With a fully-charged Kindle and a free hour before the kids get home, there’s only one thing that stands in the way of an eager library patron: the holds list. Adding your name to a list of three for the latest iteration of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo e-book is doable, but maybe not when the waitlist is 20 people deep.

Since the fall, holds lists for e-books have grown exponentially. Macmillan Publishers, one of the country’s top five publishers, is preventing libraries from purchasing multiple copies of a new e-book, audiobooks being excluded from the embargo. Previously, the publishing group allowed libraries to purchase as many copies as needed to serve their patrons. Now, regardless of a library’s size, Macmillan will sell a library or library system just one copy for the first eight weeks of its release.

The New York publishing group, with more than 40 publishing houses and authors from Nora Roberts to Orson Scott Card, cites financial difficulties as the reason for the two-month embargo.

Macmillan CEO John Sargent says limiting the number of library e-books will force patrons to purchase retail books, easing their financial problems. But the publishing conglomerate encountered an unforeseen problem: librarians.

More than 650 libraries around the country, serving 27 million patrons, have boycotted the publisher. With libraries accounting for 45 percent of Macmillan’s sales and a majority of Washington libraries participating in the boycott, including Asotin County, Macmillan may lose more money than they sought to gain.

Hard hit by the embargo are low-income families, readers with print disabilities, and youth who cannot access or afford new retail titles anywhere but at their local library. Hardest hit are the big library consortiums like the state-wide Washington Digital Library that serves 820,000 patrons, including Asotin County. One copy just doesn’t cover it. Luckily for readers using the Valnet OverDrive collection, our library system is small enough to cover community needs.

Latah County Library District director Chris Sokol doesn’t believe the embargo will have a significant effect on patrons of the Valnet library consortium. She notes that some Valnet libraries participate in an Advantage purchasing program that allows access to more copies. Sokol says it’s much more of a problem for Washington residents who rely on the Washington Anytime Library consortium, which covers the entire state but is limited to one Macmillan copy in the first eight weeks.

Idaho libraries have yet to participate in the Macmillan boycott. For local residents concerned the embargo will affect them, Sokol says Latah staff monitor e-book waitlists and purchase additional copies for use by county residents.

The Macmillan CEO says e-book availability through libraries “devalues” books, but according to a generational reading study by the Library Journal, 42 percent of library patrons purchase books after “test-driving” them at the library. For millennial readers, that number jumps to 60.1 percent. Limiting access to literary technology, like e-books and online audio books, often discourages young patrons from reading and participating at their local library.

Libraries and librarians also encourage a culture of reading through new release displays, personal suggestions, author talks, book clubs and more. According to the Library Journal survey, patrons are 70 percent more likely to purchase a book by the same author as the one suggested at their local library. Libraries provide countless opportunities for patrons to discover new titles — essentially free advertising for publishers like Macmillan.

The Macmillan embargo is not the first of its kind. Over the summer, Blackstone Publishing released an embargo preventing libraries from purchasing select new audiobooks for 90 days after release, and Hachette Book Group enacted a policy removing their e-books from libraries after two years.

After fighting battles with publishing companies charging libraries as much as five times the retail price for new e-books and audiobooks, these embargos are just another obstacle. But librarians are unstoppable. Despite the difficulties, libraries will continue to provide equal, affordable reading for everyone.

Rosemary Anderson works in the circulation department at the Moscow Public Library.

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