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dornishpen

MacMillan restricting libraries' ability to purchase ebooks

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The publisher MacMillan (the 5th largest) is severely restricting sales of ebooks to libraries for the first 60 days after release. They will only sell one copy to each library system, no matter how large, for the first 60 days. To put this in more context, like a physical book libraries can only lone out a copy of an ebook to one patron at a time, libraries pay significantly more for ebooks than consumers do (usually at least 3 times more per copy and for popular books may buy many copies), many ebooks for libraries as well as costing significantly more than consumer ebooks also expire after a certain time period or being checked out a certain number of times (usually 1-2 years if time limited). MacMillan claims that library ebooks cut into their profits, I think they're being short sighted because libraries probably account for a lot of sales of new and mid-list authors and by doing so introduce readers to authors they may not have been willing to take a chance on purchasing as an unknown quantity. I also doubt it cuts much into their profits as people who are willing to spend months on an ebook waiting list for a popular new release probably were never going to buy it, but someone might try a new author and then buy some books if they like that author. The American Library Association created a petition, but it appears to have changed nothing. Many libraries are now boycotting MacMillan. Personally as a strong supporter of public libraries this makes me angry enough to boycott MacMillan and all of their imprints (including Tor).

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This is really a terrible decision on their part. They're blaming the libraries, but the fact is that it's their e-book pricing that is the problem. You can argue until you're blue in the face about the costs of making e-books and that consumers should understand the price point, but the fact is that they don't. And most of those lost sales aren't turning to a library copy that they might have to wait weeks or months to read, they're going to piracy.

I strongly disapprove of piracy and do not do this myself. But trying to pretend that libraries are the reason people aren't willing to spend $15+ on an e-book is just being willfully ignorant.

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I agree a substantial increase in downloading pirated copies is more likely than a substantial increase in sales. A library copy may cost $90 and be downloaded 50 times before the license expires, so obviously there's less profit per reader, but pirated copies result in no profit per reader (a lot of people in the social media discussions about this who are supporting the publisher seem to be under the impression that library books are free for the library as well as the patron), and from what I understand the difference in prices for libraries is much greater for ebooks than physical books, so they're doing better with those.

Also libraries are a public good and give many people access to things they wouldn't be able to access otherwise. 

Edited by dornishpen

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3 hours ago, Starkess said:

This is really a terrible decision on their part. They're blaming the libraries, but the fact is that it's their e-book pricing that is the problem. You can argue until you're blue in the face about the costs of making e-books and that consumers should understand the price point, but the fact is that they don't. And most of those lost sales aren't turning to a library copy that they might have to wait weeks or months to read, they're going to piracy.

I strongly disapprove of piracy and do not do this myself. But trying to pretend that libraries are the reason people aren't willing to spend $15+ on an e-book is just being willfully ignorant.

Fucking amen.

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Don't most libraries utilize commercial e-book entities like Overdrive?  Overdrive provides both print e-books and audio e-books, licensing them from other e-book entities like Tantor and so on, for a period of time. Are the publishers refusing to license to Overdrive, etc.?  It's so murky.

Overdrive, like Audible, is a service an individual can subscribe to. Our library system subscribes to it as a service its users, so we don 't pay -- the system's budget does.  But one does have to download the program, if one wishes to read or listen offline (which is great!).  I think amazon and so on are the real problem in many ways -- as well as the publishers themselves, trying to behave like Spotify -- which is bad too, for the artists, but nevermind that for now!

BTW, when Overdrive etc. license a title, the authors get paid -- not a lot, but some, which is better than not at all -- and a lot more than Spotify pays.

 

Edited by Zorral

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2 hours ago, Zorral said:

Don't most libraries utilize commercial e-book entities like Overdrive?  Overdrive provides both print e-books and audio e-books, licensing them from other e-book entities like Tantor and so on, for a period of time. Are the publishers refusing to license to Overdrive, etc.?  It's so murky.

Overdrive, like Audible, is a service an individual can subscribe to. Our library system subscribes to it as a service its users, so we don 't pay -- the system's budget does.  But one does have to download the program, if one wishes to read or listen offline (which is great!).  I think amazon and so on are the real problem in many ways -- as well as the publishers themselves, trying to behave like Spotify -- which is bad too, for the artists, but nevermind that for now!

