Macmillan, the publisher that keeps on taking

Let’s face it, Macmillan isn’t known for its love of e-books. From the moment Jim Baen and, later, Amazon showed the viability of the new technology, Macmillan and others did their best to torpedo the new market. The Big 5 (remember when it was the Big 6) engaged in price collusion, ongoing attempts to undermine not only the market but Amazon and more. But now these same publishers, with Macmillan leading the charge, have targeted our libraries, blaming them for their problems making money on ebooks instead of taking a hard look in the mirror.

We’ve discussed before the idiocy of the way many publishers distribute e-books to libraries. The current model is a step back for publishers, not that they would ever admit it. This model follows one they had in place for a short period on the commercial end. You remember–a new book came out, usually one deemed by the publisher as a best seller or breakout new author/series and the ebook version was delayed a period of weeks or months so the print numbers didn’t suffer. The problem? Publishers lost money not only because people still weren’t buying the number of print books the publisher anticipated but readers forgot about the book by the time it was released in digital format.

Fast-forward to today. For the last year or so, Macmillan has tried an “experiment” with ebooks from Tor, one of its imprints. These ebooks were withheld from libraries for four months. The number crunchers in their ivory towers proclaimed success! Now the embargo, with a bit of modification, is being expanded across Macmillan. Just wait until you hear the terms.

Beginning November 1st, a two month “embargo” will go into effect across all Macmillan imprints when it comes to libraries. In other words, your local library will not be able to lend e-book versions of that best seller, or any other newly released Macmillan book, for two months after its release.

But wait! Never fear, there’s an exception. . .or a lot of smoke of mirrors.

Under the publisher’s new digital terms of sale for libraries, “library systems” will be now be allowed to purchase a single—that is, one—perpetual access e-book during the first eight weeks of publication for each new Macmillan release, at half price ($30). Additional copies will then be available at full price (generally $60 for new releases) after the eight-week window has passed. All other terms remain the same: e-book licenses will continue to be metered for two years or 52 lends, whichever comes first, on a one copy/one user model. A Macmillan spokesperson confirmed to PW that the single perpetual access copy will be available only for new release titles in the first eight weeks after publication—the option to buy a single perpetual access copy expires after that eight week window, and the offer is not available for backlist titles.

Read that again. For half price, a library can buy one–ONE–perpetual license. But that is the only perpetual license available. After the expiration of the eight week period, the only licenses available will be for two-years or a limited number of loans, whichever comes first.

The problem with this so-called perpetual license? For that license to be of any use to the library, there will have to be changes in the lending terms. Otherwise, if lucky, the book will be read by only two to four people. Remember, most libraries operate on a one or two week lending window. So why in the hell would the library pay for early access to a book that wouldn’t see more than one or two leadings? Especially if they have to then repurchase a limited license afterward.

Yep, you read that right. Even though they have bought the so-called perpetual license, they have to buy more licenses to replace it after the expiration of the eight-week window.

Gee, Macmillan, way to piss off your customers and your readers.

But it gets better.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, John Sargent, head of Macmillan and known enemy of ebooks, accused libraries of “depressing” payments to authors.

It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an e-book for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American e-book reader is starting to lean heavily toward free,” Sargent wrote. “Our new terms are designed to protect the value of your books during their first format publication. But they also ensure that the mission of libraries is supported.”

Okay, I’ve finished laughing hysterically and cursing long and hard. Not only is Sargent full of it, but that same argument can be used to remove their print books from libraries.

Let’s not look at the fact that the average reader understands economics well enough to know it doesn’t cost the same to produce an ebook that it does a print book. There are no printing, shipping, storing, etc., costs. If you have a print version, you don’t need to pay additional monies for editing, etc. Of course, if you dig back deep enough, you’ll find Sargent trying to tell readers early into the ebook revolution that all ebooks needed to be re-edited, new covers made, etc., and that was costs to be added to the already high cost of producing a book and that’s why an e-book should cost so much.

Let’s also forget about the fact that libraries already pay for those ebooks on a limited license. After an ebook is loaned out a certain number of times, a new license has to be purchased. And guess what, the publisher knows how many times an ebook is loaned out and it has contract provisions with its authors about what they get paid for those loans.

So, who is really responsible for depressing payments to authors?

If Macmillan and John Sargent are really worried about being fair to authors, why don’t that take reasonable steps to insure adequate compensation? Steps like increasing the monies paid to authors per loan? Or how about lowering the price of an e-book so it doesn’t cost as much–or more–than a print book?

As for Sagent’s claim that ebook lending through libraries is “frictionless” and other BS, read the PW article linked above. Not only does it become abundantly clear that Sargent is out of step with the rest of the industry (although he probably is voicing what the other major players think), his numbers are suspect to say the very least. In fact, the only ones being hurt by the current system, and who will be hurt under the new system, are libraries, readers and authors. Macmillan is not the victim here.

