New Penguin Ebooks No Longer Available to Libraries

By Jamie W. RSS Fri, February 17, 2012

See update to this story (10/2/2013)

In a surprise announcement on February 9th, Penguin Group, one of the world’s largest publishers, terminated its partnership with OverDrive, the primary supplier of ebooks to public libraries. While Penguin promises that ebooks currently licensed by libraries will remain available, forthcoming titles will not (Penguin print books will still be available to libraries and, of course, Penguin ebooks will continue to be sold to consumers via online retailers).  Penguin now joins Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan among the “Big Six” American publishers whose new ebook titles are not available to public libraries.  Of the remaining two major publishers, only Random House allows unrestricted access to its digital books, although they have just announced a price increase to libraries.  HarperCollins, for its part, allows libraries to purchase their ebooks but introduced a controversial sales model of 26 uses per copy in 2011 (for more on the HarperCollins sales model, see our previous post). 
What does all this mean for readers and libraries? Essentially, it means that the number of best-selling, in-demand ebooks available to libraries continues to shrink, while the demand for these titles continues to grow.  Between 2010 and 2011, ebook circulation at the Free Library of Philadelphia via OverDrive increased over 300%.  In addition, according to a recent PEW Internet study, 29% of American adults now own either an e-reader or a tablet while 35% of adults now own a smartphone, which can also be used for reading ebooks. However, Pew also reports that rates of smartphone, e-reader, and tablet ownership drop off among people with a household income of $30K or less. This is particularly important to us in Philadelphia where the median household income is just $36,251 and 25% of the population lives below the poverty level.
We believe that Penguin's position, as well as that of Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan, has repercussions that go beyond giving people "free” access to the latest James Patterson or Stephen King ebook. The business models that libraries, publishers, and vendors like OverDrive and Amazon, put in place now will set a precedent for how digital content is treated in the future. While I am not of the opinion that print books are going to disappear any time soon, I do think that publishers and readers will continue to embrace digital books. We will also likely begin to see more titles published exclusively in a digital format.
Libraries pay fair prices for content so we can share it with our readers. That means all of our readers: those who see libraries as a simple convenience, those who recognize them as a right and an essential democratic institution, as well as those for whom the public library is an invaluable lifeline. 
Several publishers have criticized various aspects of the current ebook model for libraries, but few have put forward alternatives. To be fair, the ebook market is new to all of us and some growing pains are to be expected.  That’s why the American Library Association as well as several independent libraries and nonprofit organizations are working directly with publishers to find a solution that will work for everyone. Public libraries respect the need for publishers to make a profit, but we also expect publishers to respect our right to deliver content, new titles as well as old, in the formats that readers need now.  Every major publisher has publicly declared their support of libraries, and libraries, through our handling of last summer's developments with HarperCollins, have demonstrated that we are open to alternative models. Yet we remain at an impasse - and now another publisher has pulled its content from our digital shelves. 
Perhaps the time has come for readers and authors to demand more from publishers?  Please support your public library however you can and consider contacting your favorite publishers to request that they renew and act upon their commitment to making all of their books available to libraries in every format.  
Contact Penguin (publishers of The Help by Kathryn Stockett , Against All Enemies by Tom Clancy, and more)
Contact Simon & Schuster (publishers of 11/23/63: A Novel by Stephen King, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and more) 
Contact Hachette (publishers of Bossy Pants by Tina Fey, Guilty Wives by James Paterson, and more)
Contact Macmillan (publishers of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, Think Twice by Lisa Scottoline, and more)

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Public libraries were unhappy when HarperCollins began offering e-book licenses with 26 circulation limits rather than unlimited use. But I think a variation of this model would work for me in the middle school setting IF they would allow simultaneous downloads! If my students with e-readers could all access the hot new sequel immediately it would be a huge advantage over print! I purchase multiple paperback copies of the latest hot title knowing that I will withdraw them when the demand decreases. Why couldn't I purchase a limited license e-book for the same purpose? With the all-reading-at-once advantage! Publishers?
Mbrandt - Cornfields of Illinois
Friday, February 17, 2012

To the first commenter especially, but also to everyone reading the article: how are publishers supposed to handle the possibility of one purchased copy of a title being lent an infinite number of times simultaneously? I am the author of eight novels for children and young adults; book sales feed my family. Let's say infinite, simultaneous lending DOES become the norm. Then when my next book comes out, one library buys one copy, and every library user in the world can instantly read it for free??? How can any author or publisher stay in business with that model? Of course the publishers can't let that be the model.
Jordan Sonnenblick - Bethlehem
Friday, February 17, 2012

Very interesting study for a non librarian. Balancing the needs of all the players, understanding the motivations for all the players. ie; make a profit, create great content distribute content (for a profit & for free. Tons of history of relationships, lots of misunderstandings, written & unwritten agreements and of course changing technology. Living in changing environments of business, health,education etc is the reality and always has been. Adapting, adjusting through compromise, collaboration etc is esential....keep talking, don't yell and listen. Create tables for discussion not walls for separation.
Punch Jackson - Edmonton Alberta CA
Saturday, February 18, 2012

To Mbrandt and Jordan: I think you both make good points. The solution that libraries hope to see come about is not one where one side wins and the other loses. Publishers and authors certainly need to be paid for their work, but that work should be available from public libraries in today's relevant formats, including digital, just like print always has. We're not calling for a free-for-all, just a simple, predictable model we can all live with. Libraries are actually pretty agnostic about what that model should look like, we simply want to be able to purchase content and make it available to our readers.
Jamie W (blogger) - Philadelphia
Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Great Article.I am glad that it turned out so well and I hope it will continue in the future because it is so worthwhile and meaningful to the community.
resell rights ebooks - ny,ny
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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xxdevil - Ukrain
Friday, March 16, 2012

I most cetainly agree with you on this post, thanks for a well written post
- New Jersey
Monday, August 6, 2012

OK. This serves the information well. But why did Penguin Group took such steps ?
Nishant - Blog
Sunday, March 23, 2014