Words

Readers Rights

Advocating for e-book access

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Troubling limits imposed by publishers on public library purchases of electronic books and audiobooks are inspiring a strong response from libraries across the country. We are raising awareness about this issue because pricing and access barriers make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all.

The Whatcom County Library System and Bellingham Public Library are proud to participate in the Washington Anytime Library, an e-book consortium of 45 public libraries in the state of Washington. Working together enables us to loan electronic books across our member libraries, increasing the variety of materials available to local readers and maximizing taxpayer dollars. But even working together, there can be long waiting lists for our most popular e-books and e-audiobooks.

Unfortunately, recent moves by some publishers may make those wait times even longer.

Last summer, the science fiction publisher Tor announced a temporary embargo on selling select new releases to public libraries. Libraries had to wait months after the release date to purchase e-books. Just recently, a major e-audiobook publisher (Blackstone) has decided to embargo select releases from purchase by public libraries for three months. And now Tor’s parent company, Macmillan, has decided to limit public libraries to one copy of new releases in digital formats followed by a two-month embargo on purchasing additional copies.

Already, libraries pay three to five times the consumer price for an e-book or e-audiobook. For most e-books, consumers pay $9.99. In comparison, we often pay $50 or more for a single license that can be used by one person at a time—and that license usually expires after a certain number of uses or a certain period of time (usually two years). Once that license expires, we must purchase another license to continue to ensure access for library users.

Libraries buy multiple copies of e-books to maintain purchase-to-hold ratios that minimize wait times. For Washington Anytime Library, that ratio is currently 7:1. That means for every seven holds placed on a book, the consortium purchases one copy. For especially popular e-books, Bellingham and Whatcom County libraries purchase additional copies from our local budgets.

Even with these measures, wait times can be long for in-demand new releases. For example, months after publication, bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens still has 251 holds on 43 copies of the e-book. If we had been limited to only one digital copy and then had to wait eight weeks to buy more, the wait list during the embargo period would be in years rather than months.

By severely limiting libraries’ ability to buy their books, publishers are hoping to turn borrowers into buyers. These steps directly threaten public libraries’ ability to serve customers and to uphold our commitment to equitable access for all. Publishers cite impacts on sales as their rationale for making it harder to borrow books, but we believe that a community with minimal barriers to reading is best for all of us: library users, book buyers, authors and publishers. Besides, according to a Pew Research study, 60 percent of frequent library users have also bought a book by an author they first discovered at a library.

In order to send a clear message to publishers that library sales restrictions are not acceptable, the Washington Anytime Library has decided not to purchase e-audiobooks from Blackstone Publishing for six months, and we have joined the American Library Association’s protest of Macmillan’s new policies (#ebooksforall). By making this stand, we are defending against the monetization of reading and fighting for equitable access to reading materials.

These embargoes are the latest evidence of a troubling trend in the publishing industry. Your local libraries are exploring all possible avenues to ensure access to the broadest possible range of materials while spending library funds effectively and responsibly. We invite you to join the conversation.

Show your support of libraries by getting and using a library card—the smartest card in your wallet. Take a photo of you with your library card and post it to your social media with #ebooksforall, @wclslibraries (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), and @bellinghampubliclibrarywa (Facebook) and @bplconnects (Instagram and Twitter). If you live within Bellingham city limits, apply for a card online at http://www.bellinghampubliclibrary.org; if you live in Whatcom County outside Bellingham city limits, apply online at http://www.wcls.org.

Christine Perkins is the executive director of Whatcom County Library System, and Rebecca Judd is the director of Bellingham Public Library.

More Words...
Think Black
A father, a son and the technology giant between them

“Double-consciousness lies at the heart of a basic question asked over and over again by members of racial minorities: Is what is happening to me because of who I am as a person, or who I am as a person of color? …What pathology, then, arises when the soul’s dogged strength alone…

more »
A Better Man
Louise Penny’s love story

Although she’s a renowned mystery writer, the series of books that have made Louise Penny a New York Times bestselling author can also be viewed as love stories.

That’s primarily because her husband, the late Michael Whitehead, was the inspiration for the character of Chief Inspector…

more »
Before the Wind
A family at sea

Several years ago, Whatcom READS featured Jim Lynch’s excellent novel Border Songs, about a dutiful, extremely tall, bird-loving rookie Border Patrol officer and his observations of life along the 49th parallel between the United States and Canada. 

Since then, he has written several…

more »
Events
Today
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Anything Goes Arts and Crafts

10:30am|Sumas Library

Nuclear Power and Weapons

6:30pm|Lynden Library

'Hamster Church with Brad Lockhart

6:30pm|Old Parish Hall

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Grizzly Boy

3:00pm|Point Roberts Library

Cook It and Book It

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Community Conversations Book Club

5:00pm|Village Books

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

Wednesday
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wednesday Farmers Market

2:00pm|Barkley Village Green

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Brewers Cruise

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Disruptive Play

7:00pm|Village Books

Native Plant Seed Propagation Basics

7:00pm|Sustainable Living Center

Brad Shigeta Quintet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts,

see our complete calendar »