Ebook Embargo

From the Director

Richmond Public Library is joining libraries across the country and a majority of libraries in the Commonwealth of Virginia in suspending purchases of all electronic versions of Macmillan Publishers’ new releases following Macmillan’s decision to place embargoes on eBook sales to public libraries.

By controlling the number of newly released eBook copies that can be purchased, Macmillan is allowing only a certain segment of society to access digital content in a timely manner – those who can pay for it. This drastic inequality cannot stand. It opposes the core principle of your public library.

Macmillan has instituted an unfair practice, only applied to libraries, of restricting access to one copy of a title in the first eight weeks after publication. A single copy of a new title for a period of two months is not sufficient nor is it acceptable for our library patrons. In some instances, this embargo will force readers to wait a year or more to borrow an eBook.

Some might believe that an eight-week embargo is no less harmful than other restrictions we have accepted on eBooks from publishers. At Richmond Public Library, we believe an embargo sets a troubling precedent that, if followed by others, would give publishers unprecedented control over basic access.

Among libraries participating in the boycott are the Columbus Metropolitan Library, the Nashville Public Library, the Maryland Digital Library, and Washington’s King County Library System, Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Chesterfield County.

Please join us in our fight for fair and equitable access to information.

Scott Firestine
Richmond Public Library

From the Library Board Chair

The Richmond Public Library system exists to serve many needs of Richmond’s diverse population. The libraries of today are significantly different than the ones I used while growing up in Richmond.

We have excellent internet access, electronic card catalogs, 3D printers and “maker spaces”, comfortable chairs, a higher noise level, librarians who help not only with research but also with resumes, innovative youth programs, etc. But at the core, libraries are about books, knowledge and thought.

It is distressing to learn that Macmillan Co., a leader in U.S. publishing, has decided to “throttle” public libraries’ access to some eBooks. Specifically, they are restricting the ability of libraries to purchase multiple copies of many popular eBooks at the time of publication.

Apparently, Macmillan is doing this to encourage avid readers to purchase books rather than borrow them from the library.

By creating an artificially long wait period for library patrons to access eBooks, Macmillan hopes that readers, at least those with comfortable budgets, will give up on the library and buy their own copies.

The RPL Board of Trustees strongly objects to this assault on the free library and, particularly, those patrons with little disposable income to spend on purchasing books. Rather than agree to Macmillan’s limiting of our purchasing eBooks, we have decided to suspend the purchasing of these titles in the eBook format.

In order to minimize inconvenience to our patrons, RPL will increase our purchase of printed copies of these popular titles. We value all of our community members and look forward to serving everyone.

Bill Yates
Richmond Public Library Board of Trustees

Ebook Circulation


Ebooks at Richmond Public Library

At Richmond Public Library, 11.5% of our circulation is from digital materials. Between fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2019 the access to e-content nearly doubled!

Digital technologies are becoming increasingly inseparable from the ways that people learn, work and interact. The library’s unique ability to create equitable access for information and knowledge is more important than ever. Needless to say, our city and community is strongest when all individuals have the same opportunity to further their personal, educational and professional goals.

One of the great things about eBooks is that they are convenient, flexible, fast and available to us even when the library is closed. Users who are sight impaired can access large-print books with only a few clicks, and most eBook readers offer fonts and line spacing that make reading easier for people who have dyslexia or other visual challenges. Because portable devices are light and easy to hold, eBooks are easier to use for some people who have physical disabilities. They are becoming a very popular way for people to access and consume information.

How Does This Work?

When the Library buys an eBook we are actually purchasing a license. Each publishing house has its own price model. Many publishing houses use the 2-year licensing model. The price libraries pay for an eBook is not the same as it would be for a consumer. For example, the popular Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is about $15 for a consumer to purchase. The library is charged $55 for 24 months of usage. If the library still wishes to retain the title in eBook format, we will pay an additional $55 for two more years of use.

What Can You Do?


Why Now?

Discussion about the fairness of publisher’s digital pricing and access for libraries have been ongoing for at least a decade.
However, the challenges for libraries intensified rapidly in 2018/2019 as publishers implemented drastic changes to their digital content pricing.

Timeline of Changes to E-content Lending Models for Libraries.
  • July 2018 – Tor Books: Tor/Forge or Thomas Doherty, a division of Macmillan Publishers, implements a four-month embargo on availability of new eBook titles for libraries.
  • October 2018 — Penguin Random House ceases perpetual eBook licensing for libraries and implements a two-year metered model.
  • July 2019 — Hachette Book Group ceases perpetual eBook and eAudiobook licensing for libraries and implements a two-year metered model.
  • July 2019 — Blackstone Audio imposes a 90-day embargo on new eAudiobook titles for libraries.
  • August 2019 — Simon & Schuster ceases perpetual eAudiobook licensing for libraries and implements a two-year metered model.
  • November 2019 (pending) — Macmillan Publishers will implement a two-month embargo on all new eBook titles for libraries.

Which eBooks Are Affected?

All eBook titles published by Macmillan or by any of the publishers that Macmillan owns. These titles will still appear in our catalog in other formats, but will not be available in eBook format.

What will happen to Macmillan eBooks already in the library catalog?

Macmillan eBooks already in our collection will remain. You may continue to place hold requests and check them out as usual. If you have a Macmillan eBook checked out right now, it will not be affected.

Does this purchase suspension include Macmillan books in all formats?

No.  This decision only affects Macmillan eBooks.  RPL will continue to purchase print versions and not embargoed eBooks from Macmillan titles.  We will revisit this decision and expand or contract based on future restrictions imposed by Macmillan.

If I submit a purchase request for a new Macmillan eBook will it be rejected?

Yes. We will not be purchasing any access restricted Macmillan eBooks.  Library staff will process and consider purchase suggestions for all other Macmillan formats as usual.

I don’t know much about Macmillan. What books do they publish?

Macmillan is one of the “Big Five” book publishers in the world, along with Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. They publish a wide variety of fiction, nonfiction and other genres from hundreds of different authors.

Under the Macmillan Publishing Group is Farrar, Straus and Giroux, MCD, Picador, North Point Press, Hill and Wang, Henry Holt and Company, St. Martin’s Press, and Tor/Forge.  It also includes their Children’s Publishing Group.  Authors under Macmillan Publishing include David McCullough, Nora Roberts and Colson Whitehead.

How long will this suspension last?

We don’t have an end date right now. Should Macmillan cancel its embargo, we will immediately lift suspension.

Why don’t you at least take the single eBook Macmillan is offering?

We believe everyone deserves equal access to books and information. In our view, Macmillan’s policy means that only those who can and will pay for access deserve it.  That’s why we believe we have to take this action.

Additionally, your chances of getting access to a single copy in the first two months are slim at best.  We have hundreds of patrons who place holds on the most popular eBooks.  Everyone can hold or check out an eBook for up to 14 days.  By the time you get to the top of a queue odds are, it will have been several months already.

We understand that this is frustrating.  We know this decision will not please everyone, but we firmly believe that this suspension is the best way we can support our eBook readers and ensure that libraries have equal access to digital materials.