Libraries battle eBooks with state help
Libraries are successful in convincing state legislatures to help them secure better terms for eBook licensing from Amazon and other publishers.
Why is this important: Libraries say it’s crucial for them to continue serving their communities, especially as digital access to books has become even more important during the pandemic.
- “What a tragedy it would be if, in a digital context, Americans and users of American libraries had less access to knowledge and information than in the analog age,” John Bracken, executive director of the Digital Public Library of America.
What is happening: A law in Maryland expected to come into effect in January and a similar bill in New York would require publishers who sell e-books to consumers to also license them to libraries on reasonable terms.
- Libraries have pushed for the legislation because they say publishers charge high prices, demand license buybacks, limit the ability to circulate digital copies and, until recently in the case of Amazon , refused to license certain e-books to libraries.
- “We’ve had enough,” Alan Inouye, senior director of public policy and government relations for the American Library Association, told Axios. “Libraries really need to have reasonable access. “
Details: Maryland law and the New York bill say that it is unreasonable to limit the number of eBook licenses that libraries can purchase on the same date that they are available to the general public.
In numbers : OverDrive, a digital reading platform for libraries and schools, said 2020 was a banner year for digital checkouts, and that growth continued into 2021, CEO Steve Potash told Axios.
- Total digital book loans will exceed $ 500 million in 2021, Potash said, up from $ 430 million in 2020.
- More flexible licensing models, such as allowing simultaneous withdrawals of the same digital copy, have contributed to this increase, Potash said.
The other side: The publishers’ trade group, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), is opposing the measures and filed a lawsuit this month to overturn Maryland’s law.
- The AAP says the law violates federal copyright protections by creating a “shadow copyright law” that gives libraries “unprecedented control” over transactions with publishers.
- “It is true that these bills would force more works on more immediate terms at devalued prices,” said Axios Maria Pallante, president of the AAP and former head of the US Copyright Office.
- “Where we don’t agree is whether it’s good for the sustainability of the publishing industry, or whether it’s legal.”
Between the lines: The editors’ lawsuit in Maryland serves as a wake-up call to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has yet to sign the state bill.
- A spokesperson for Hochul’s office told Axios they are reviewing the legislation, which has already been passed by the state legislature.
Go back: The American Library Association voiced its complaints against Amazon and other major publishers in 2019 as part of the House Judiciary Committee’s digital markets investigation.
- Libraries were frustrated with a Macmillan publishers policy to restrict e-book sales to libraries during the first weeks of publications, a policy the publisher changed in 2020.
- Additionally, Amazon had refused to make its own publishing house’s e-books available to libraries. Amazon Publishing has since entered into an agreement with the nonprofit distributor Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).
- “Thousands of titles from the Amazon Publishing catalog are now available for ebook libraries through DPLA, and thousands more will be available soon,” said the Amazon spokesperson.
- An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the state’s measures.
And after: Massachusetts and Rhode Island are both considering similar measures, Inouye noted, and more states may take up the proposals when they meet for their sessions next year.
- “Libraries should have reasonable access to digital books, not for free, to pay the market price,” said Inouye. “It goes quite easily, because it’s kind of common sense.”