In response to the well-recognized impact of library e-lending on book sales, Macmillan Publishers is now changing the terms on which it sells ebooks to libraries. Since readers are able to borrow ebooks from libraries around the country (and in some cases, around the world), book sales—and authors’ royalties—have fallen. Last year, Macmillan tested a “windowing” system by which frontlist books weren’t made available for library e-lending until 16 weeks after the book’s release. It is now adopting a new system to protect the value of new releases while still respecting and supporting the needs of libraries.
Under its new system, Macmillan will make one copy of an ebook available upon that book’s release to each library system in perpetuity, at the half-price rate of $30 for that one copy. According to Macmillan, “this change reflects the library request for lower prices and perpetual access.” Libraries may obtain additional ebook copies of that title eight weeks after publication, for a period of two years (or 52 lends) at the cost of $60 per license; these licenses can then be renewed for additional two-year (or 52-lend) periods. This new system will only apply to ebooks, and libraries will still be able to order as many physical books as they like.
The Authors Guild welcomes this approach and thinks it is a reasonable compromise between the needs of the authors and the needs of the libraries. Although the American Library Association has objected to this new program, we believe that Macmillan has attempted to fairly address the concerns of the libraries and balance them with those of authors and others in the book industry. If, as Macmillan has determined, 45% of ebook reads are occurring through libraries and that percentage is only growing, it means that we are training readers to read ebooks for free through libraries instead of buying them. With author earnings down to new lows, we cannot tolerate ever-decreasing book sales that result in even lower author earnings. Macmillan’s new licensing scheme will still allow libraries to obtain a digital copy of new books in the first eight weeks, so readers who can’t afford to buy books and who can’t get to the library to take out print copies should not be impacted. We look forward to seeing how this new program affects readership—and ultimately, authors’ royalties.