My Turn: E-book embargo unfair to New Hampshire readers

For the Monitor
Published: 10/1/2019 7:00:15 AM

‘We’re sorry, but there are 300 people ahead of you in line for our one copy of the e-book you’ve been anticipating all year.” This is the message New Hampshire public libraries will be forced to relay to readers of e-books published by Macmillan Publishers this fall.

Millions of people now use digital content as their preferred – or only – access to books, and yet the two-month embargo on new titles, to be imposed by Macmillan Publishers starting Nov. 1, will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information and content for all.

Libraries bring authors, publishers, teachers and readers together for the purpose of increasing knowledge, creativity, literacy, ideas and imagination. Libraries and library users are allies, not adversaries. This is true for so many reasons:

■Most of us can’t afford to buy every book that interests us. The library is a place of limitless learning opportunities for all, not just those with the money or the inclination to buy books.

■The Macmillan policy harms library patrons with disabilities or learning issues. E-books can easily become large-print books, and most e-book readers offer options that make reading easier for people with dyslexia.

■Readers living in remote locations, and those without the ability to go to a physical library, along with students and researchers who need content from numerous sources, will also be negatively affected.

New Hampshire Downloadable Books is a service of the New Hampshire State Library and 205 New Hampshire public libraries. The digital collection has grown to include a robust 13,000 e-book titles, 10,000 audiobook titles and 25 always-available magazines. Over the past 12 months, people have checked out over 1.1 million digital audiobooks and e-books. Readers (and listeners!) checked out 3,500 titles from the service daily this past summer.

While 47% and 55% of e-book and audiobook copies, respectively, are checked out at any time, people are enjoying the entire collection, including older content. In the past two months, 84% of the e-book titles and 93% of the audiobook titles have been checked out. This consortium, created in 2006, is the most efficient way for libraries across New Hampshire to provide digital materials to their patrons. The Macmillan embargo puts that efficiency in jeopardy. As a statewide consortium we will be allowed to purchase only one copy of a new Macmillan title for the first eight weeks of its release despite the fact that we serve over 1 million state residents.

Macmillan’s embargo is an outlier in the publishing industry. None of the other Big 5 publishers are building this type of barrier to library purchasing, creating inequitable reader access. There is no data to support the idea that every copy borrowed from a library means a sale is lost to a publisher.

As more and more people choose to read on their tablets and phones, we join libraries across the country in striving to meet readers’ needs both online and in person.

Libraries must remain vigilant about ensuring fair access, which is why many are asking Macmillan to reverse its new policy. Tens of thousands of readers have already added their names to a petition launched by the American Library Association, at We encourage you to add your name to the petition.

Let’s revise this chapter in e-book access history so that library patrons will be able to read the books they choose.

(Christine Friese, assistant director of the Portsmouth Public Library, is president of the New Hampshire Library Association.)

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