As Passive Guy says:

PG remembers when publishers believed that exposure of their books and authors among library patrons helped to spur additional sales. Avid readers who use the library frequently are often regarded as excellent sources for information on great new books for their friends. Many a book club selection was first discovered as a book borrowed from a library.

The American Library Association has responded to Macmillan’s announcement.

The American Library Association (ALA) denounces the new library ebook lending model announced today by Macmillan Publishers. . . “Macmillan Publishers’ new model for library ebook lending will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all,” said ALA President Wanda Kay Brown. “Limiting access to new titles for libraries means limiting access for patrons most dependent on libraries. . . .”

It is clear Macmillan doesn’t care about anything but its own bottom line. It doesn’t care about its authors who are benefitted from those library lends through reviews written online and by word of mouth. It doesn’t care about those readers who can’t afford to buy every book they want to read. And it certainly doesn’t care about libraries that are already functioning under ever decreasing budgets.

Don’t let John Sargent fool you. He has only one goal in mind–to continue throttling the ebook market every way he can.

As for me, I’ll think twice–okay, five or six times–before buying anything else from any Macmillan imprint. Yes, it means some authors I love won’t see my money, or won’t see it as soon. But I refuse to support a company that not only thinks the reading public is so stupid it can’t see through the BS coming out of Sargent’s mouth but that refuses to support a necessary asset of our communities–our libraries.

43 thoughts on “Macmillan, the publisher that keeps on taking

    1. I tend to do the same thing–and then I find the author website and hope they have a tip jar because I want to pay them.

  1. At first I thought it was just a few twits in the Tor imprint. No, no, all of Macmillan is operating under the “we sell fewer books, at higher prices, and $$$$$!” model. I guess their goal is to sell zero books for a million dollars each US – no overhead, no author costs, no distribution or advertising fees.

    1. They’d be delirious with joy if they could sell only a single book for whatever price would meet their requirements.

      I’ve dealt with too many management types who viewed sales as a “cost center”…

      1. Exactly. The arguments I saw back during the price fixing litigation days about how it was better to sell one copy at $12.99 than three copies at $4.99 or even $9.99 blew my mind.

        1. And the thing is, I can understand that…for deadtree format, depending on how expensive it is to print the book. If the cost of materials and time to print a copy is $3.99, then one sale at $12.99 will get me more profit than three at $4.99.

          For eBooks, however, this does not apply, and the publishers are idiots.

      2. There was a local industrial hardware supplier I did a lot of business with over the years. (“local” being ~20 miles away)

        One day I needed a particular small part *right now* before I could ship a project. I spent half an hour driving to the supplier, they brought the part out, and told me that it would cost $20. Their full retail price was something like $2. I asked them why, and they said that was what it cost to make a sale, so their minimum order/minimum price was $20. I made a brief attempt to reason with them – they’d already put the part on the counter and I was holding cash in my hand – but they were adamant.

        I paid the $20 because I had a customer of my own, who I serviced a hell of a lot better than they did… and I never went back.

  2. Ah, tradpub. The only industry where actively screwing over everyone from producer to distributor to retailer to consumer is considered an excellent business model.

  3. More and more, I come to the conclusion that the reason so many authors are leftists is because the publishing industry is comprised of people who embody the worst stereotypes of capitalists.
    Seriously. You almost expect this guy to be twirling his mustaches as he cackles evilly.

  4. Here’s a link to all the Macmillan imprints that have been priced out of our libraries, so you can get used to not seeing them. There’s also a list of all the poor houses that are trapped in Macmillan distribution at the moment, although I’m sure that will be changing as soon as their distribution contracts run out.

    Macmillan: Committing corporate suicide since 2019.

  5. So, the Voices wanted to know if the publishers donated copies of ebooks to the Library of Congress, as they normally do with paper books.

    The answer seems to be “no.” The LOC web site directs people looking for ebooks to Hathitrust and And doesn’t mention Project Gutenberg at all…

  6. One nitpick comment: Back in the “old days” it did cost extra to edit an e-book version because publishers never kept, or even had access to, the final electronic copy of the publication. The actual typesetting was done by the printers and then I don’t know, deleted?

    So the early e-books by publishers other than Baen had to be scanned and rechecked for typos, etc, and then typeset again, into e-book format. I believe that Baen was one of the few publishers that kept electronic copies of everything, at least after 1999 or so.

    1. True, but I was referencing new titles, not backlist. And that is more along the line of proofreading, not editing–which is what Sargent said needed to be done.

  7. Looks like Macmillan is angling to get onto that black list of “We treat our authors/customers poorly, doesn’t that make you want to buy from us?”

    No. No it doesn’t. Greedy skags.

    1. Note: I was referencing the scavenger-like wild animals of Pandora from Borderlands there, not the 20s-era slang for heroin user.

