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.