Library CEO urging patrons to join fight for e-books

The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) is warning patrons their access to e-books could soon be in jeopardy thanks to a clampdown by a major publisher.

Macmillan Publishers restricting new releases, accuses libraries of 'cannibalizing sales'

In a letter, Macmillan Publishers CEO John Sargent explained that the decision to restrict e-book access was in response to growing fears that libraries are 'cannibalizing sales' of new releases. (Emily Spartz/The Argus Leader/Associated Press)

The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) is warning patrons their access to e-books could soon be in jeopardy thanks to a clampdown by a major publisher.

Starting Nov. 1, public libraries will only be allowed to purchase a single copy of any new e-book by Macmillan Publishers. After eight weeks, they'll be able to purchase additional copies.

"It will put our library in a difficult position," OPL CEO Danielle McDonald told CBC Radio's All In A Day.

Until now, the OPL has typically purchased 10 to 15 copies of newly released e-books, McDonald said.

"Our concern isn't so much about the longer wait times, but for those people who can't afford to purchase the book, or have mobility issues and can't get out of the house. They depend on us to provide them with content," McDonald said.

Libraries speaking up 

The OPL is asking its patrons to sign a petition to "stand up for libraries' ability to buy and lend the digital content," and "demand that Macmillan work with libraries to provide inclusive access to new e-books digital content barrier-free."

"Publishers have to know that digital literacy is an important value in our society," McDonald said.

One of North America's big publishers is about to put a cap on new e-book titles sold to libraries. We speak with the CEO of the Ottawa Public Library on why they say the decision is unfair and are urging readers to petition against it. 7:52

Macmillian is part of a group of five publishers that collectively control the majority of the North American consumer book publishing market.

In a letter to Macmillan authors, illustrators and agents, Macmillan Publishers CEO John Sargent explained the decision to restrict sales was made in response to growing fears that library lending was "cannibalizing sales."

"It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an e-book for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American e-book reader is starting to lean heavily toward free," Sargent wrote. 

MacDonald said she doesn't understand where the publishers are coming from.

"We do purchase and we purchase at a higher rate. They are already charging us three times more than the average price per e-book," she said. "Libraries are champions of publishers and authors."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.