An ALA Response to PRH and A Criticism from RF

The ReadersFirst Working group is made up of many passionate librarians, and, like many diverse groups, we gain strength from our debates. One such occurrence has happened over the ALA’s Alan Inouye’s response to recent e-book business model changes and ALA’s plans for the future.

Inouye rightly points out that Penguin Random House’s price reduction and change away from a “pretend-it’s-print” perpetual license offers some advantages. More copies might be obtained for the same price, while multiple copies bought for high initial demand can be “used up” and need not be weeded later.

His thought that “those relatively few school, public, and special libraries for which preservation is central to their mission” and which “may decide to shift to print books for some titles” is more problematic.

Let’s hear from some front line librarians who are more inclined to agree with Nate Hoffelder that “Penguin Random House is changing its license terms for library ebooks from ‘insanely expensive’ to ‘ridiculously expensive and short-lived’.”

Susan Caron of Toronto Public Library (which circulates more than 3 million e-books a year) says “ ‘We’ll be blowing our budget and brains out reordering John Grisham forever.’ We have such a big collection (over 100,000 titles) that the work of renewing or not is already overwhelming – this means it has to be done for 4 out of 5 publishers and the biggest. Also, pricing does not make up for it (and we haven’t seen the Canadian prices yet) but [they are likely] nowhere near [as low as Harper-Collins]. We’re very disappointed. Solid, deep collections, which we’ve been trying to build, will become more ephemeral. E-books will become the temporary bestseller collection rather than a comprehensive digital collection that complements and provides an alternative to print.”

Cathy Mason of Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Ohio Digital Downloads Consortium (over 2 million e-books per year circulated) concurs: “I’d much rather spend the extra $10 for access to a title we get to keep forever.  Metered access is best suited to titles that are more of a risk.  I’ve always hated that Stephen King is a 12 month author. I [have been investigating] books and series that go out of print that we still have in e.  Bluford High is super popular here but hasn’t been available for purchase in print for years.  Luckily we have over 20 of the titles available forever to customers through our digital collection.  I’m also thinking about the typical short print runs of large print volumes and how ebooks are so easily adjusted to suit the readers’ preferences or needs.  A 24 month meter will leave large print customers wanting. Ultimately I’d like to lobby for a hybrid model of forever copies for the depth of collection plus the ability to buy metered access (in either form) to fulfill initial and/or occasional resurgent interest.”

So, we may save on some titles, but at the cost of variety, collection depth, preservation (including titles not in print anymore, for which we can’t rely on print), access for those who need large print, and constant re-working of our collections. Cathy Mason speaks for RF when she advocates for multiple license models for every title.

Peguin Random House, we second Mr. Inouye’s thanks for listening and remaining committed to libraries (unlike Macmillan/Tor’s rude stiff-arming of us). But let’s make this step one of many. Give us multiple models per title and let us use e-books in a way that will make you money while building a collection worthy of the name.

Cathy, Susan, and Michael

100,000 Books in 5 Countries: What's Really Happening in eLending

A team from Australia has released the results of a large-scale study, reports Rebecca Giblin of Monash University,  examining "the relative availability, licence terms and pricing of almost 100,000 books across the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. An interactive dashboard that allows you to visually query this rich dataset (or download it in its entirety) is available at, together with tutorials and more details about our methodology."

Rebecca also gave part of the keynote address at IFLA's World Library and Information Congress. Hers is the first 43 minutes of the presentation, which is is also available online, and "contains an overview of some of the most fascinating discoveries we've made from the data." It is well worth a watch!

Some highlights:

1. "For our sampled titles, the US had one of the best availabilities (second only to Canada). Still, it was missing over 11,000 books that were available to its neighbors in other countries."

2. "To our surprise, there were many books that were available to the US on more limited licences than in other countries. For example, the chart I've pasted below shows the distribution of licences in the 15,000 odd cases where they're different across the five countries. It shows the the US (together with Canada and the UK) more often has metered access than One Copy/One User, and that the form of metering is most often loans only (with relatively few time-limited licences). If you download that data from the dashboard, you will also see that US libraries are often asked to pay a higher price for a metered licence than some other countries are, for the same books, on OC/OU terms."

Rebecca concludes "This data is a game changer in terms of shining light on what has really been happening in elending licensing, and raise important questions (which we're now beginning to study) about what it means for reform of law, policy and practice."

RF thanks Rebecca and team for a fascinating study and hopes to further explore some of the results with the team. 