BTW, when Overdrive etc. license a title, the authors get paid -- not a lot, but some, which is better than not at all -- and a lot more than Spotify pays.

 

Yes most use overdrive, though there are other programs, however what libraries get is not the same as if an individual were to subscribe to overdrive (which I did not think was an option prior to your post) and what is available for check out is based on what that library or library consortium has purchased from the publishers, not whatever the service has available for paid subscribers. Overdrive provides the platform, but they're not really part of this as libraries make purchases, they don't buy subscriptions to overdrive's own offerings (obviously they license the software and it has to be available on the platform). Macmillan has a policy effective November first that they will only sell one copy of each new book to each library system no matter what the size for the first 8 weeks, for a best seller a large library system would normally buy hundreds of copies initially (most would not get renewed).

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Here are whole new dimensions to the problems of getting ebooks from libraries:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/11/26/e-books-libraries-are-huge-hit-leading-long-waits-reader-hacks-worried-publishers/?

As some use friends' and family members' sign-ins for streaming services, people are also doing the same for libraries all over the country.  The differences, of course, is that with streaming someone holding that log-in is helping pay for it, and there is no wait time.  With public libraries, people outside one's own system aren't contributing at all with either taxes or contributions, and there is a wait time for new and popular titles.

This explains a whole lot about my wait times and title disappearances that made no sense to me until reading this:

Quote

 

A library typically pays between $40 and $60 to license a new e-book adult title, which it can then loan out to one patron at a time, mimicking how physical loans work. Each publisher offers different payment models. Under one, a library only has an e-book for two years or 52 checkouts, whichever comes first. Another agreement covers 26 checkouts per book.

“We have dozens of publishers who are vying to have their books made available, sometimes at no cost, because they absolutely see … when libraries promote an author, their print sales spike, their e-book sales grow, and their audiobooks as well,” said Steve Potash, chief executive of OverDrive, which works with more than 43,000 libraries to negotiate prices with publishers and provides tools to manage digital collections, including the library app Libby. Unlike with physical books, one library system will have an OverDrive system for all its individual branches, creating a single collection of titles they share.

 

 

Edited by Zorral

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I live in DC but work in  Maryland allowing me access to both systems.

Maryland pools together each county in their ebook and audiobook collections. Right now I'm hold 30 on 18 copies of Ronan Farrow's latest, with 25 people waiting per copy. If any of the copies is owned by a branch outside my county I have a lower priority/longer wait than I would for copies in my county. It can lead to six month wait times, which I have experienced. This is posted on my hold for This is How You Lose the Time War:

Quote

 Some copies of this title belong to specific member libraries, and their users are given priority for holds on those copies. For this reason, users may jump forward or move backward on the wait list, so we can't accurately estimate wait time

The check out count is new to me.

Maryland Overdrive also posted this: 

Quote

Macmillan Publishers has recently introduced a "1-copy only" embargo of all their new eBook titles for the first 60 days of publication. Because of this change, we will not be purchasing any Macmillan titles until 60 days after publication. Learn more here.

https://maryland.overdrive.com

Edited by kairparavel

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Well, this policy is probably short sighted for the bottom 9/10ths of their catalog of new releases.  But let's pretend they own the rights to TWOW, for example.  It would be a mistake for them to sell cheaply what would otherwise be bought dearly.  And ultimately would mean less revenue for the author.  (Though considering the overall collectivist tone of the political discussions around here, maybe that's less of an issue for others than for me.)

My admittedly rough understanding of the publishing industry is that breaking even on any specific work is phenomenal, and they only stay in the black from the runaway blockbusters.

This sort of policy makes perfect sense for the blockbusters, but if they are applying it across the board that's pennywise.

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20 minutes ago, mcbigski said:

Well, this policy is probably short sighted for the bottom 9/10ths of their catalog of new releases.  But let's pretend they own the rights to TWOW, for example.  It would be a mistake for them to sell cheaply what would otherwise be bought dearly.  And ultimately would mean less revenue for the author.  (Though considering the overall collectivist tone of the political discussions around here, maybe that's less of an issue for others than for me.)

My admittedly rough understanding of the publishing industry is that breaking even on any specific work is phenomenal, and they only stay in the black from the runaway blockbusters.

This sort of policy makes perfect sense for the blockbusters, but if they are applying it across the board that's pennywise.

