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Penguin Relaxes Library eBook Restrictions

2266388742_6b6584011f[1]Penguin announced today that starting next week they planned to change the terms under which they sell ebooks to libraries.

They’re still going to require an expiring 1-year license and they’re still going to change retail prices for the ebooks, but the good news today is that Penguin will no longer be holding back new titles. Penguin currently has a 6 month window on newly published ebooks during which libraries can’t buy them. That window is going away.

This doesn’t sound much like "good" news, does it? Depending on your perspective, it is. I mean, if the guy kicking you in the gut takes off his steel-toed boots, you would be pleased, right? At least he’s not wearing those boots any more, right?

When you consider how Penguin has been acting towards libraries over the past year or so my analogy makes some sense.

In November 2011 Penguin stopped selling ebooks to libraries completely, citing "security concerns" but more likely due to the ease with which library patrons could transfer library ebooks from OverDrive to their Kindles. Eight months later, in June 2012, Penguin reversed course and announced that they were going to launch a pilot program with 3M Cloud Library. That pilot was formally announced in October 2012 and launched in  November. It has since been expanded to include Axis 360.

It seems to me that Penguin doesn’t actually want to sell ebooks to libraries but they also don’t want to appear to be hostile to the idea. So as a compromise Penguin started selling ebooks under terms that offered as little value to libraries as possible.

Penguin is not alone in this, though each of the major publishing conglomerates has taken a different approach. HarperCollins, for example, limits library ebooks to 26 checkouts, and Random House charges libraries 3 or 4 times the consumer retail price.

Speaking of Random House, don’t you wonder what terms Random Penguin Solutions will offer to libraries after the merger? I do. One charges high prices while the other restricts the usefulness of a library ebook.

I’m afraid that RP will decide to compromise by charging high prices and requiring a one year license. Given that neither really wants to sell eboooks to libraries on terms even vaguely close to the ones for paper library books or for consumer ebooks, my suggestion is not at all absurd.


image by Paul Lowry

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