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Updated: Tor Books is Now Windowing Library eBooks

Tor Books has just demonstrated that the decision makers at Macmillan are surprisingly ignorant on the basic principles of microeconomics in general.

Earlier this weeks Tor Books informed libraries that it was windowing library ebooks. Starting this month, ebooks would be delayed by as much as 40 months.

Here’s the statement, as reprinted by one of the Upper Arlington Public Library:

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.

In addition, Macmillan will actively participate in the recently launched “Panorama Project,” the first large-scale, data-driven research project focused on understanding the impact of library holdings on book discovery, author brand development, and retail sales (

With data from both programs, we will be in a better position to analyze and understand the impact of eLending on our publishing program. The timing of the test period is open-ended.

OverDrive also sent a message to libraries, but I don’t have it yet.

Edit: It has been added to the end of the post, along with the ALA statement.

I do, however, have the statement that Macmillan sent to PW. "We have been seeing an adverse impact on our ebook sales over a period of time," Macmillan said, "and are using this test to determine if library ebook lending is one of the contributing factors."

This is so bizarre that I had to read it twice before I could beleive that Macmillan could say something this clueless. (I also have to wonder what drug Andrew Albanese is on, that he did not react to the quote – Xanax?)

The thing is, I know why Macmillan has poor ebook sales, and so do you.

Macmillan  has poor ebook sales because they have adopted a policy of discouraging ebook sales in favor of print sales. Macmillan adopted this policy in late 2009 when they conspired with Apple and 4 other publishers to violate antitrust law by forcing Amazon to accept what is called agency pricing, a system where the publishers set the price and retailers are prohibited from deep discounts and sales.

That is established historical fact, and so is the antitrust suit brought by the DOJ, Macmillan settling the lawsuit,  its punishment, and Macmillan’s return to agency in 2014.

Everyone knows this; you could even ask Mike Shatzkin and he’ll tell you pretty much the same thing. To pretend that Macmillan’s poor ebook sales are a result of anything other than Macmillan’s own policies shows a basic lack of awareness of consumer behavior.

Pretending that the cause might be library ebooks, on the other hand, is reminiscent of Animal Farm (or possibly 1984, but either way Orwell nailed it).

It almost makes you wonder if this is really just a smokescreen for something else, doesn’t it?

Update: Here’s the ALA’s statement:

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

And here’s the email OD sent to libraries

Dear ****

On behalf of **********, your account manager, I am writing to let you know we received notice from Tor Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers, regarding a change in policy for eBook lending availability for libraries.  Tor Books titles will now be delayed for library availability for four months from their retail release date, beginning with the July 2018 releases.  As your library has placed pre-orders for titles affected by this change, we are cancelling orders for these titles.  You can see affected titles in your “Recalled Content” report in Marketplace.  We have attached Macmillan’s notice of this policy change.

OverDrive is dismayed and disappointed in Macmillan’s decision.  We take issue with Macmillan’s conclusion that library availability has an adverse impact on retail sales and Macmillan has not shared the data or analysis that supports this statement.

We are in ongoing and active dialogue with Macmillan to provide data and information to advocate a change of this policy.   Macmillan plans to participate in the Panorama Project, which is undertaking a series of pilot programs and research projects to provide objective evidence of the impact of library catalogs and lending as it relates to book discovery, author brand, and retail sales.

We encourage you to contact Macmillan directly to provide your feedback at [email protected].

Thank you,


image by khawkins04 on Flickr

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Randy Lea July 19, 2018 um 7:03 pm

Back in the old days, it took a trip to a book store to buy a book, while it took 2 trips to the library to borrow a book, and the 2nd trip to return the book had a fixed schedule.

Today, there is pretty much zero difference between buying an ebook and borrowing an ebook, well other than one is free and the other is ridiculously expensive. Sometime you have short wait at the library, and a limited amount of time to read the book. The high prices have pushed a lot of people to explore getting ebooks from the library and they decide the very minor inconveniences are more than worth the free cost.

Will forcing a long delay for library availability on new books get library patrons to go back to buying expensive ebooks? I doubt more than a few. I’d think this would encourage companies like Overdrive that service libraries to work towards getting a lot more self-published books that people actually are buying into their available content, addressing one of the issues they have currently.

Disgusting Dude July 19, 2018 um 7:30 pm

Hey, MacMillan!

Here’s your missing sakes:

Chris Meadows July 19, 2018 um 10:00 pm

I should have thought of this angle. Good for you for coming up with it.

Nate Hoffelder July 19, 2018 um 11:30 pm

Thanks! Your scoop was quite good, too; if I hadn’t read the bit about Macmillan’s justification in PW I would not have bothered to follow up.

Kudos on the scoop, BTW.

John S July 20, 2018 um 8:49 am

If Tor are concerned about not cannibalizing their sales, then I’d suggest they might reconsider giving free e-book copies of many of their highest profile titles every year every year in the Hugo Award voters packet. Based on the analysis linked below, this year they are giving away one novel, 5 novels, and the entirity of a Brandon Sanderson trilogy. Most other publishers of novels just provide excepts.

