Amazon under pressure to lift ban on e-books in libraries

Amazon’s refusal to sell internally published e-books to libraries sparks backlash as demand for digital content increases during the coronavirus pandemic.

Librarians and advocacy groups are pushing for the tech giant to license its published e-books to libraries for distribution, arguing that the company’s self-imposed ban dramatically decreases public access to it. ‘information.

“You shouldn’t have to have a credit card to be an informed citizen,” Michael Blackwell, director of the St. Mary’s County Library in Maryland, told The Hill. “It is vital that books continue to be a source of information and that these books are found democratically in libraries.

A petition launched last week by Fight for the Future, a technology advocacy group, calls on Congress to continue an antitrust investigation and legislative action against Amazon for its ban on selling e-books to libraries. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had nearly 13,000 signatures.

“In the end, if you can’t find [an e-book] in a library, where are you going to buy it? Kindle, ”said Lia Holland, a Fight for the Future activist, referring to Amazon’s online e-book store.

Amazon has indicated that it is in talks to allow its e-books to be licensed by libraries, but so far public institutions are unable to access Amazon’s digital titles.

The problems with library e-books go beyond Amazon. Traditional publishers have become more and more restrictive when it comes to e-books, Blackwell said, but they are at least providing options for libraries to license and distribute those books.

The crux of the matter is how e-books are sold. While libraries can lend physical copies of purchased books for as long as they hold, libraries must adhere to licensing agreements that limit the length of time they can keep eBooks in circulation.

Major publishers typically have two-year licensing contacts for library e-books, with two-year extension options, said Alan S. Inouye, senior director of public policy and government relations at the American Library Association.

But unlike their traditional publisher peers, Amazon does not allow libraries to purchase the e-books it publishes, leaving libraries no way to access what Amazon says is “over a million digital titles.” That consumers “will not find anywhere else”.

As Amazon ramps up publication, critics fear that even more books may not be available in libraries.

“It has become important, and of course everyone understands that Amazon’s growth trajectory is on the rise, so it’s also a concern to have access to even more titles in the future – or rather not having access to even more titles in the future, ”said Inouye. .

An Amazon spokesperson said the company was in “active discussions” with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to make its e-books available for library distribution.

The company expects to “test a number of different models” early next year, the spokesperson added.

“We believe that libraries serve an essential purpose in communities across the countries, and our priority is to make Amazon Publishing eBooks available in a way that ensures a viable model for authors, as well as library users, ”the spokesperson said.

Amazon declined to provide details on the prices or length of the license agreements it plans to test in 2021.

Michele Kimpton, director of business development and senior strategist at DPLA, said Amazon has been in discussions with the group since the summer to make its published e-books available.

If a deal is made, the DPLA would be able to deliver Amazon’s digital content to licensed libraries nationwide through the DPLA’s content exchange platform, Kimpton said.

“I am delighted that DPLA was able to take this step forward with Amazon and hopefully provide this pathway so that libraries can access Amazon books in a way that might not have been possible otherwise.” Kimpton said.

Blackwell said if an agreement is made for Amazon to share its content through the DPLA, it could be “a wonderful and important development for library readers.”

But a deal is far from set in stone, and librarians and advocacy groups are stepping up lobbying campaigns dating back to 2019.

Last year, the American Library Association submitted comments to the House Judiciary Committee in an antitrust investigation of tech companies. The group wrote that “the worst obstacle for libraries are market bans,” like Amazon’s, which denies libraries access to e-books from leading authors like Dean Koontz, Mindy Kaling and Mark Sullivan.

The Library Association highlighted their comments noting the increase in popularity of eBooks. Demand only increased during the pandemic due to limited in-person services.

Blackwell said the St. Mary’s County Library had seen a 40% increase in e-book requests in the past year. The Los Angeles Public Library, which serves one of the largest populations of all public libraries in thThe country has also seen the circulation of e-books increase by more than 40% during this period.

Between March 1 and November 30 of last year, the circulation of e-books at the Los Angeles Public Library was approximately 2.7 million. During the same period this year, they were over 3.9 million, according to figures shared with The Hill.

Catherine Royalty, acting collection services manager for the Los Angeles Public Library, said the library frequently receives requests from customers for electronic content that Amazon does not make available to libraries.

“We need to explain to users that the issue is with Amazon’s licensing policies and that the library has no way of acquiring the desired title and making it available,” Royalty said in a statement.

Amazon isn’t the first publisher libraries have grappled with with e-book licensing terms.

Last year, Macmillan announced a plan for an eight-week embargo before libraries could purchase a new version of the e-book. Libraries announced a boycott, and Macmillan later said he would abandon the plan, saying “there are times in life when differences need to be put aside.” The publisher has said it will revert to the library’s e-book pricing model that was in effect before November 2019.

While the terms of major publishers aren’t always what librarians may deem fair, the e-book distribution option is more than what Amazon offers, Inouye said.

“We think the prices are too high, but at least it’s a market debate, or a dispute, or a question. It’s a very different thing when it’s, ‘Well, we’re not going to sell it to you at all,’ ”said Inouye.

Two states have proposed legislation that would seek to regulate Amazon’s ban on selling e-books to libraries. Rhode Island and New York state senators this year proposed bills that would require publishers to offer e-book licenses to libraries on reasonable terms.

A spokesperson for State Senator Rachel May (D), sponsor of the New York bill, said the senator would pursue the legislation in the next legislative session.

“New York’s public libraries are one of the state’s greatest assets. In order to fulfill their democratic function, librarians must be able to access the materials their clients need on fair and equitable terms, ”May said in a statement.

Blackwell said a legislative battle could create significant challenges.

“It could be very unfavorable for libraries if that were the case. We don’t have the money, the resources, the attraction in a way that a corporate giant like Amazon does, ”he said.

But he said he preferred to see Amazon initiate a dialogue with the librarians to try and come to an agreement.

“We hope the legislation doesn’t have to happen,” Blackwell said. “But if we can’t find a way for people who often have the least benefits in society to access books through libraries, we may have to look for that as an alternative.”


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