Penguin eBooks Return to Libraries – But Probably Never the Kindle

You’ve probably already heard the breaking news this morning. Penguin is finally going to lessen their hostile position toward libraries.

They’re launching a new pilot program this fall with a couple libraries in the NYC area (NYCPL and and Brooklyn Public Library) to offer ebooks via the 3M Cloud library. The pilot launches in August, and if it goes well, Penguin will open up its e-books to libraries across the country.

The ebooks are going to be sold to libraries on a 1 year license, starting 6 months after they are published. The license will expire, and it doesn’t look like Penguin’s ebooks will be on the Kindle. But this is at least a slight move improvement on Penguin’s last decision on library ebooks.

That 1 year expiration seems a little extreme, doesn’t it? My first thought was that it was extortionate, but after I thought it through I calmed down a little and remembered that most librarians won’t be as upset as I am.

I also realized that with some books it won’t matter.  I’m more bothered by the length of the expiration, not the fact that libraries will need to rebuy ebooks. These won’t be the first expiring ebooks; the Harry Potter series came to OverDrive with a 5 year expiration attached, and I didn’t complain then because needing to buy a book every 5 years is much less punitive than buying it on a yearly basis. And there are other expiring ebooks on the library market, but those don’t get the attention of the big name deals like the one today.

In 5 years many technical books are outdated and need to be replaced. In 5 years many fiction books are forgotten and won’t need to be kept on the shelf. But the single year renewal is worse, and it’s going to make the ebook purchases difficult to justify.

On a related note Penguin’s justification for it is laughable. Penguin told the Wall Street Journal that the “renewable one-year expiration date on e-books, meanwhile, is designed to mimic the natural shelf life of print books.” *snicker* So all those decade old hardbacks on the shelves of my local library have to be bought each year?

There’s a second story here which I’m not sure anyone has noticed yet. The 3M Cloud Library doesn’t yet support the Kindle, and thanks to this deal with Penguin it probably never will.

You might recall that one of Penguin’s complaints about library ebooks was the ease with which patrons could load the ebooks on to their Kindle. Penguin’s official statements mentioned security, but that was a code phrase for their real fear, which was that making ebooks to easy to use would negatively affect sales on the consumer market.

It’s my guess that Penguin went with 3M because 3M doesn’t support the Kindle. If I’m right then one of the conditions of the contract is that 3M will never support the Kindle.

That, my dear, is a stupid move. It gives OverDrive an advantage that 3M cannot match.

image by My name’s axel


Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Robert21 June, 2012

    Is it 3M or OverDrive? This story on another site says the NYC pilot is with OverDrive.

    1. Robert21 June, 2012

      Oh wait, nevermind, I misread it.

  2. Fbone21 June, 2012

    These libraries currently use Overdrive. I wonder if they will switch to 3M in August.

    1. Nate Hoffelder21 June, 2012

      Some libraries offer both.

  3. Andrys21 June, 2012

    I read that 3M and Amazon are in talks to include the Kindle…

    1. Nate Hoffelder21 June, 2012

      That’s what I was just told today (after I posted). But it’s also what I was told in March. Given that Amazon has no need to sign another library ebook vendor I don’t see the negotiations going anywhere.

  4. flyingtoastr21 June, 2012

    I think you’re being exceedingly generous giving fiction books a 5 year shelf-life. Most fiction these days seems to be disposed of within a few months.

    1. Nate Hoffelder21 June, 2012

      Yes, but I suspect that library ebook checkouts will likely look similar to ebook sales. The latter often occurs as a stream, not a single clump.

    2. DavidW22 June, 2012

      If that were true then you would see most people in the new release section of your public library only… oh wait that is absurdly wrong!

      As for ebook checkouts I’ve been on waiting lists for novels not remotely new several times. And why would the library pay to “stock” such books if there was no interest as you claim?

  5. Fbone21 June, 2012

    NYCPL is scheduled to lose $43 million this year in funding. If 3M’s service is less costly, then perhaps they should switch over. We’ve heard media reports of Overdrive’s sharp price increases with their new contracts.

  6. Richard Naylor22 June, 2012

    It is astounding that this trial is called a test and that Penguin’s offer is considered an improvement. We pay retail and only get one year’s use out of an older book. The deal seems to be a desperate attempt to do something but only makes things worse by encouraging other publishers to think we are fools who will pay anything for their books. We should look at each deal and make the best ones. NYPL should be trying to find a test that is win win and not one to see how much they can pay.

  7. Jeffie Nicholson22 June, 2012

    Libraries buy these because there is no other option. We can’t boycott effectively, primarily because we’d have to stop purchasing the hardcover for it have an signifiant impact on the publishers as well. Making our communities mad at us is not an option for most.

    We don’t have to wait 6 months for a new release in hardcover. All they are doing is artificially inflating their consumer sales by limiting the ebooks libraries can offer. Do we really want the only place with an indepth collection of nonfiction & fiction to be Amazon? Do we really want to go the path of to limiting information to those who can afford it (so sorry if you wanted to read the whole series!) with these impractical practices as authors turn to offering ebooks only?

    Librarians are deeply concerned about this. The problem is there is little to no leverage for librarians as the ebook market evolves. ALA is working with publishers and we do hope for some changes but only the naive or indifferent think things are okay right now.

  8. […] your company. Do me a favor and take a look at how Penguin is handling the library ebook market right now. It’s a regressive position, not innovative. It’s designed to limit the damage ebooks […]

  9. […] as cutting off ” over-the-air” delivery of library eBooks to Kindles. Penguin eBooks returned to libraries in June, but as the later article points out, Penguin is using the 3M Cloud Library rather than […]

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