Penguin Random changes e-book models--somewhat for the better

Penguin Random is changing e-book business model from perpetual ("pretend its print") to metered access.

As so often Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly is on the case, and shares more information:

ReadersFirst has a mixed but generally quite favorable response. 

Lower prices are always good.

A model based only on number of circs rather than a two year time limit would have been even better news.

Better news still would be if public libraries could have BOTH options: metered and perpetual.

Even better news still would be if a whole range of options were available at time of purchase: pay-per-use, subscription, metered, perpetual.

Still this news comes as rare and refreshing fruit, and is a welcome contrast to recent changes made by Tor/Macmillan, whose failure to engage with libraries makes it abundantly clear that they are utterly uninterested in libraries or their readers. It will help libraries meet the needs of readers more effectively while being responsible to Penguin Random's need to benefit authors.

A big thanks, and also a tip of the hat, to Mr. Skip Dye of Penguin Random, who attended the National E-Book Summit at ALA and has shown a true commitment to working with libraries.  Thanks, Skip, for listening!



Two Articles from PW about Tor's E-book Widowing: Take Actiom

Two articles have recently appeared in Publisher's Weekly about the Tor/Macmillan decision to "widow" library e-books for four months after the public has access.

One is from Sari Feldman, former ALA President, initial leader of ALA's Digital Content Working Group (DCWG), and ALA’s Digital Content Fellow:

RF supports her suggestion that--in spite of the efforts of individual advocates, including many members of our RF Working Group--libraries as a whole have nodded off on e-book advocacy. Few of the DCWG's efforts were continued after it was disbanded for not fitting long-term into ALA's structure. We agree that Tor's decision needs to be a wake-up call for group action.  Why not start by joining the Canadian Urban Library Council (and soon Urban Library Council and may others) in writing a letter?  CULC's website has great examples, with the names and addresses you need:  

In the second, Andrew Albanese provides evidence to dispute Tor's claims that library e-book sales are significantly harming big publisher revenues, leading to questions many of us are asking:  "Is this a Tor 'test' being done with Macmillan’s permission? Or is it a Macmillan test using Tor? And what exactly is being tested by treating e-book readers differently in libraries than print readers? What’s the purpose of an embargo for new titles for the first four months?" Mr. Albanese had talked with other publishers as well, and gives a good overview of their replies. [Full disclosure:  members of RF Working Group have provided information for this article.]

Tor/Macmillan are refusing comment. Exactly what their aim (since their unsupported claim of lost sales to libraries rings hollow) is can only be guessed.  But it is time for actin.  A letter to is a great start, but should a PR campaign by libraries aimed at readers and judicious use (or withholding!) of our buying power follow, coupled with renewed industry-wide advocacy?


Thanks to Ms. Feldman and Mr. Albanese for their excellent work.

Ill-Considered Skulduggery

Neither the American Library Association nor the Canadian Urban Library Council have received replies to their communications with Tor (even though CULC sent their letters directly to the CEOs of Tor and Macmillan).

Tor has still not made a public statement about widowing library e-book sales. They have communicated only through library e-content vendors rather than their actual clients, the libraries that get and provide access to the content.

A number of RF Working Group members have sent statistics on Tor holdings.  These libraries or library consortiums generally have comparatively large and heavily used collections.  Here are a few:

  • NYPL:  500 titles with 1,168 copies
  • Broward County:  249 titles
  • Maryland Digital Library: 45 titles with 149 copies
  • Ohio Digital Downloads Collaboration:  396 Titles
  • Vancouver Public Library:  134 titles
  • Ottawa Public Library: 279 titles with 421 copies
  • Sno-Isle: 685 titles with 812 copies
  • Mass Library System:  147 Titles
  • Santa Clara County District Library:  182 titles. 

These are some of the largest pubic library e-books collections yet Tor titles make up collectively less than a third of a percent of holdings. Many smaller libraries own NO Tor e-book titles at all. Many of these holdings listed above are also for just a few authors, with many Tor authors have no library e-books licenses. Unless Tor sells remarkably few e-books, library sales probably do not represent a large percentage overall sales (perhaps that is the problem--Tor believes it can ignore this market segment). If such is the case, let's subvert Tor's argument. If we are not a large market segment, how can we be costing much in sales? If we are a fair share of the market, then let's look at a true measure of value:  revenue, not individual sales. We pay a hefty price for Tor e-books, and they are not even permanently available (being licensed per circ/time limited). Are we not giving adequate revenue?  If not, then don't widow our sales. Talk with us about pricing.