Perhaps most notoriously, Tor (US) gave away the entire Wheel of Time series in 2014, despite the fact that they arguably didn’t have the rights to do so, given that that year’s WorldCon was in the UK:

Their own published authors have in the past suggested getting a supporting membership ($50) as a means of accessing books in a cost-effective manner, so it wouldn’t surprise me if people decide to do that instead of buying Tor books normally. (AFAIK none of the cost of that membership goes back to the publisher or author.)

Perhaps in the overall scheme of things, a few thousand WorldCon members/Hugo voters are a drop in the ocean, but if you consider the likely demographics of library users vs people who’ll happily pay for a $50 supporting membership (or several hundred/thousand dollars for full con membership, attendance and travel), it’s not very good optics about who Tor are catering for versus who they are making life worse for.

NB: I appreciate this isn’t exactly a like-for-like comparison, as anything that appearing in the voter packet would be after this 4-month window; only a limited number of titles, which can’t really be predicted, appear in the packet etc

Dan Robinson July 20, 2018 um 9:29 am

They’re going to lose sales and wonder why. I’m reviving my old habit of borrowing a book from the library and then buying it if I like it. Now I’m doing this with e-books. If I have to wait four months to borrow a book, I’ll probably forget about it unless a late review comes along.

Sharon July 20, 2018 um 11:47 am

I don’t really mind the 4-month delay as I’ve always got books on hold and checked out and I also buy a lot of ebooks (when they are reasonably priced) and it won’t make me any more likely to pay upwards of $20 for an ebook than before. Nope. Just not going to happen.

Will Entrekin July 20, 2018 um 8:26 pm

"when they conspired with Apple and 3 other publishers to violate antitrust law by forcing Amazon to accept what is called agency pricing, a system where the publishers set the price and retailers are prohibited from deep discounts and sales."

I think it was four other publishers:
Simon & Schuster

Random House was not among them, but was bought by Penguin not long after. They remain the Big 5 (and continue to maintain that Amazon is the publishing monopoly problem, because they don’t know how to business).

Nate Hoffelder July 21, 2018 um 10:55 am

yes, that was a typo, sorry.

MKS July 21, 2018 um 9:05 pm

Somebody correct me, because I must have this wrong.
Libraries are collecting and freely sharing data of use to publishers in a big project, right? And the publishers have announced that they will turn around and use that information against libraries?

Is that right? So why would libraries help publishers in data collection ever again? Or all the industry mavens who complain that Amazon are Big Bad Meanies for not releasing sales information on behalf of the industry, how do they justify this?

Harmon August 27, 2018 um 3:04 pm

I wonder if the reduction in ebooks sales that Tor sees might not be the result of audiobooks? Tor sells genre fiction, and personally, I find audio preferable to any other format for that sort of thing.

My hierarchy of acquisition for genre fiction is free audio, paid audio, free ebook, and lastly, paid ebook. YMMV, but I’ll bet "paid ebook" comes in last for a whole lot of people.

Dan Robinson August 27, 2018 um 3:10 pm

I always get e-books. Unless the author is one that I know, my pattern is to get the library e-book, read it and make my decision. If I like the book, I buy it. Tor will lose sales with this model. In four months I probably won’t remember a new author and I won’t buy the book if I can’t read it first from the library.

The Whole "Library eBooks Kill Retail eBook Sales" Idea Makes No Sense | The Digital Reader September 20, 2019 um 2:26 pm

[…] ebook sales being down. This belief has been around for over a year now (since Macmillian first established that trial embargo on library ebooks in July 2018), and it's now grown to include a concatenating belief that Amazon […]

Janet October 4, 2019 um 9:18 am

John S seems to feel that the Hugo packets discourage folks from purchasing ebooks. I’ve participated in the World cons for several years, and disagree. I read books in the year in which they were published in order to nominate titles–the packet of finalists comes out about 3 months after the nomination deadline, so by the time I get that, I’ve already read most of the novel group–the finalists are rarely a total surprise. I would guess that most who pay their memberships fall into my category. I only use the packet material to read items I wouldn’t purchase in the first place, ie the novel or two I missed, the graphic novels, and the short fiction

Second, I never vote for anything based on an excerpt–if I don’t read the whole book, I don’t consider it, so including just a piece is a waste of data.

I think the real reason for low ebook sales is high prices. I just looked at a recent Tor release on Amazon–paperback copy with free shipping is $12.59, Kindle ebook is $13.99, hardcover copy at my library with a single person ahead of me on the wait list is free. I’m also likely to find a half priced paperback at a local used bookstore in 3-6 months, if I haven’t completely forgotten about the book in the meantime–which is a real risk.

Delaying titles also means that libraries will have most likely passed on to newer things, as interest and demand both age quickly. Most libraries don’t bother with books older than 6 months unless they continue to be best sellers, have a movie coming, or, less likely, have new requests.

Most library users do buy books, but, based on anecdotal experience, I think that the bulk of ebook buyers rarely use libraries at all. The folks I know who do frequently purchase current ebooks are busy professionals who don’t want to wait (if it’s popular, there’s always a wait), or then be forced to read it in a time limit. They darken library doors only to encourage their children or grandchildren to use the library.

Updated: Amazon Books Should Replace Local Libraries, and Other Publisher-Serving "Solutions" | The Digital Reader June 25, 2020 um 6:12 pm

[…] I think Forbes just gave us another example. A coupel days ago Forbes published an editorial that subtly reinforces Macmillan’s current anti-library policy. […]

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