Hachette makes e-books available to libraries

Hachette, a longtime holdout among America's "big six" publishers, will make its full e-book catalog available to nonprofit public libraries and school libraries across the nation on May 8th.

US publishers have grappled with fears of losing sales of new titles if e-books are too readily available for borrowing through public libraries. PRNewsFoto/Sony Electronics

Hachette Book Group (HGB) will join a few of its five counterparts (collectively known as the "big six" in the American publishing world) in offering its full catalog of e-books to public libraries across the nation. New books will be made available in print and digital formats at the same time.

For US publishers, the decision to place e-books in libraries has not come easily. All have grappled with fears of losing sales of new titles if e-books are too readily available for borrowing.

But now, with Hachette's announcement, most of the major US publishers will be providing e-books to libraries. “This step moves libraries closer to ensuring that patrons will be able to enjoy the same access to e-books as they have to print books,” American Library Association president Maureen Sullivan said in a statement. 

Most of the big publishing houses have pilot programs to test the waters of library content, and now all of them provide content for 3M's Cloud Library, which is the technology many libraries use. In a press release, Michael Pietsch, CEO of HBG, said, "I grew up in public libraries and appreciate deeply their importance to readers hungry for more." He went on to say that HGB's goal is "to have authors’ work available on as many bookshelves and platforms as possible." 

The negotiations for publishing houses to make their works available for libraries hasn't been a very straightforward one. The concept of free books for the public has rankled publishers – and some authors – pretty much since its inception, but e-books are a source of particular concern, mostly because they don't degrade over time or with multiple uses.

Some on the library side of the equation have gone out of their way to assure publishers that they are sympathetic to their concerns. In a New York Times Op-Ed, New York Public Library President Anthony Marx said, "We have every interest in seeing that publishers remain sustainable enterprises and that authors are paid fairly for their work."

Currently, publishers – Hachette included – are being careful to limit the access library patrons will have to e-books, particularly when it comes to new releases.

"As with other publishers, Hachette is seeking a balance by offering a comprehensive list of e-books, but not unlimited, or cheap, e-book service. For new releases, only one e-book can be borrowed at a time. And libraries, many of which operate under tight budgets, will be charged three times the highest priced print edition for one year of e-book access to a new publication," reported the AP.

Despite such limits, Hachette's announcement marks another point of progress for the e-books in libraries movement.

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