Kansas City Public Library, Other Area Systems Join in Nationwide Protest of Publisher’s Policy Change

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Kansas City Public Library’s Crosby Kemper III has joined the directors of two other major area library systems in protesting a new Macmillan Publishers policy that dramatically affects libraries and the millions of patrons who rely on them for access to reading material.

Effective Friday, November 1, 2019, Macmillan – one of the world’s largest publishers – is limiting libraries’ access to new books, allowing them to acquire and offer just one e-book version in the first eight weeks after a book’s release. Libraries can acquire and offer additional copies after those eight weeks, though their cost per e-book copy usually is several times higher than what consumers pay.

Kemper has released an open letter with Sean Casserly of the Johnson County Library and Steve Potter of the Mid-Continent Public Library, asking Kansas City-area residents to “join us in protesting this travesty.” Among them, the three systems have more than 1 million card holders.

The new Macmillan policy has drawn widespread criticism. The American Library Association is waging a national advocacy campaign, including a petition citing the mission of libraries to “ensure that all people have access to the world's knowledge, regardless of format.” Some libraries, including Seattle’s King County Library System, which leads the nation in digital lending, and the Nashville Public Library, are boycotting new Macmillan e-books.

Macmillan argues that library checkouts are eating into digital sales, discouraging readers from purchasing e-books themselves.

“Over time,” Kemper, Casserly, and Potter say in their open letter, “we expect that libraries, readers, authors, and publishers will work this out. In the meantime, Macmillan’s elimination of libraries’ access to new books is harmful.

“Yes, there is a small core of well-to-do readers who take advantage of library access by checking out books for free. But for libraries, especially in urban areas, it is equally true that the most important and coveted service we provide is access to literature – particularly for younger readers who can’t afford the cost of books, be they printed or digital.”

Macmillan’s new policy, they say, "may yield a handful of customers who’ll buy books in the absence of immediate access at the library. But the publisher is sacrificing a much, much larger number of readers and potential customers who won’t be able to access its books in libraries, who also won’t be introduced and drawn to its lineup of authors and many other titles.”

Libraries have long struggled with complicated terms and high prices for e-books. What once were lifetime purchases have been whittled to two-year or other limited-term licenses by Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, and Hachette as well as Macmillan. Licensing costs can be as much as four times higher than single-copy prices for consumers.

No other publisher, as yet, has joined Macmillan in the eight-week, single-copy embargo for new releases. Among its lineup of authors are Nora Roberts, Liane Moriarty, Louise Penny, Kristin Hannah, and Jonathan Franzen.

The Kansas City Public Library has chosen, for now, to keep their newest works and those by other Macmillan authors as available to patrons as it can, and so it has not joined the growing boycott of Macmillan e-books.

E-books and other digital materials are increasingly popular, accounting for more than a third of all checkouts from the Kansas City Public Library in 2018-19 – nearly 690,000 of the total of 1.9 million. That’s a nearly 10-percent jump from the previous year.