Oh for God’s Sake: Penguin Disallows Digital Library Lending

As reported on Twitter and on Dear Author, Penguin has removed lending capabilites from its digital library for the Kindle. In other words, no digital lending for Kindle – and, per a statement at Library Journal, no new books will be available for digital lending, either. Overdrive's statement on their site reads in part:

In the interim, OverDrive was instructed to suspend availability of new Penguin eBook titles from our library catalog and disable “Get for Kindle”  functionality for all Penguin eBooks.

That now makes four out of six publishers who do not allow lending of digital titles: Penguin, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan. I had originally optimistically remembered two, but alas I was wrong.

Anyone want to take bets as to when the last two will follow suit?

What a terrible decision. I've spent a lot of time this year speaking at librarian conferences, including the national convention of the American Library Association and local conferences of the Connecticut Librarian Association. In every case, there were sessions devoted to working out how to serve the patrons who want to borrow digital materials, and how to best serve communities with digital literature, media, and internet service — and several more protesting the prices of digital lending enforced by publishers. (Link via DA). I heard one librarian rant, and I agree with him, though I wish I could remember his name, that part of the issue is that two for-profit enterprises are negotiating business with a large network of not-for-profit libraries, both trying to make as much as possible from each other with libraries in the middle. Meanwhile librarians are desperately trying to figure out the hourly-changing world of digital lending, because, to put it simply, that's what patrons want. 

What I don't understand is publishers who think that progress is made by recinding lending options and excluding the growing digital marketplace. Penguin's statement alludes to piracy concerns but like Jane at DA, I think that's hogwash. 

Jessica Banks' theory is that it's due to the textbook market: “Penguin and Macmillan have a huge share of the college book market. If they're lending, they won't sell as many copies.”

Perhaps Kate Rados said it best: “11/21/11: When the penguin became an ostrich.” 

Digital reading isn't going anywhere. If anything, it continues to grow – at a very spiffy pace, too. So yes, this is a perfect time to reject a segment of the ebook reading public: those who borrow digital books from libraries. 

Holy crap in a sidecar, you cannot make up lunacy this frustrating. I need to read a romance. STAT.

OK, wait, here's some good news: students at eight Newark, New Jersey, elementary schools will receive a set of ten books each through FirstBook and a grant from Facebook and philanthropist Anne Feeley:

A pilot dubbed “My Very Own Library” will combine Facebook money plus a $125,000 donation from philanthropist Anne Feeley to give about 5,200 students at eight Newark elementary schools a set of 10 books each.


The nonprofit First Book will deliver the books in three installments over the course of the year, according to the Foundation for Newark's Future, an entity set up to distribute the Facebook funds.

The program, administered by the nonprofit NJ After 3, will promote literacy among children by jump-starting an at-home library.

Literacy and reading in any form is something to be celebrated, and I'm incredibly dispirited that four major publishers can't see that, but Facebook can. 

ETA: Per today's Publisher's Lunch (login required, though it's free):

Though OverDrive had promised in April that patrons' “confidential information will be protected,” in implementation their program is an engine for turning library users into Amazon customers. The expectation was that OverDrive would serve Kindle-compatible files, but instead they send patrons directly to Amazon's site for processing. Some publishers believe this violates their contracts with both OverDrive and Amazon….


Despite those contractual and “security” issues, some publishers we spoke to this fall had concluded that, under the first sale doctrine, it would be hard to achieve any remedy on ebooks already purchased by libraries. Little did they know that they could “instruct” OverDrive to stop serving Kindle versions and that OverDrive would comply. If this holds, you might see other publishers issuing similar instructions soon.

Oh, boy. Funny enough, I was emailed twice today asking for recommendations for digital readers as gifts. One person wanted one without any ability to connect to any store from the device, as she keeps a strict book budget and only wants to purchase and transfer to her device from her computer. Another wanted to know about library lending. I'm going to have to guess that Kindle will have no library lending options from the big six at all within a matter of days. Phooey. 

STILL MORE ETA: Today's Digital Shift report from the American Library Association includes condemnation from ALA President-Elect Maureen Sullivan and information from librarians about how this affects them, and their patrons: 

Maureen Sullivan, the president-elect of ALA, said that Penguin’s decision is a loss for readers.

“If Penguin has an issue with Amazon, we ask that they deal with Amazon directly and not hold libraries hostage to a conflict of business models.

“It’s kind of a fuzzy situation,” said Michael Colford, the director of resource services at Boston Public Library. “We don’t pay extra for a book that has a Kindle edition, but we do make decisions on what to purchase if there is a Kindle edition available,” he said. Colford said this really comes into play with holds since the library can see if a preponderance of holds are for one particular format and then order accordingly.

“Up until yesterday we hadn’t been paying attention to who’s publishing the book, but now we may have to,” he said.

Todd Feinman, the chairman of the Oregon Digital Library Consortium (ODLC) , which has 22 library systems in its network (over 100 locations), said more complaints were likely forthcoming.

“I think that the whole paradigm is shifting and I imagine that there will be more of this over time,” he said. “I don’t know where this is going. These things are usually a surprise to us. It’s just hard to say what a publisher is going to do next,” he said.

