Push publishers to let libraries lend e-books

Posted: August 13, 2012

As e-books continue to grow in popularity, more and more people are visiting the Free Library of Philadelphia or logging on to freelibrary.org to check out our digital titles.

While we currently offer more than 32,000 e-books for download - and are continually working to expand our digital collections - many of our customers wonder why they can't find the latest e-book bestsellers from Jennifer Weiner, Jeffrey Eugenides, or a host of other acclaimed authors. After all, the Free Library has plenty of physical copies of books by those same writers.

The problem is that the Free Library, and libraries across the country, is unable to offer our customers access to these and thousands of other in-demand e-book titles because, for the first time, we are unable to purchase the materials that our customers want. This is not due to lack of funds, but because of restrictions from publishers.

Currently, three of the "Big Six" publishers - Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster - do not allow libraries to lend their newest, most in-demand e-book titles. And after abruptly retreating from the library market, Penguin has only now begun wading timidly back into the waters with a yearlong pilot lending program in the New York Public Library system. (We thank the two major publishers that allow libraries to lend their full catalog of e-books - HarperCollins and Random House - as well as countless smaller and independent publishers.)

Why the restrictions? Some publishers believe that allowing libraries to lend their e-books will hurt their bottom line. However, a recent study by the Library Journal found that libraries actually foster book sales: 50 percent of all library users go on to purchase books by an author they were first introduced to at the library.

A public library provides fair and equal access to knowledge and information for all people, and we believe that libraries and the readers who use them deserve digital access to all of the same books we purchase in print. If you agree and want to join the chorus of frustrated library users, visit the online petition at ebooksforlibraries.com, or let publishers know directly (their contact information can be found on our blog at freelibrary.org).

We are all learning to navigate this new and rapidly changing digital world together, and we understand that doing so comes with growing pains and struggles. We do not expect publishers to offer immediate or perfect solutions, but we do expect them to work with us to provide a fair model that works for everyone: publishers, libraries, and - most important - readers.

All readers have the right to access great books. Please join the Free Library in encouraging all publishers to offer their e-book titles to libraries and their customers.


Siobhan A. Reardon is president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia. E-mail her at president@freelibrary.org.

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