As we have for the past 80 years, Salt Lake County Library works hard to provide you with outstanding library services at an incredible value. Our North Star has always been to make a positive difference in our community as we inspire your imagination, satisfy your curiosity and provide you with a great place to visit.
But we are facing a daunting new challenge to a fundamental library service: Large publishers are imposing new restrictions that limit libraries’ ability to offer users new digital content.
Salt Lake County residents have a remarkable love of libraries and an impressive enthusiasm for reading. We are committed to meeting the changing needs of our community by providing free and open access to the resources, programs, technology and spaces that people want and need.
In a startling development, on Nov. 1, Macmillan publishers, one of the country’s “big five” publishers, imposed an eight-week embargo on new e-books available to libraries. This embargo means that for the first eight weeks after a book is released, libraries will only be able to purchase a single copy of new Macmillan published e-books. After eight weeks we will be “allowed” to buy additional copies, but at a premium price.
This restriction applies to all libraries — whether a single library serving a community of a thousand people or a multi-branch system such as ours serving almost a million people.
Under these new restrictions, the wait for Macmillan e-book titles will skyrocket and costs will continue to escalate. The impact of this embargo and the other severe restrictions being placed by publishers on public libraries across the country will hurt readers near and far.
What’s more, in the changing digital content landscape, libraries are forced to license content and cannot own it. A licensing model increases costs and limits how many times patrons can check out an e-book before the library must re-license. Many people also aren’t aware that e-book costs to libraries are often four times the price of a retail copy.
With these limitations in place, we estimate that your library will soon spend a significant percentage of its e-book budget on re-licensing items already in the collection. These excessive costs will prevent the library from buying a broader range of titles or buying more copies of popular titles in order to reduce wait times.
Macmillan has said that libraries undercut publishers’ profits by allowing readers free access to materials that they would otherwise purchase. Macmillan is presenting this as a zero-sum game — that every circulation of a library book is a lost sale for the publisher and author.
Public libraries provide free marketing and massive exposure to authors and publishers at more than 16,500 locations in communities across the United States and online. In fact, there are more public libraries in the United States than there are McDonald’s or Starbucks locations.
The result of these unfair practices by publishers puts not only libraries and readers in a challenging position, but also authors, who should not be forced to choose between making a living and supporting the mission of a library to make information free and open to all.
Salt Lake County Library has a long history of supporting authors. Every day, library customers come into our libraries or browse the online catalog to find new titles to enjoy. We offer readers advisory services like where library staff help readers find new books and authors. At 22 locations, and many more service points throughout the county, the County Library hosts storytimes, author readings and other programs that promote literacy, expose people to books, resources and authors that they may not have discovered otherwise.
As you can imagine, the Macmillan model will have many unintended consequences. This strategy will deny a large portion of our public access to information, and it will disproportionately affect access for socioeconomic disadvantaged segments of the population.
Further, if a title is unavailable in e-book format for two months, not only will our loyal patrons not buy the title, we will likely not purchase the title in significant duplicates – this is a lose/lose proposition.
Libraries not only pay for books; we market them. Lost marketing (and lost library sales) means a loss for not only the public, but for publishers and authors.
We will continue to support your reading and learning interest. Nevertheless, we believe the harsh and unfair restrictions on public libraries are a troubling trend that we must stop.
Jim Cooper is director of Salt Lake County Libraries.