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Library joins in fight against Macmillan

It may appear to be a David vs. Goliath battle, but Shelter Island Library Director Terry Lucas won approval from her Board of Trustees to take on Macmillan Publishing over a new policy that limits access to the behemoth publisher’s electronic version of its new releases.

If you’re a fan of Stephen King, or Richard North Patterson, both have published extensively with Macmillan.
In a meeting at the library Tuesday morning, Ms. Lucas said one of her favorite authors, Louise Penny, has books published by Macmillan. But she’s willing to forego her pleasure in reading or listening to Ms. Penny’s books because of the new policy.

Since Nov. 1, Macmillan has implemented an embargo on sales of its electronic versions of new releases, providing only one copy to libraries or library systems for eight weeks. What that means to Shelter Island, part of the Suffolk County Library System, is that a single copy of a new electronic release will be sold to meet the needs of all libraries in the county for that eight-week period. Readers in the county system number 1.6 million individuals, she said.
Macmillan officials have defended the policy, saying purchases by public libraries are devastating initial post-publication sales.

Ms. Lucas argued that library users are also book buyers, purchasing both for themselves and for gifts. She’s concerned about what she sees as a “slippery slope” if the Macmillan policy stands and other publishers follow suit.

With other publishers waiting on the sidelines to see what happens with Macmillan’s policy, Ms. Lucas believes if there’s no pushback, many of them will follow suit.

The result would be that those willing to pay for information would get greater access and that rankles, Ms. Lucas said, explaining why she sought her board’s approval to resist.

Libraries don’t pay the typical prices for ebooks that individual buyers pay, she said. Instead, they have to pay hefty licensing fees that are limited by either time period or number of checkouts. An ebook that might cost an individual $12.95 could cost a library or library system $80 to $90, she said.

For libraries, it’s all about access, Ms. Lucas said. Her goal is to ensure she can get information to the most number of people, and the Macmillan policy interferes with that priority.

“Libraries have worked in partnership with publishers to provide access to patrons in a way that supports the publisher but provides access to ebooks to those who cannot otherwise afford them, as well as those with disabilities that prevent them from reading printed books or those who are unable to physically reach a public library to check out hard copies,” she said in a press release.

“It’s important that nobody is denied access because they don’t have money,” Ms. Lucas said.

Checkouts of both ebooks and audio downloads have risen steadily each year as the technology has become more accessible, she said.

“We believe that it is important to take a stand on the issue,” Ms. Lucas said.

Since the beginning of October, when Macmillan announced its policy, the American Library Association (ALA) launched a petition that has drawn more than 220,000 signers demanding an end to the policy.

When there were about 160,000 signatures, ALA officials delivered petitions to Macmillan Chief Executive Officer John Sargent.

“People think librarians are meek and mild, but we become very fierce about the rights of people,” Ms. Lucas said.

She hopes the ALA petition, available on the organization’s website, will continue to gather many more signatures. It’s available at ala.org/advocacy.