Ebook lending through public libraries has been something of a headache since the advent of digital reading. Strange “hoop jumping” requirements from publishers and technology obstacles to overcome for libraries and patrons has made this a winding road, to be sure. But as it turns out, some of the barriers are not artificial… and not in the best interests of these underappreciated institutions.
Amazon, the company that makes it all too easy to loathe them with some of their practices, has now been the subject of a report that documented its treatment of libraries and patrons. The company has acknowledged to Washington Post that they do not permit ebooks from any of their Amazon Publishing titles to be distributed by libraries or borrowed by patrons.
Why? To make you buy the book.
Make no mistake, print editions of their in-house publications are eligible to libraries through their standard contractual agreements. But with the increased interest in digital lending due to COVID-19 and the increased need for borrowing-versus-buying due to job loss and economic depression, more and more patrons are turning to ebooks for safety and affordability.
One of the truly disappointing things about this problem is that it is authors and patrons who suffer. OverDrive, which is the country’s leading supplies of digital media for library lending and maintains the Libby app, has been very gracious about the ongoing dispute with Amazon over barring its titles from library lending. Of course, Amazon stands to lose out too, as there are too many great books to enjoy to waste time worrying about not getting to read Amazon Publishing titles. While the company may assume this will drive libraries to purchase more print editions or readers to purchase the book for themselves, that may be a gamble that doesn’t pay off.
Considering that this is the 14th anniversary year of the Kindle’s release, it’s past time for publishers to figure out how to loan an ebook in a way that helps libraries, supports authors, and continues to put money in the coffers. But hiding behind the authors–as Amazon has done, claiming they’re only looking out for their authors’ incomes–is disingenuous at best.