Tor's claim that libraries are costing them sales is, as previously stated in this forum, suspect. What then is their real purpose? Could it simply be to drive more direct sales in the first 4 months to Amazon in hope of getting more individual reviews and higher rankings?At least say so.

In light of Tor's failure to make any public statement, their refusal to respond to expressions of library concern or otherwise engage us, their weak or non-existent explanations for widowing library e-books, their insistence on an "experiment" rather than honest negotiation, and the probability of motives they choose not to disclose, we call Tor's move ill-considered skulduggery. 

Is it time to reach out to library users, explain why we can't get them the titles they might want when they want them, and call for a large-scale boycott of Tor, print and digital?      

The First Results From an International Elending Study

The first part of results of an Australian elending study are available. I hope to be able to send a link to a full write-up of the study (which discusses larger ramifications and has some international comparisons) soon.

You may find it here: The website with the interactive dashboards is now live at

This part reviews the five main elending aggregators in Australia using interactive dashboards. There is a tutorial on the dashboards on the site. One can, however, simply start working. For example, if I select Publisher Category “Big 5,” I can then see what number of 546 sample titles are available from the 5 vendor platforms individually and in aggregate, if the same titles are offered in different licensing terms on the platforms, if the same titles are offered at different prices by the vendors, whether titles are available in metered format, etc.

So, why would this part of the study be significant for U.S. and Canadian libraries? First, two of the five vendors are OverDrive and Bibliotheca, who of course operate here. Second, if the same title might be offered in Australia with a different license by different e-book vendors and at different prices, might the same not be true of titles in the U.S. or Canada.  For example, in the example above, 19 titles vary in price across platforms by 5 to 10%; 170 vary by 10-20%; 29 vary by 20-30%; 13 vary by 30-40%; 4 by 40-50%; and 9 by more than 50%.

This study is being followed up by a fuller and more statistically significant study of 100,000 titles. I would very much like to replicate at least the smaller study by looking at elending vendors in the U.S. and Canada to see if we could find similar variations in availability, licensing, and prices. I hope it might become a future ReadersFirst project.

It Was Expected . . .

The ReadersFirst Working Group joined many other libraries in expressing our dismay over Tor/Macmillan's decision to widow library eBooks sales.

We have received  a response:  "Thank you for taking the time to write to us about Tor's change in their eLending policy.   We appreciate your candid and thoughtful response as we engage in this test pilot, and we will share your feedback with the publisher."

In other words, a very polite "Whatever" and confirmation that Tor is going to proceed with its "test pilot," despite lacking all evidence that library eBook sales have any affect on their market and in the face of a mountain of data suggesting that market forces, including agency pricing, are the true issue.

We continue to encourage libraries and library users to express their concerns to Tor/Macmillan, without much hope that anyone will be engaged in return. The lack of respect for libraries and their readers in this reply is palpable. But then in light of how this policy was rolled out, Tor's failure to engage and its utter indifference to the library market were to be expected.

Statements from ALA and Canadian Urban Library Council

ReadersFirst applauds these statements:

From CULC:

Fritz Foy President and Publisher Tor Books 175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010

Dear Mr. Foy

I am writing this letter on behalf of the Canadian Urban Libraries Council / Conseil des Bibliothèques Urbaines du Canada (CULC/CBUC), regarding your four-month embargo on sales of new Tor ebooks to libraries. CULC/CBUC member libraries expend over $90 million annually on collections including $11 million on digital resources. More than 65% of all Canadians are served by a CULC/CBUC member library, and the activity in CULC/CBUC libraries comprises more than 80% of Canada’s public library activity. We are both disappointed and surprised regarding your statement that “eLending is having a direct and adverse impact on retail eBook sales”. We are unaware of any evidence to prove that claim, and, in fact, you should consider the following:

• Similar to the 2014 Pew Research Centre study that cited “…those who use libraries are more likely than others to be book buyers and actually prefer to buy books, rather than borrow them,”1

BookNet Canada confirms that patrons who are book-buyers buy more books than non-patrons at a rate of 2.3 vs 2.1 per month.2 •

“Libraries are key to the reading ecosystem. Their importance cannot be overstated. Libraries provide consumers with no-risk ways to try new media.” Maya Thomas, former senior vice president at Hachette Group3 •

“For publishers, the library will be the showroom of the future. Ensuring that libraries have continuing access to published titles gives them a chance to meet this goal, but an important obstacle remains: how eBooks are obtained by libraries.” David Vinjamuri in Forbes4 •

