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 elending.feedback@macmillan.com.

"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: http://authorearnings.com/sfwa2018/. 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”:  http://authorearnings.com/report/january-2018-report-us-online-book-sales-q2-q4-2017/  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."