KCLS boycotts Macmillan Publishers’ eBook embargo

Effective November 1, 2019, the King County Library System (KCLS) will no longer purchase newly released eBooks from Macmillan Publishers, one of five major publishers in the U.S. This decision comes after months of discussion and advocacy to urge Macmillan to reconsider instituting a new library eBook embargo, set to go into effect on November 1. Under Macmillan’s new lending model, public libraries of any size will only be allowed to purchase one copy of a newly released eBook for the first eight weeks after publication.

As a large library system, KCLS maintains a “Holds to Copy” ratio of 5-to-1 to minimize wait times for popular titles. This means that for every five holds on a title, KCLS purchases one copy to ensure a maximum wait time of only three months. If KCLS is limited to one digital copy of each new title, and then has to wait eight weeks before being able to purchase more, patrons could conceivably wait years rather than months for their eBook.

“Digital equity and access to information is at stake,” states KCLS Executive Director Lisa Rosenblum. “KCLS’ central mission is to provide free and equal access to information, and libraries must be able to perform this essential role in the digital realm as well. We do not want other publishers to follow the example of Macmillan and embargo books. To do so profoundly changes the public library.”

For KCLS, a library system with 50 libraries, serving more than one million residents, the new embargo hits King County patrons particularly hard. KCLS has been the top digital-circulating library in the U.S. for the last five years and third worldwide. According to Rakuten OverDrive, KCLS patrons downloaded nearly five million eBooks and audiobooks last year.

To continue to ensure reasonable wait times for newly released electronic titles, KCLS will divert its eBook funds to publishers who are willing to sell to libraries without a purchasing embargo. They will, however, continue to purchase Macmillan titles that are not embargoed, including print materials and older copies of best-selling eBooks.

The American Library Association (ALA) has also denounced Macmillan’s decision, and asks that the public express their concerns to press.inquiries@macmillan.com, or ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office at alawash@alawash.org.

About King County Library System
Founded in 1942, the King County Library System (KCLS) is one of the busiest public library systems in the country. Serving the communities of King County (outside the City of Seattle), KCLS currently has 50 libraries and more than 700,000 cardholders. In 2011, KCLS was named Library of the Year by Gale/Library Journal. In 2018, residents checked out more than 4.8 million digital eBooks and audiobooks through Rakuten OverDrive, making KCLS the #1 digital circulating library in the U.S. and #3 in the world.

King County Library System Media Contact: Sarah Thomas, 425.369.3277, sjthomas@kcls.org