If that was true, why do they even bother for the non-blockbusters?  Why even have them as a product?

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11 minutes ago, larrytheimp said:

If that was true, why do they even bother for the non-blockbusters?  Why even have them as a product?

That poster is totally wrong. For most of commercial, i.e. trade publishing's history in the USA during the 20th C, it was the solid mid-list that kept them profitable.  Blockbusters then, as now, are rare.  and nobody can predict what will be a blockbuster. Generally when one does, as in the movies, they lose their shirts.

Again, even now, what keeps a publisher going is the backlist.  Which is why publishers, like Disney, spend so much lobbying to keep copyrights extending in time, which is why every publisher has its own line of what went out copyright, like Agatha Christie titles.  Franchises, just like the movies.  Small, profitable, indie publishers thrive on keeping a strong backlist, i.e. not new titles.

Right now its audio books that are keeping them going.

AND the publication of asshat titles like those by the son of the bedbug which are bought in bulk by maga support groups.  Which is why they publish them.

In ye olden daze prior to so much, starting already in the 1970's, genre publishers for example did throw just so much out there, without any regard for quality at all.  It was about keeping shelf space in the bookstores for their 'brand' and company.  But bookstore space matters less and less these days. Though there are signs all over that very savvy, very careful independent bookstores are returning.

 

 

Edited by Zorral

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6 minutes ago, larrytheimp said:

If that was true, why do they even bother for the non-blockbusters?  Why even have them as a product?

Jk Rowling type potential?  I suspect if the publisher were answering honestly they'd have been thrilled to be told Philosophers Stone would more than break even.  

Its sensible to have a portfolio of more expensive authors with a track record along with many more less expensive speculative authors.  Treating them both identically would be insensible.

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11 minutes ago, Zorral said:

That poster is totally wrong. For most of commercial, i.e. trade publishing's history in the USA during the 20th C, it was the solid mid-list that kept them profitable.  Blockbusters then, as now, are rare.  and nobody can predict what will be a blockbuster. Generally when one does, as in the movies, they lose their shirts.

Again, even now, what keeps a publisher going is the backlist.  Which is why publishers, like Disney, spend so much lobbying to keep copyrights extending in time, which is why every publisher has its own line of what went out copyright, like Agatha Christie titles.  Franchises, just like the movies.  Small, profitable, indie publishers thrive on keeping a strong backlist, i.e. not new titles.

Right now its audio books that are keeping them going.

AND the publication of asshat titles like those by the son of the bedbug which are bought in bulk by maga support groups.  Which is why they publish them.

In ye olden daze prior to so much, starting already in the 1970's, genre publishers for example did throw just so much out there, without any regard for quality at all.  It was about keeping shelf space in the bookstores for their 'brand' and company.  But bookstore space matters less and less these days. Though there are signs all over that very savvy, very careful independent bookstores are returning.

 

 

Ok but even in that case, is the publisher acting irrationally in limiting library ebooks near first release or or is the publisher using good business sense?  

OP and the topic under discussion are much more about new releases rather than backlist.

Some sort of price discrimination is rational for the publisher.  And good for the artist if theres a correlation between gross revenue and what the author gets.  

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56 minutes ago, mcbigski said:

Ok but even in that case, is the publisher acting irrationally in limiting library ebooks near first release or or is the publisher using good business sense?  

OP and the topic under discussion are much more about new releases rather than backlist.

Some sort of price discrimination is rational for the publisher.  And good for the artist if theres a correlation between gross revenue and what the author gets.  

Without any way of judging the potential sales, restrictions on access to what you are trying to create a market for, seems to be the epitome of stupidity. But then if markets were rational, especially the book market, Dan Brown would be a nobody.

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This does seem to be an incredibly dumb move on Macmillan's part. The Omaha Public library is part of the "boycott" but all they are boycotting is buying the Macmillan ebook title for the first 60 days. They are still buying paper and audiobook copies of the same title, if available and will buy the ebooks after 60 days. So the financial impact of the boycott by itself on Macmillan will be minimal -- it's the bad publicity they are getting because of it that will hurt them. 

I can't imagine that whatever Macmillan thinks it is getting by a 60 day hold on multiple ebook copies for libraries is worth the negative publicity it's getting. 