“And so it seems like a no-brainer. Libraries should be able to buy the books the same way you buy books, the same way I buy books, the same way they bought books forever, the same way that they bought books for longer than there’s been copyright, for longer than there has been publishing, for longer there’s been paper. Libraries should be able to buy books and they should be able to buy them on fair terms.” Cory Doctorow, Tor author5

This adversarial approach you are implementing is a direct affront to readers who rely on public libraries for access to their educational and recreational reading materials. Has research been undertaken to explore the significant increase in indie or self-publishing, and whether that might be the cause of the decrease in sales? For example: six out of the current ten top-selling science fiction books on Amazon are self-published.


2 Noah Genner, CEO, BookNet Canada




The implications of this change will be less demand and use from library users when your titles finally become available, resulting in fewer purchases of Tor books. This will particularly effect your new and midlist authors who depend on libraries for discovery of their titles. We contend that the ongoing loss of library sales, in conjunction with the long-term loss of retail sales due to reduced discovery of your authors will ultimately have a negative impact on your business. On behalf of public libraries, authors, and readers, we appeal to you to reverse this decision and instead engage public libraries to develop solutions to support one other in ensuring we continue to remain vital and flourishing organizations while at the same time provide excellent service to our customers. CULC/CBUC is invested in the long-term health and viability of a vibrant publishing industry, which we hope will include Tor Books. We are willing to work with publishers to achieve that goal, and we will be in touch with you on August 14 to arrange a meeting to discuss and identify alternative options that would benefit your company, your authors, public libraries and all readers.

Sincerely, Pilar Martinez Chair, Canadian Urban Libraries Council / Conseil des Bibliothèques Urbaines du Canada (CULC/CBUC) CEO, Edmonton Public Library cc Jefferson Gilbert, Executive Director, Canadian Urban Libraries Council / Conseil des Bibliothèques Urbaines du Canada (CULC/CBUC) CULC/CBUC Members

From ALA:


For Immediate Release


ALA: New Tor delay on library ebooks hurts readers, authors and libraries

CHICAGO - At the beginning of July, Tor, a division of Macmillan, announced without warning that it was immediately beginning to embargo ebook sales of new titles to libraries for four months. Today American Library Association (ALA) President Loida Garcia-Febo issued the following statement:

“The American Library Association and our members have worked diligently to increase access to and exposure for the widest range of ebooks and authors,” said Garcia-Febo. “Over years, ALA made great strides in working with publishers and distributors to better serve readers with increasingly robust digital collections. We remain committed to a vibrant and accessible reading ecosystem for all.

“I am dismayed now to see Tor bring forward a tired and unproven claim of library lending adversely affecting sales. This move undermines our shared commitment to readers and writers—particularly with no advance notice or discussion with libraries. In fact, Macmillan references its involvement with the Panorama Project, which is a large-scale, data-driven research project focused on understanding the impact of library holdings on book discovery, author brand development, and sales. For this reason, this change by Tor—literally on the heels of Panorama’s launch—is particularly unexpected and unwelcome.

"The ALA calls for Macmillan to move just as quickly to reverse its course and immediately lift the embargo while the Panorama Project does its work.”

The American Library Association (ALA) is the foremost national organization providing resources to inspire library and information professionals to transform their communities through essential programs and services. For more than 140 years, the ALA has been the trusted voice of libraries, advocating for the profession and the library’s role in enhancing learning and ensuring access to information for all. For more information, visit


Macey Morales

Deputy Director

Communications and Marketing Office

50 E. Huron

Chicago, IL 60611

An Article from Publisher's Weekly on Tor/Macmillan

Mr. Andrew Albanese of Publisher’s Weekly has written an informative piece about Tor’s change in library e-book sales. ReadersFirst is grateful to Mr. Albanese for a careful and fair exploration []

The following views are not advanced nor endorsed by Mr. Albanese, nor do they necessarily represent the views of the ReadersFirst Working Group. They are one librarian’s thoughts only.

I am deeply concerned and far from optimistic about a number of ramifications of Macmillan’s response to Publisher’s Weekly:

I am grateful that Tor/Macmillan softened its statement to say "We have been seeing an adverse impact on our e-book sales over a period of time . . . and are using this test to determine if library e-book lending is one of the contributing factors." Nevertheless, Tor/Macmillan have apparently chosen not to reconsider its “test” but rather to continue with an action that has no supporting evidence. Using us in a “test” shows an outright disregard for libraries that suggests we have been altogether too optimistic in thinking our relations with publishers are improving. While I earnestly hope that libraries and library patrons will express concern to Tor/Macmillan and to take action if Tor will not respond, I now have little hope that Tor will engage with us.

