Macmillan Walks Back Ebook Embargo

Dana Staves

Staff Writer

Going through life with an apron tied on and a pen in her hand, Dana Staves writes about books and food. She also writes a little fiction. She lives in Maryland with her wife, their son, and their cat.

Macmillan Publishers announced today that in the interest of setting aside differences, they will return to the library ebook pricing model that was in place October 31, 2019. They will also be temporarily lowering prices on select ebooks “to help expand libraries’ collections in these difficult times.” The message came down from Macmillan’s CEO, John Sargent.

Sargent’s email does not mention the COVID-19 pandemic directly, but as libraries across the country have closed their doors to achieve social distancing, digital loans are patrons’ only ways to access library books.

Book Riot previously posted about the library ebook pricing changes, and the industry precedent set by Penguin Random House and Hachette Book Group. Publishers Weekly spelled out further information comparing Macmillan’s embargo with the models put forth by other big five publishers.

The new pricing model, which went into effect November 1, 2019, limited libraries to purchasing one single-access copy of new Macmillan titles within the first eight weeks of a book’s release. After that initial eight weeks, they could acquire more copies, but for the first eight weeks of a book’s release, library users were required to share one digital copy. (So if everybody takes their two weeks each, only four people get to access a book, one at a time.)

Macmillan’s decision was harshly criticized by readers as well as the American Library Association.

According to Publishers Weekly, removal of the embargo extends to all titles, including new release titles from Tor. ALA Senior Director for Public Policy & Government Relations, Alan Inouye, responded favorably to Macmillan’s decision: “Macmillan’s return to its original lending terms signals a new starting point for all publishers to consider how they can work with libraries to ensure—and expand—access for all readers. ALA looks forward to working with publishers to make that happen.”

The restoration of the previous pricing terms is expected to go into effect this week.

Some additional reading on the importance of libraries:

The Economic Case for Supporting Libraries

7 Cool Things Libraries Are Doing, Beyond the Books