January 20, 2022

Washington Post: “Want to Borrow That E-Book From The Library? Sorry, Amazon Won’t Let You.”

From Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler:

You probably think of Amazon as the largest online bookstore. Amazon helped make e-books popular with the Kindle, now the dominant e-reader. Less well known is that since 2009, Amazon has published books and audiobooks under its own brands including Lake Union, Thomas & Mercer and Audible. Amazon is a beast with many tentacles: It’s got the store, the reading devices and, increasingly, the words that go on them.

Librarians have been no match for the beast. When authors sign up with a publisher, it decides how to distribute their work. With other big publishers, selling e-books and audiobooks to libraries is part of the mix — that’s why you’re able to digitally check out bestsellers like Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land.” Amazon is the only big publisher that flat-out blocks library digital collections. Search your local library’s website, and you won’t find recent e-books by Amazon authors Kaling, Dean Koontz or Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Nor will you find downloadable audiobooks for Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime,” Andy Weir’s “The Martian” and Michael Pollan’s “Caffeine.”


“Imagine if you were put out of work by covid, and you want to read a book about developing your skills. You don’t have the economic wherewithal to get that book yourself — but you log into the Libby app and can’t find it,” says Michael Blackwell, director of the rural St. Mary’s County Library in Leonardtown, Md.

The Internet has, of course, given us access to a lot more information — but also made it possible to erect new walls around some of it.

“Society pays a huge price,” says Michelle Jeske, city librarian at the Denver Public Library and president of the Public Library Association. “How many different platforms does a person have to subscribe to to be able to read all the things they’re interested in? You used to be able to just do that at the public library.”

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.