March 12, 2020

Librarians leery on latest e-book plan; softening of stance seen?


The ongoing war between Macmillan honcho John Sargent and librarians over e-book pricing continues to simmer, with the publisher’s latest plan hinting at a compromise, while librarians remain skeptical.

To recap: in July 2019, Macmillan announced that it was implementing an eight-week-long embargo on e-book sales to libraries. The move was motivated by Macmillan’s contention that e-book circulation from libraries was unduly damaging print sales, and was—not surprisingly—met with howls of outrage from librarians across the country, as well as a stiff if sporadically enacted boycott.

Librarians, we have always known, are fierce. And our beloved somewhat beloved uneasy allies beloved partners at Penguin Random House were staunch in their “support of the invaluable contributions libraries make to our communities and the promotional opportunities they provide our authors,” vowing to continue “to make our e-books available to library patrons the same day they go on sale at retail.”

So there! Meanwhile, the imbroglio took an unexpected turn on Friday, when Macmillan e-mailed a set of three alternate proposals to a select group of librarians. A peace offering? All three sets of new terms have dropped the embargo in favor of a complicated set of metered-use fees; the whole thing is slightly more complicated than the circuitry design of the space shuttle.

Bringing light where there once was darkness, as is their wont, Publishers Weekly explains that all of the proposals make the discussion “a price discussion, rather than an explicit infringement on basic access, which librarians maintain is fundamentally unacceptable.”

Does this represent, ah … progress? A possible resolution to the impasse? A victory for the librarians? It’s hard to say! Frankly, the whole thing makes our heads hurt! We just want to get back to reviewing page proofs and washing our hands every thirty-five seconds!



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.