One of the literary world’s “Big Five” publishing houses, Macmillan Publishers, has limited libraries across the country from purchasing electronic book copies for new releases. Since Friday, the company has only allowed libraries to purchase one e-book copy for a book’s first eight weeks of release.
This artificial scarcity will have a “big impact” on Central Oregon e-book readers, said Todd Dunkelberg, director of Deschutes Public Library.
“If there’s only one copy available, it’s basically not available,” he said. “It’s a stumper for us why we would be treated this way.”
Local readers who said they frequently check out e-books from Deschutes County libraries said they were upset about Macmillan’s decision to limit electronic copies of new books from libraries.
Bend resident Margi Finch called Macmillan’s policy a “nuisance.” She said it would negatively affect those who can’t afford to constantly buy new books or e-books, and depend on the library, likening the situation to David and Goliath.
“It puts people who don’t have the financial means to do whatever they want, whenever they want, at a disadvantage,” Finch said. “The more impediments we put in peoples’ way for accessing literature of any kind … it’s just disadvantageous.”
Fellow Bend resident Melanie Kebler said she “almost exclusively” reads e-books, and that the Macmillan library e-book embargo would be a hindrance to her book club.
“Limiting the copies of e-books really hampers our ability to all read the same book over the same period of time so we can discuss it together,” Kebler wrote in a email.
Dunkelberg said Macmillan’s decision will limit future events the library system plans. For example, he said the library won’t be bringing in authors showcasing Macmillan-published books. And the library’s annual “A Novel Idea” event — in which the library encourages residents to read the same book starting in December, culminating with a series of events around the book in April — now can’t use a MacMillan book due to limited access.
“It’s hard for us to support a business that is actually harming our business,” Dunkelberg said.
If there’s a new book that’s expected to be popular, Deschutes Public Library will typically buy 20-30 electronic copies of that book, Dunkelberg said.
NPR reported that in July, Macmillan CEO John Sargent said the new policy was “in response to our growing fears that library lending was cannibalizing sales.” Sargent also told NPR that 45% of Macmillan’s e-books were borrowed from libraries.
A representative from Macmillan did not respond to The Bulletin’s request for comment Monday.
Macmillan is the fifth-largest publisher in the country as recently as 2016, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Emily O’Neal, who oversees Deschutes Public Library’s collection, said it was difficult to count how many Macmillan titles the library system carried, as the New York City-based publisher runs 33 different imprints. But she guessed it could be more than 20% of the library system’s collection.
The publisher’s embargo could make it difficult for readers to access future novels by popular writers typically associated with Macmillan, such as Iris Johansen, Nora Roberts and Greer Hendrix, O’Neal said. Three of the top 10 books on The New York Times’ current nonfiction bestseller list are from Macmillan imprints, including the book at the top of the list: Elton John’s autobiography, “Me.” And on Nov. 12, Macmillan will publish a book written by Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
O’Neal said MacMillan’s embargo will only affect e-books released on or after Nov. 1.
Major library systems around the U.S. have balked at Macmillan’s e-book decision, declaring a boycott of the publishing company. King County Library System, which operates many libraries in the Seattle suburbs, will stop purchasing new e-books from MacMillan, according to Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger. The Des Moines Public Library in Iowa’s capital city is holding a similar boycott on new Macmillan e-books, the Des Moines Register reported. Library systems in Columbus, Ohio, Nashville, Tennessee and more will also decline to purchase new e-books from Macmillan, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
Deschutes Public Library originally considered joining the boycotts, but decided against the move, O’Neal said.
“Because these are such popular titles and there are so many of them, we would be doing a disservice to our readers … even though there’s a publisher that’s clearly not playing nice with libraries,” she said.
Dunkelberg said the library system won’t purchase the single alloted e-book copy of new Macmillan releases, and will instead wait until the eight-week embargo is lifted. He added that the embargo won’t affect physical copies of new Macmillan books.
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