Thursday, November 21, 2019

Macmillan's War on Libraries and Library Patrons Moves to Absurd Stage


German-owned publisher Macmillan’s war on libraries and library patrons accelerated last week when the publisher went through with its plan to limit e-book sales to only one copy per library for the first eight weeks after publication. It matters not whether the library is serving a community of 5,000 patrons are one of hundreds of thousands – it’s one copy per library. So don’t bother getting in line to stream a new e-book anytime soon for anything published by Macmillan or any of its divisions, including Henry Holt & Company; Bloomsbury; Faarrar, Straus and Giroux; North Point Press; Picador; Metropolitan Books; Graywolf Press; St. Martins; Tor; and Forge, among others. 

Macmillan is apparently under the absurd impression that if library patrons are unable to get a free copy of an e-book from their local library they will run right out and purchase a copy of their own – at what many consumers consider to be the inflated price that publishers charge for e-books today. We all know that’s not going to happen. Personally, I read about 125 books a year on average, with approximately half of those 125 being books published in the year that I read them. Of those 60 or so books, maybe half of them are e-books that I get either from my county library system, directly from publishers as ARCs, from the Amazon First Reads program, or via Amazon purchases. Simply put, I read way more books than I can afford to read, and if I have to buy them they are not as likely ever to be read and reviewed or otherwise featured on Book Chase at all. I don’t kid myself into believing that what I do is all that important to the bottom line of a giant publisher like Macmillan. But I do know that there are hundreds of book bloggers out there and that, taken as a group, we are important contributors to the publicity that authors and publishers so desperately need if they are going to sell books in today’s market. 

I am just old school enough that I still much prefer a hard copy or quality paperback version of a book to its frailer e-book cousin. I often read an e-book that I end up loving so much that I add a hard back copy of the book to the permanent collection on my personal library shelves. E-books just don’t give me a sense of permanency, and I doubt that they ever will. I never know if I own them or if I’m just renting them long enough for a new format to come along, replace them, and make all my e-books obsolete. After all, music publishers have gotten away with that little trick for years, so can book publishers be far behind with some kind of “planned obsolescence” scheme of their own?

Libraries, too, are a source of free publicity for publishers and their new books. It’s already bad enough that libraries are charged three to four times the price that consumers pay for e-books, even though that makes a little sense considering how many times the e-books are being read and that they never wear out. Many, if not all, publishers limit the number of times an e-book can be checked out before it has to be repurchased by the lending library; again, that makes some sense to me. But this new scheme of Macmillan’s is (I sincerely hope) going to backfire on the publisher and its authors. I doubt that the increase in sales is going to make up for the reduced number e-book copies that libraries are going to purchase for “older” books when they are finally allowed that privilege – books whose marketing buzz is already over. Libraries have limited budgets and they base their book purchases on expected demand from their patrons. So why would they buy books that no one is asking about anymore?

One final thought: How many bestsellers, do you think, were constructed largely out of sales to libraries? Libraries, taken as a whole, buy lots of copies of books and what they buy can be enough to catapult a book onto the bestsellers lists almost instantly. Perhaps even more important, library sales can mean the difference between an author working years for very little return and making a nice income for their efforts. I can’t imagine that too many Macmillan authors are happy about this misguided approach, so let’s hope someone at the top comes to their senses soon.

4 comments:

  1. Fingers crossed! Libraries need to be supported, not punished. Because they do introduce new authors and books to a lot of readers. GO libraries!

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    1. Absolutely, Lark. I really don't get this approach at all. Most people don't pay attention to which publisher is responsible for their favorite books. But Macmillan is in the process of changing all of that in a very negative way.

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  2. Macmillan's anti-library stance makes no sense to me! I check out tons of books from the library every year, few of which are e-books. I'm old-fashioned like you and prefer paper books, meaning I'm much more likely to buy an expensive paper book over its e-book. STILL, I don't get Macmillan's attitude. I review all the books I read, including those I get from the library. It seems like a publisher would do anything they could to get their books in the library, in whatever form, simply so more people have access to them. The more people who can access a book, the more who are talking about the book, sharing the book, promoting the book, and even buying paper copies for themselves or as gifts for family members and friends.

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    1. Susan, I really think that MacMillan is making a huge mistake. There are far fewer bookstores around than in the relatively recent past, so fewer and fewer people manage to stumble on a new title by accident. You would think that every publisher would have a better understanding of the free publicity contribution made by public libraries and book bloggers. Rather than making it tougher on us, they should be looking for ways to make it easier.

      Macmillan was also one of the ringleaders in that whole e-book price-fixing mess of a couple of years ago and they got burned on that one. Looks like they didn't learn anything in the process.

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