ALA’s Report to Congress on Libraries and the Ebook Industry: A Primer
by George H. Pike
“ALA recently made a case to Congress that the ebook publishing industry has been engaging in anticompetitive behavior at the expense of libraries and library patrons. Congress has been involved in an ongoing series of hearings and work sessions exploring competition issues in various digital marketplaces and reached out to ALA for its views on competition issues involving ebooks, academic journals, textbooks, and other digital library resources.
The ALA report, issued on Oct. 15, criticizes a wide range of “unfair behavior by digital market actors” and emphasizes the need for updated “public policies” that more effectively address the digital environment. If changes do not come, ALA warns, “America’s competitiveness and our cultural heritage as a nation are at risk.”
The report arose out of a sequence of recent and concerning developments in the ebook marketplace as it applies to libraries, with a particular focus on a decision by Macmillan Publishers, one of the five largest publishing houses in the U.S., to impose an embargo on new ebook sales to libraries. The embargo, which went into effect Nov. 1, only permits a library to obtain one digital license for a popular press ebook for an 8-week window after the book is released. The single-copy limit applies regardless of the size of the library system. At the end of the 8-week window, the library can purchase additional licenses. Macmillan asserts that the embargo is necessary to balance library access with revenue expectations.”