The book “Picking Cotton” was selected for

Carnegie-Stout Public Library’s first All Community Reads, and 5,500 books were distributed.

Macmillan Publishers offered a generous discount, although at $7.56 a book, I am confident that Macmillan still made some profit. Interestingly, the cost for the same title as an e-book is $40. No freight. No wait for delivery. No printing equipment. But still $40 per e-book.

Throughout history, libraries have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with publishers. In the print environment, libraries purchased, owned, loaned and assumed full user rights to works within the guidelines of copyright law. The acquisition of electronic resources, however, is increasingly governed by license agreements that fall under contract law, not copyright. Publishers took full advantage of that.

As recently as 2011 Macmillan and Simon & Schuster would not license or sell e-books to libraries. In 2012, Penguin Group announced it would stop making titles available to libraries through the OverDrive platform. Libraries were left with serious concerns.

A period of stability, if not satisfaction among libraries, reigned from about 2014 to mid-2019. Libraries remained concerned about their cost of e-books, which are typically four to five times the cost of an e-book purchased by a consumer.

An e-book of the latest James Patterson book, “The 19th Christmas,” costs a library $65 — with just two years of access. In hardcover, this same book is $15.95. Stephen King’s new release “The Institute” is $59.99 for two years of e-book access, but $16.50 for the hardcover.

HarperCollins decided that a library’s hardcover book would circulate 26 times before it fell apart; therefore, a library’s e-book purchase is permitted only 26 checkouts, after which another copy must be purchased.

Although the policies seemed arbitrary, at least libraries knew what to expect. However, once again, the rules have been rewritten.

Tor, a division of Macmillan, recently experimented with an embargo on its e-books by allowing libraries access to titles only 120 days after release. Macmillan concluded that non-library sales increased during the embargo period, and so John Sargent, Macmillan CEO, announced a new embargo policy effective Nov. 1.

Macmillan will sell public libraries just one copy of a new e-book, licensed in perpetuity, for $30. Macmillan will prohibit libraries from buying additional copies during the first eight weeks of a new release. After that, additional copies can be purchased for $60 each, but ownership will last for two years or 52 lends, whichever comes first. Regardless of a library’s size — from Chicago Public Library, to Dubuque, to a rural library serving 500 citizens — just one copy of a new release e-book will be sold.

When libraries do not make this material available, patrons might think the library is unresponsive to community demand, not relevant and unable to keep up with technology.

Ramiro S. Salazar, president of the Public Library Association, emphasized the threat to public libraries and declared that the embargo policy “was neither fair, nor equitable.”

Salazar is right, but the Big Five publishers — Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster — are not in business to be fair and equitable. They are in business to make money. The dichotomy is that libraries believe in access for all and are sensitive to those without the means to purchase materials.

The American Library Association is urging library users to become involved in the fight for e-book access.

Carnegie-Stout has joined the campaign #eBooksForAll and urges you to voice your concerns by signing a petition at or from a link on the library’s website.

Together we can hope to make a difference.

Henricks has been the director of Dubuque’s Carnegie-Stout Public Library since 2002. She holds a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. in managerial leadership for the information professions from Simmons College, Boston. Her email address is

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