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If you are someone who depends on e-books from the library, it could take a lot longer to get that hot new book you want. That is because starting today, Macmillan Publishers, one of the five largest publishing houses in the country, is drastically restricting sales of its new e-books to public libraries.
Under Macmillan's old rules, a large library system - think New York, Chicago - they might have ordered hundreds of digital copies of an eagerly awaited book. Now, each system, large or small, can buy only one e-book for the first eight weeks after it goes on sale. NPR's Lynn Neary has the story.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: When Macmillan CEO John Sargent announced the new guidelines for e-book sales last July, he said library lending was cannibalizing the sale of e-books. According to Sargent, 45% of Macmillan's e-books are being borrowed for free from libraries, and he adds that number is growing rapidly. Sargent decided to limit e-book sales in those early weeks because that's when interest is highest.
JOHN SARGENT: The best comparison is the movie industry probably.
NEARY: Sargent points out that movies get their biggest box office returns on opening weekend. When audiences dwindle, the features get moved to other platforms. He says it's the same for books.
SARGENT: It is the first eight to 12 weeks for most bestsellers that the biggest volume comes. It's not across all books, but the vast majority of bestsellers, the biggest volume is in those first weeks. It's a crucial time for sales. And that's where a lot of the volume in bookstores - that's when they sell the majority of their books.
SARI FELDMAN: One copy does not satisfy readership if it's a bestseller, a popular book, an important book.
NEARY: Sari Feldman is a senior policy adviser and past president of the American Library Association or ALA. She says one copy lets readers know a book is available...
FELDMAN: But it would frustrate library users who would not have any real access to that book. In eight weeks, maybe two people would get to borrow it.
NEARY: The ALA spearheaded a campaign against the new restrictions. It gathered more than 160,000 signatures on a petition which was presented to Macmillan's Sargent during a meeting earlier this week. Feldman says they asked him to suspend what she calls the embargo on e-book sales to libraries. He did not agree to do so. Feldman says Macmillan thinks that limiting the sale of e-books to libraries will drive people to buy retail copies of the book instead, but she points out...
FELDMAN: Libraries buy e-books, and I think that's really important. They're not given to us. We buy them. So we contribute to the e-book economy.
NEARY: Moreover, Feldman says, libraries pay more for e-books - as much as five times the retail price. And people who use libraries are unlikely to buy, rather than borrow a new book.
FELDMAN: Our population are primarily people who are on fixed incomes or limited incomes, have a relationship with the library where books are recommended to them, need the kind of access that libraries provide.
NEARY: For his part, Macmillan CEO John Sargent says he's open to continued discussions on a problem that needs to be addressed one way or another.
SARGENT: We would intend to talk to the libraries on an ongoing basis to try to get the best answer for the whole publishing ecosystem - being the authors, publishers, retailers, readers and libraries.
NEARY: The next step for the ALA, says Sari Feldman, may be to seek a legislative remedy for recurring problems with publishers over pricing and access to digital books. She says the ALA will continue to raise its concerns in order to ensure that the public has the kind of access that is fundamental to America's public libraries.
Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
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