  8. As a writer who also works at a library, all I gotta say is: “SERIOUSLY???”

  9. The problem with driving people into pirating books by using overpricing on eBooks (which cost the publisher effectively nothing per copy except amortized costs of creating the text/illustrations), using DRM (Which effectively shouts to customers “You’re all thieves!!!”), and generally looking ONLY at “What’s in it for US?”, is that once you get into pirating books, it’s addictive. I have a friend whose goal is to collect every book that was in his paper library. When I asked him whether there was any publisher he DIDN’T pirate he looked me in the eyes and said quietly “Baen. They’ve never abused their fans and I’ve bought every bundle since the day they started eBooks.”

    ’nuff said

    1. Sadly, even Baen has been infiltrated, at least their back office, by trad pub wanna bees and recent treatment of several of their midlist authors confirms that even they are headed in the same direction as the rest of the industry.

  10. Most excellent news!
    Thank you for sharing!

    I’ve wanted to see Tor die in a fire for a couple of years.
    I’m perfectly happy to watch their corporate overlord douse them with gasoline.

    1. There is exactly 1 Tor series I enjoy at present, and that’s a goat-gagger. But book 3 came out in …2017? And I haven’t finished it yet, so even that may be overstating matters. The Young Master’s arrival had an effect, but…

    2. Speaking of Tor & their need to GDIAF, did they ever take responsibility for the Irene Gallo affair? or require her to do so?

  11. C4C

    Another thing I find concerning is what Pearson is moving to with textbooks. (This may have been addressed in an earlier post; I’m in the middle of teaching a summer class and only occasionally come up for air.) They are moving to an electronic-purchase/print-rental model. If a student wants a print copy, they can only rent it (presumably from the publisher). Books can only be purchased in electronic format. The objective seems to be the elimination of the textbook buyback and rental markets. When I was a student, I kept every text remotely related to my major. Publisher greed is going to hurt students. Macmillan is not unique in its dirty tricks.

    1. I have a vague recollection that Pearson was mentioned this summer as up to no good, but I do not recall hearing about something so evil.

      Per wiki, they are apparently trying to move to digital only, and regularly update the ebooks. Depending on the DRM, that means that effective access to the text is limited by the human quality of the processes updating both DRM and content. That is a problem for majors like engineering, where college textbooks tend to be a permanent capital investment, perhaps desirable to have for as much as fifty years. Some courses are common enough for cheap/free alternative texts to be available. Some are advanced enough that there are no textbooks written yet. That middle range is pretty badly screwed.

      1. Exactly. I’m in physics, and I still use some of my undergraduate and graduate texts. I’m using a text from OpenStax for the intro course I’m currently teaching. The electronic version is free, which is why I chose it. It’s a bit above the level of the course I’m teaching, and there are some issues with the book. The answers to the odd numbered homework problems in the back are full of errors, for one thing. There aren’t enough problems, either.

        I don’t teach this class in the regular academic terms. The professors that do have enough issues with it that they’ve gone to another text. I don’t remember which one.

    2. It was mentioned over at ThePassiveVoice. I’m having the same problem with Pearson, although I managed to score a print version of the government textbook for my use. (I have some other difficulties with the book, but that’s the authors’, not the publisher’s, fault.)

      1. I think The Passive Voice was where I first heard about it. I wasn’t sure if anyone at MGC has posted. My blog reading has been pretty spotty this summer.

    1. Tor, which is one of their imprints, publishes Brandon Sanderson, as well as David Weber’s Safehold series.

      I still refuse to buy them any way other than used if I can avoid it, because, well, Tor.

  12. I’m a bit confused. To me the sentence ““library systems” will be now be allowed to purchase a single—that is, one—perpetual access e-book during the first eight weeks of publication for each new Macmillan release, at half price ($30). Additional copies will then be available at full price (generally $60 for new releases) after the eight-week window has passed.” means that libraries have the option to buy that unique ebook perpetual license as an advance, but continues available after the eight weeks limit, is the additional books they want to purchase the ones with the draconian conditions. So that first book (if they get that perpetual license) would be read by more than 2-4 patrons, or am I missing something here?.

    It’s not ideal, but at least there’s a perpetual license available for when the book moves to backlist and it’s not going to be demanded by a lot of patrons, so the library doesn’t need to purchase a new license when the demand is by only a few patrons and it gets read only 3-4 times a year (or once a year).

  13. The bigger the dinosaur or the corporation, the harder it is for intelligence to act. The brains of a large dinosaur and a medium sized rodent, A beaver, say are about the same size. How long does it take for the consequences of something like this:
    “In March 2006, Holtzbrinck forced Tor Books, which is owned by Holtzbrinck, to stop making its books available as e-books via Baen Ebooks because of concerns regarding the lack of digital rights management (DRM). The policy was later changed and Tor titles became available as DRM-free e-books in 2012. The Tor UK label in Britain (and hence the EU) does the same. The company also received a good deal of attention when it bought the then leading German social networking platform StudiVZ in January 2007. ”
    to reach the Holtzbrinck head in Hamburg. By the time bad sales reports turn into bad revenue reports, the excuses are all well embedded.

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