July 21, 2019

Statement: ALA “Expresses Concern” Over Hachette Book Group Ebook and Audio Book Lending Model Changes

Below is the full text of a statement from the American Library Association:

The American Library Association (ALA) expressed concern about changes announced today by Hachette Book Group (HBG) to its ebook and digital audio book lending model for libraries. Effective July 1, 2019, HBG will replace its perpetual ownership model for libraries with two-year access for ebooks and digital audio books.

HBG, one of the “Big Five” publishers (HBG, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster), also announced today that it will decrease prices for libraries for ebooks and digital audio books by as much as twenty-five percent; however, the initial “discount” will be eliminated if the library renews its access to those titles.

“The elimination of perpetual ownership will reduce long-term access to ebooks and digital audio books and increase challenges to the long-term preservation of our nation’s cultural heritage,” said ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo. “While the announcement includes some positive changes, the model will further limit affordable access to reading for 172 million U.S. library card holders.

“Libraries will welcome the reduced upfront costs and continued immediate access to new digital titles,” Garcia-Febo continued, “but the increased cost over time hurts our ability to support a vibrant ecosystem that benefits readers, authors and publishers.”

ALA has ongoing concerns over library prices for ebooks and audio books set by the Big Five publishers. For example, the library price for one title published by HBG in March 2019, Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, the Life of Ernie Banks by Ron Rapoport, is $84 compared to the $14.99 consumer price for the ebook.

ALA was pleased that HBG did not impose an embargo on sales of new ebook titles to libraries, as Macmillan did in July of 2018 with the Tor imprint.

“An important feature of the new HBG model is that the no-embargo policy is maintained,” said Loida Garcia-Febo. “When a new book is released in the consumer market, libraries must be able to obtain it at the same time. Otherwise, the public believes that we are not being responsive to their needs. Library access is especially important to those whose financial situation precludes purchasing books.

“To offer equitable access of information to our communities, libraries first must have fair and equitable access to resources, regardless of format, that is predictable and sustainable,” said Garcia-Febo. “We’ve had multiple cordial conversations with executives in publishing houses, with some disagreements. In the months ahead, ALA will amplify our role in championing the valuable and essential role of libraries in the publishing ecosystem. We will need strong collaboration with library advocates across the country to press our case.”

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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