June 22, 2012

Penguin’s lending e-books, again


Penguin is back in the e-book lending game again. Sort of. After removing its titles from Overdrive in November 2011, Penguin has just announced that it is partnering with the e-book distributor 3M (more familiar to most people as the company that makes Scotch tape and Post-Its) to make its entire list available to the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library, for a one-year pilot program. On the crucial questions of price and duration of the e-copy, Tim McCall, vice president of online sales and marketing at Penguin, said, according to the Wall Street Journal, that “e-books will be priced for libraries in the same range as prices that retail consumers pay.” And each e-book will expire after one year, at which point libraries will have to buy the copy again.

Part of the current deal is that Penguin won’t release the e-book of new titles until six months after publication, which I’m betting could make the success of the pilot program hard to judge. Another wrinkle? 3M does not, at this point, support the Kindle, currently the most popular e-reader available.

It’s hard not to see this as a shot across the bow directed at Amazon, which was getting Penguin e-books from Overdrive and making them available in their Kindle Lending Library, a use that the publishers had not agreed to. (See the earlier MobyLives reports on this issue here and here.) However, there’s word that 3M is currently in talks with Amazon about providing support for the Kindle, so this may not be a battlefront, just another stage in the process as publishers and libraries try to sort out the questions e-books raise for their particular relationship.

The pilot program starts up in August and, the press release announces, “if successful, could be rolled out across the US.”


Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.