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Hoping to skirt Penguin’s library e-book restrictions by checking out a hot new title as a digital audiobook instead? Sorry, that strategy w…

Hoping to skirt Penguin’s library e-book restrictions by checking out a hot new title as a digital audiobook instead? Sorry, that strategy will no longer work as Penguin changed its library policies again today.

Digital Shift has the message that OverDrive, which distributes e-books to libraries, sent to its library partners today:

This change does not affect any Penguin audiobook titles currently in your library’s catalog. Your library will be able to purchase additional copies of titles released before 11/14/2011. However, titles released after this date and new releases will not be available, per instruction from the publisher.

The latest restrictions come about two months after Penguin announced that it would no longer offer any new e-books through libraries. (At the time of that announcement, Penguin also cut off library lending on Kindle; it has since restored Kindle library lending.) The cut-off date for new e-books and digital audiobooks is the same.

It appears that libraries will still be able to lend out new Penguin digital audiobooks that they have already purchased.

My recent look at the e-books that are most borrowed from libraries found that publishers weren’t restricting downloadable audiobooks the way they were restricting e-books. For instance, OverDrive’s list of the most-downloaded audiobooks in December included Penguin’s Red Mist, which wasn’t available as an e-book at the time. However, Penguin is now eliminating this loophole. It remains to be seen whether other big-six publishers that don’t allow library lending of any e-books at all but do offer unrestricted audiobook downloads — Hachette, for instance — will follow Penguin’s lead.

When Penguin pulled its new e-books from libraries in November, it cited “concerns about the security of the copyright of its authors.” The motivation behind the audiobook restrictions is unclear; I’ve requested a statement from Penguin and will update this post if I hear back.

Earlier this month, library news blog Infodocket reported that as of January 31, the Amazon-owned digital audiobook publisher Brilliance Audio will no longer supply downloadable audiobooks to libraries.

Why Restrict Access To Downloadable Audiobooks?

When Penguin pulled new e-books from libraries, I wrote about some of the reasons a publisher might do this. One of those reasons: Publishers might worry that e-book library lending will cut into sales. This seems less applicable to audiobook library lending, however: Most digital audiobooks are significantly more expensive than e-books, so users who can’t get them from libraries are not as likely to buy them.

Those frustrated library users might go buy the e-book or print book (that is what publishers would like them to do, surely). But they may also might also head to the Amazon-owned Audible.com, which offers downloadable audiobook plans starting at $14.95 per month for one title and also sells the titles as á la carte downloads.

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