

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