Feinman said libraries could always boycott if necessary. ODLC has refused to license any ebooks from HarperCollins to protest that publisher’s February decision to limit library loans to 26 circulations.




Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Annieb says:

    Since they are now a vanity publisher why not completely shred all credibility?

  2. 2
    ksattler says:

    Don’t forget – Harper’s ebooks are only allowed to circulate 26 times before the library must repurchase.

  3. 3
    Olivia Waite says:

    About the security of digital books—am I the only one who thinks it’s probably harder to pirate a library copy (downloaded through Overdrive or some other such intermediary) than it is to strip the DRM from a purchased copy of an ebook? Or is that my lack of tech-savvy showing?

  4. 4
    Katie Topping says:

    Am I missing something here?  I really don’t see the difference between an audio book and an ebook in terms of lending from the library.  They are both digital media, and yet there doesn’t seem to be the same hoo-ha over libraries and audio books.  Living in Australia, there are enough frustrations with ebooks as it is without the publishers adding another.  95% of my romance reading is via ebook and I’m afraid that, with very few exceptions, if it isn’t available in a digital format, it doesn’t get bought and read.

  5. 5
    Chicklet says:

    Oh, for the love of biscuits and gravy. Not allowing me to borrow a title in ebook will not induce me to borrow it in hardcopy or buy it in any format. I just won’t read that title. I’m not exactly hurting for stuff to do in my limited free time; I’ll just find something else to do that may not include a book.

  6. 6
    library addict says:

    As I said at DA, I would buy many more Penguin books in digital if it weren’t for their Agency pricing. Boo!

  7. 7
    shawnyj says:

    Library ebooks is how I discovered romance, and the vast majority of books I read in a year are library ebooks of all genres. If I can’t get it from the library as an ebook, my next step is usually look for a pirated copy, not put the hardcopy library edition on hold, or even to buy the ebook from my preferred site. Sounds like cutting off your nose to spite your face to me.

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    @Katie said: “Am I missing something here? I really don’t see the difference between an audio book and an ebook in terms of lending from the library. They are both digital media, and yet there doesn’t seem to be the same hoo-ha over libraries and audio books.”

    I am holding a lighter right now.

    Seriously, it’s like the dent in my desk could not get any more head-shaped, and yet, it does.

  9. 9
    N.R. Lines says:

    In reading some comments on Dear Author it looks like it may be an issue with out Amazon and Overdrive went about the Kindle library lending deal. In comment #9 on the Dear Author post http://dearauthor.com/features…, it may be that Amazon and Overdrive bypassed the publishers and for every ePpub book the library owns the user can now select which format they wish to read in. The library still owns one copy of the ebook but it can now be viewed in epub or Kindle format. I can see where a publisher might say “Wait a minute, you paid to license one copy. we agreed it would be in epub. If you want it in Kindle as well, you need to pay to license a Kindle version in addition to the epub version.” To me that comes down to money and control. While I get Penguin might not be happy to have lost a potential piece of the income pie, I don’t get holding the potential of libraries losing all future ebooks from Penguin. That comes off as petty.

    Honestly, publishers need to grow a pair and start some innovative thinking around how to partner with the consumer instead of finding new ways to alienate us.

  10. 10
    Joelle says:

    Just testing mobile comments. Move along. :)

  11. 11
    Susan says:

    You know, I’m tired of hearing publishing houses whinge about their profit margins when they keep thinking up new ways to bugger their customers.  Especially their ebook customers.  The price of ebooks keeps escalating to ridiculous levels—are they going to be higher than print prices eventually?  And now no lending?  Price fixing, gouging, monopolies.  Way to alienate your base.  No surprise writers and readers alike are looking for alternatives.

  12. 12
    Susan says:

    Hmmm.  My generic avatar looks so. . . manly!

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    Susan: I agree – both about the whinging and the generic avatar. Must find good generic avatar.

  14. 14
    Joy says:

    Just for the record: it is just as easy to strip DRM from a library book as any other kind of DRM.  Not that I should admit this.

  15. 15
    Maria D. says:

    I am really getting tired of publishers overall and the way they throw their weight around.  I wonder if they realize they are in business to serve us and not the other way around, if we don’t buy their products, they go out of business.  Perhaps it’s time we boycott the big boys as a group and see how they like it.  It’s really so much easier doing business with the smaller publishing houses.  They seem to actually want to stay in business.

  16. 16
    cecilia says:

    I definitely think it’s crappy that publishers are being so douchey about ebooks, but I don’t know if I agree with the idea that they are in business to serve us. They’re in business to make money; if they think that their current practices are going to make them money, that’s their right to make that choice/mistake. 

    Joy’s right – stripping DRM from a library book is simple, as I discovered by accident recently. I kind of don’t blame publishers for being a little on the tense side, considering how little effort it takes strip DRM and distribute copies. 

    Also, who knows? They may feel that people who can afford an e-reader are probably people who can afford to shell out some cash for their ebooks.

