by Sunita

First up, some reactions to MacMillan’s decision to window, i.e., delay access to, new ebook releases for libraries and therefore for their patrons. If you missed the news, MacMillan has decided that their “test” program of windowing Tor Books has worked so well that they’re expanding the policy to all library-purchased ebooks. John Sargent sent out a memo (caution: dreaded PDF format) which argued:

For Macmillan, 45% of the ebook reads in the US are now being borrowed for free from libraries. And that number is still growing rapidly. The average revenue we get from those library reads (after the wholesaler share) is well under two dollars and dropping, a small fraction of the revenue we share with you on a retail read.
The increase in library ebook reading is driven by a number of factors: a seamless delivery of ebooks to reading devices and apps (there is no friction in e-lending, particularly compared to physical book lending), the active marketing by various parties to turn purchasers into borrowers, and apps that support lending across libraries regardless of residence (including borrowing from libraries in different states and countries), to name a few.
It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free.

Any reader who uses Overdrive knows that library borrowing is far from “frictionless” if you take into account how quickly you can actually get a new release and how books licenses expire. But I’ll let other, more knowledgeable and eloquent people, those who actually work in and with libraries, make the case. First up, our very own SuperWendy (and please click through and read the whole thing):

Libraries are funded by tax dollars.  Tax dollars paid by the constituents in the areas where we provide service.  I can assure you, we’re pretty fanatical about making sure users meet the residency requirements.  And “lack of friction?” What does he consider long wait lists and charging libraries more for the same ebook file they’re selling retail via Amazon?  Never mind our budgets have largely remained stagnant and we’re buying multiple formats of the Exact. Same. Book. that they published (print, Large Print, audio on CD, e-audio, ebook, and a partridge in a pear tree…)

The founder and CEO of Overdrive calls Sargent’s argument a work of fiction, and since he has the actual numbers, like Wendy, I’m far more persuaded by him than by Sargent:

For all the Macmillan ebooks that libraries acquired for lending, 79% expired and were removed from library catalogs because the two-year term limit occurred first – not because they were checked out 52 times.  The data of actual lending of Macmillan ebook titles by public libraries supports an underutilization of the inventory.  The average number of times a library loaned a Macmillan ebook during the 2-year term for each title was 11.5 times (far from 52 checkouts).  Using this data, the average cost to the library to lend the title was $6.07 for every time a title is borrowed, 5 times the figure shared in the WSJ story.  Furthermore, this includes users who never opened the title or read it – so the cost for every “ebook read” is still higher.   This 11.5 average checkout includes Macmillan best-sellers such as Fire and Fury
 and others, which by all accounts is an outlier and overperformer.  For the vast majority (75% of Macmillan catalog of titles during the 2-year term) an ebook was checked out an average of 8.3 times each.

In other words, for many, many books, libraries are paying for books in excess of the number of checkouts they get (and that’s on top of the much higher prices they pay for ebooks compared to print books). They aren’t cannibalizing buying customers, they’re providing a financial support system for non-bestselling books and authors.

This is separate from the equally strong argument that libraries create readers who then go on to buy books. I borrow a lot of books from the library. But because I can get books for “free” (we’re ignoring the taxes I pay to support three library systems and the waitlists I sit on) I am more likely to buy books that aren’t available or that have very long waitlists, and I can afford to buy books at the indie bookstore for full price rather than from Amazon. Which keeps indie bookstores going. The shortsightedness of Sargent’s vision is mind-boggling, or at least it would be if we hadn’t witnessed it during the Big 5 Collusion Era. As Wendy says, libraries will adapt, and history tells us readers will migrate to other publishers and/or find other ways to obtain MacMillan’s new releases.

On a more upbeat note, let’s celebrate someone actually being brought to book for violating a law. It happens! A man in Spain decided that recycling his fridge was too hard, so he dumped it into a ravine. He was identified by the police, fined €45,000, and forced to drag the fridge back out of the ravine. Piling on the irony, the perpetrator works for a waste management firm, which will also be fined. Oh, he lost his job. And he is very sorry because it has ruined his life:

“I really regret what I’ve done because it’s meant I’ve lost my job and has aggravated the problems I have with anxiety,” he told the online news site El Español.

No regrets about despoiling nature or breaking the law, evidently. And it wasn’t even his first offense: he had previously done the same thing with a washing machine.

People, man. Thank goodness for Corgis. And speaking of dogs, the wild dogs of Madagascar are having puppies. I would love to post a photo but I’m sure that’s copyright infringement. But please click through, you will be much happier for it.