Three months of library drama are coming to a climax this evening as big-six publisher Penguin announced that it is ending its relationship with digital library distributor OverDrive. Starting tomorrow, it will stop offering e-books and digital audiobooks to libraries — at least until it finds a new partner.
With this move, Random House becomes the only big-six publisher to allow unrestricted access to its e-books in libraries — though it will raise prices beginning in March.
Big-six publishers met with the American Library Association to discuss the issue in New York this week (those conversations are referred to in Penguin’s statement, below). The ALA reported on those meetings earlier this week, highlighting a concern that may have led to Penguin’s move this evening:
A key issue that arose in each meeting is the degree to which “friction” may decline in the ebook lending transaction as compared to lending print books. From the publisher viewpoint, this friction provides some measure of security. Borrowing a print book from a library involves a nontrivial amount of personal work that often involves two trips-one to pick up the book and one to return it. The online availability of e-books alters this friction calculation, and publishers are concerned that the ready download-ability of library ebooks could have an adverse effect on sales.
The Penguin news was reported by Library Journal blog The Digital Shift. Library Journal reports that Penguin is negotiating a “continuance agreement” with OverDrive, which will allow libraries that have Penguin e-books in their catalog to continue to have access to those titles.”
In other words, libraries that have already purchased digital materials from Penguin through OverDrive — such as mega-bestseller The Help by Kathryn Stockett — may be allowed to keep lending them out. But libraries won’t be able to order any new Penguin e-books or audiobooks.
In its statement (below), Penguin said it is “continuing to talk about our future plans for eBook and digital audiobook availability for library lending with a number of partners providing these services,” but it hasn’t come to an agreement with any such partner (like OverDrive competitor 3M), meaning for now Penguin e-books in libraries are dunzo.
Penguin provided the following statement:
In these ever changing times, it is vital that we forge relationships with libraries and build a future together. We care about preserving the value of our authors’ work as well as helping libraries continue to serve their communities. Our ongoing partnership with the [American Library Association] is more important than ever, and our recent talks with ALA leadership helped bring everything into focus.
Looking ahead, we are continuing to talk about our future plans for eBook and digital audiobook availability for library lending with a number of partners providing these services. Because of these discussions, as of February 10, 2012, Penguin will no longer offer additional copies of eBooks and audiobooks for purchase via Overdrive.
Physical editions of Penguin’s new and backlist titles will continue to be available in libraries everywhere.
I’ve asked OverDrive for a comment and will update this post if I hear back.