    This is likely short-sighted of them – I’m much more experimental in my reading from the library than I am with my purchases, and have discovered authors that I will then purchase books by (sometimes glomming huge backlists when they’re available), but still, it’s a free country. Businesses can be exclusive and alienating if they feel they’ll profit in the end.

  17. 17
    MaddBookish says:

    I’ve always thought there should be a special .lib format for libraries that all the readers interested in library lending could support. That way there would be no need to buy license for multiple formats of the same book.

  18. 18
    kkw says:

    I was going to get my dad an ereader for xmas because he doesn’t get around much any more, and I thought it would be a great way for him to get library books. Or…not.

  19. 19
    sharrynight says:

    Hmmm.. I don’t go to libraries much because they never seem to have books that I want to read. But I would NEVER buy romance novel in hard copies or borrow one either. (Sorry just too embarrassed). So this whole move has just lost me.

  20. 20
    Susan says:

    I’ll make what a friend of mine calls a Fearless Prediction:  Within 10 years, almost all publishing will be electronic.  As to how this will affect public libraries…I don’t know.  Will they be all, or almost all, virtual?

    One of the most important services my city’s library provides is computer & Internet access.  Maybe this will be obsolete in 10 years? Not sure.  I’m not yet prepared to make a Fearless Prediction on that one.

  21. 21
    shel says:

    @ NR Lines: But libraries that support Kindle lending are not getting ‘extra’ use out of previously epub-only files. If they have one license for a book, they still only have one.  The file is used one at a time, regardless of whether it’s epub or kindle checked out.

  22. 22
    Omlekud says:

    Well, damn. No more Lora Leigh for me – I certainly won’t buy that poorly edited mess, and now my library can’t purchase e-copies either. This seems like a losing proposition for publishers. It only takes one good book to get me glomming.

  23. 23
    delphia2000 says:

    Just fyi…I work for a small town library and we have a good collection of audio books on CD but recently we’ve had to stop purchasing new ones because of some kind of library licensing problem. The new discs have ‘not for library use’ on them. Apparently there is something going on not only with ebook lending, but also audio book lending. I wish I had more info, but I’m only part-time and I don’t work with the incoming new materials other than to shelve them.

  24. 24
    Katie says:

    I used to work in a school library and ebooks were somewhat of a nightmare, especially for the students in need of financial assistance.  You can’t sell a second-hand ebook, therefore you can’t buy one cheaply.  You can’t lend it.  Hell, even if you buy it, the majority of textbook licences expire after a year… so if you want to keep using the book you’ve already paid for, you’ll have to pay for it again.  Plus, they’re not even that much cheaper than print books.  Nightmare.

  25. 25
    Tielserrath says:

    This may in part be an Amazon/Penguin issue.

    The big six publishers have refused to allow their books to be lent on Amazon Prime, but I believe Amazon has gone ahead anyway. It wouldn’t surprise me if Penguin have nixed all lending of their books in an effort to stop Amazon handing them out for free on the Prime service.

    autistwriter on wordpress.

  26. 26

    Why am I not surprised? It seems like publishers are working their asses off to kill the local library.

  27. 27
    Ejaygirl says:

    This is beyond Neanderthal and I do not buy their assertion that this is about security concerns. Publishers don’t get the phenomena of digital books and continue to try to control it in ways that don’t make sense. I buy as many books as I borrow and I plan to boycott this publisher.

  28. 28
    Steph says:

    I don’t get it.  I imported wholesaled books for a while.  Libraries were actually charged more for copies because it was determined through logic particular to the corporate mind that more people used the book.  What is sad is that lending is a loss leader in the same way that having a book for free is.  And, if they’re worried about library lending being subject to piracy they may as well stop selling e books at all. 

    If ‘traditionally’ can be used in terms of digital technology adoption then we can apply it to most industries under the gun to do so as they wait for the technology to be proven and for it to adapt to address its concerns.  For example, the medical industry and its connection to insurance companies and even inter-hospital and practice was hit and miss.  in 2004 if you had had a test in one part of a hospital and went in to the E.R. a week later they wouldn’t have the information.  Now the hospital has records of everything from one hospital dept. to another and even from one hospital to another.  It was, partly, the risks inherent in the digital data stream that caused the delay.  But industry pressure made it all necessary and so the technology followed.  If medical information can be protected then the same push can be applied in technology development to bring comfort to the publishing industry. But while they do that could they pick a file type standard to everything?? Please?
    Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust

  29. 29
    JenniferP says:

    OverDrive was instructed to “suspend availability” – does that mean that libraries lost access to titles they already purchased licenses for?

    I don’t do it, but figuring out how to pirate an e-book isn’t exactly hard – if someone wants to read a book without paying for it (directly) they can check it out from a library (publisher gets licensing fee), or they can jack it from any number of places online (publisher gets squat).

    Dumb move, Penguin.

  30. 30
    Julia Broadbooks says:

    @JenniferP In the last week I’ve googled two authors new to me to check out their backlist on the author’s webpage. At least one torrent site for each author was on the first page. And I wasn’t even looking. I can’t see how ending library ebook lending will decrease the piracy problem. The people unwilling to pay for a book will either steal it or simply read something else.

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