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If you do want to discuss libraries, ebooks, access to back lists, and publishers then the obvious discussion is Amazon, which won't sell any of its ebooks to libraries published under any of its imprints because it believes that libraries cut into its sales. I don't know if Macmillan was influenced by Amazon because I was under the impression that publishers hate amazon, but it sounds like they have the same idea about ebook sales and libraries.

ETA and in response to @mcbigski's question, Macmillan is obviously acting irrationally for the majority of their releases, I pointed out that people willing to wait weeks or months for an ebook are unlikely to buy it and as  @Starkess pointed its more likely to result in increased piracy than increased book sales, especially now that they've had so much bad press.

Edited by dornishpen

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Feels like classic separating of the markets to me.

There are a lot of people who have to have the new thing right away. With the library cut off as an option, they'll have to go elsewhere. I'm sure some will turn to piracy, but I'm just as sure others will make the purchase.

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More on the costing of ebooks vs print books:

https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/12/23/20991659/ebook-amazon-kindle-ereader-department-of-justice-publishing-lawsuit-apple-ipad

A long, but meaty article about the state of books and pricing.  The following is just the opening.

Quote

 

At the beginning of the 2010s, the world seemed to be poised for an ebook revolution.

The Amazon Kindle, which was introduced in 2007, effectively mainstreamed ebooks. By 2010, it was clear that ebooks weren’t just a passing fad, but were here to stay. They appeared poised to disrupt the publishing industry on a fundamental level. Analysts confidently predicted that millennials would embrace ebooks with open arms and abandon print books, that ebook sales would keep rising to take up more and more market share, that the price of ebooks would continue to fall, and that publishing would be forever changed.

Instead, at the other end of the decade, ebook sales seem to have stabilized at around 20 percent of total book sales, with print sales making up the remaining 80 percent. “Five or 10 years ago,” says Andrew Albanese, a senior writer at trade magazine Publishers Weekly and the author of The Battle of $9.99, “you would have thought those numbers would have been reversed.”

And in part, Albanese tells Vox in a phone interview, that’s because the digital natives of Gen Z and the millennial generation have very little interest in buying ebooks. “They’re glued to their phones, they love social media, but when it comes to reading a book, they want John Green in print,” he says. The people who are actually buying ebooks? Mostly boomers. “Older readers are glued to their e-readers,” says Albanese. “They don’t have to go to the bookstore. They can make the font bigger. It’s convenient.”

Ebooks aren’t only selling less than everyone predicted they would at the beginning of the decade. They also cost more than everyone predicted they would — and consistently, they cost more than their print equivalents....

 

 

 

As one reads along one does feel that such heavy restriction on library ebook borrows is cutting their own throats.  As one reads in many places, presently the market for fiction in print and ebook, across the spectrum, from literary to genre, has declined greatly in the last years, and is continuing this steep decline. The biggest market share for ebooks is fiction, across the spectrum.  How do newer authors even get noticed?  So often it is via libraries -- which themselves are in crisis mode as entire communities feel there is no need for public libraries*.  People take a chance on reading a title by someone unknown and then want more.

* Until the public library shuts down, and then, O MY! WHAT SHALL WE DO? about everything from literacy programs, tax advice, warming and cooling centers, to, gee little children and picture books -- to gee whiz, all those coffee shops and restaurants and other businesses close the library have lost a large number of customers.

Edited by Zorral

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I would guess that both Macmillan and Amazon (I mean their own publishing imprints which won't sell ebooks to libraries at all, not their sales of books and ebooks by all publishers generally) actually lose more sales of people who would buy up every new copy of some of the books of some of their new and mid list authors, but won't give them a chance without getting the first one from the library to see if they like the author before purchasing copies of their other books and as I understand it publishers make more profits from their mid-lists than from their best-sellers since the mid-lists still account for more overall volume.

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Is the Boycott Working?

As of the date of publication, 79 library systems and consortia have ceased to purchase Macmillan eBooks in protest of their new sales policy, which limits library eLending. These libraries represent 1,163 locations in 28 states, and serve 47.9 million people, which is equivalent to the total population of California plus the population of New York City.

http://www.readersfirst.org/news/2020/1/16/is-the-macmillan-boycott-working?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=CYS - 012420&utm_term=Suppress_Disengage_BookRiot_CheckYourShelf

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