Libraries have reason to fear that Macmillan, in spite of having no plans “at the moment” to add other divisions, may expand this content widowing. And is Macmillan alone? Or will other large publishers join in, responding not to the effect of library e-book sales but to changes in the market far beyond the influence of libraries? I am willing to wager that we shall see more such changes, perhaps much before many might expect.

Mr. Albanese would certain agree on one point, for he makes it himself: a communication void does seem to be reemerging between libraries and publishers. The Digital Content Working Group (DCWG) did not fit into ALA”s long-term structure, but the need for such a group and regular meetings now seems more vital than ever.

Time will tell if these concerns are the misguided cries of a digital content Chicken Little. It is all to easy, however, to foresee an future with libraries squeezed out of the e-book market. I encourage libraries and librarians to get engaged, regain the energy that helped bring us more content years ago, and work for business models that will be fair but allow us to grow e-books beyond a boutique collection. The circulation of physical materials is generally on the decline across the county, while digital content has continued to grow. Without action on our part, will that growth continue?

Michael Blackwell, Communication and Advocacy Work Stream, ReadersFirst

Director, St. Mary’s County Library          

A Communication to Tor/Macmillan

Tor has announced a four month embargo on the sale of library eBooks.  In Response, ReadersFirst has prepared the following statement in concern.  We encourage all libraries and library customers to register your concerns with Tor at

"We are the ReadersFirst Working Group, 35 librarians and library administrators representing not only our libraries but in some cases consortiums, with hundreds of libraries. We have seen your announcement that reads in part as follows:

“Tor Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers and a leading global publisher of science fiction and fantasy will be changing our eBook lending model to libraries as part of a test program to determine the impact of eLending on retail sales. Our current analysis on eLending indicates it is having a direct and adverse impact on retail eBook sales.

Effective with July 2018 publications, all new titles from Tor Books will become available for library eBook distribution four months after their retail on-sale date rather than the current program which allows libraries to purchase the titles on their retail on-sale date. During the test period, we will work closely with our library vendors who service this channel to evaluate the results and develop ongoing terms that will best support Tor’s authors, their agents, and Tor’s channel partners.”

We are deeply concerned about this embargo. We dispute your claims. That the Sci-Fi/Fantasy eBook market may be changing, with a large growth in sales of indie sales, is beyond doubt: What, however, is your evidence that eBook lending by libraries is having a deleterious effect upon your sales? Could trends other than library eBooks sales have more to do with any decline you may be seeing? We are particularly concerned about the spread of a false narrative that (we have heard) is perhaps being promulgated by Amazon. Self-published eBook sales now represent the largest market share as measured by unit sales.  Amazon dominates overall unit sale distribution. By revenue, the company ranks fifth in eBook sales and second in eAudiobook sales. We suspect that Amazon is using indie sales to lower pricing while deeply discounting higher priced larger publisher content, as noted here by “Amazon Ebook Dollars By Discount from Digital List price”:  We wonder if Amazon, and not libraries, is the source of any decline you may be seeing.

If any Amazon claim about library sales is the basis for your action, we believe you have acted without full consideration of the market.  Regardless, before taking this action, could you have relayed your concerns to, for example, the American Library Association? You could have expressed your worry about lost revenue, offered us evidence, and engaged in us dialogue about solutions. Instead, you chose with no advanced notice to disadvantage our readers, many of whom discover your products through libraries. We believe that help you by fostering discovery of your content, not to mention the titles we ourselves buy from you. 

We are spreading word of your decision through the library community. We ask that you reverse course or at least offer evidence to support your claims. We are considering different courses of action, ranging from a boycott of all Tor publications to a moratorium of our own, not buying your print or eBooks for four months from publication date and explaining to millions of library users the reasons for our decision. At the very least, we shall inform library readers of your decision. We exist to provide reading for content-hungry users, and we do not lightly wish to deprive them of quality content, nor do we wish to have adversarial relationships. Your action, however, may be forcing our hand.  

We are at least encouraged that you wish to participate in the Panorama Project. Would it have been a better course to delay your action until that project was further along?

We hope that you are willing to open a dialogue with us.  Please consider responding to this message to let us know if we might arrange a conference call between you and our many members.  

We await your reply."