Sonoma County Library joins nationwide fight against Macmillan over e-books

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‘Grave injustice’: Sonoma County Library joins ebook campaign against publisher

The Sonoma County Library Commission has joined a nationwide, librarian-led fight against one of the nation’s largest book publishers over the company’s plan to withhold electronic copies of new releases from libraries.

The board on Monday night passed a resolution panning Macmillan Publishers’ decision, which would begin embargoing ebooks to libraries for eight weeks after publication, a move the publisher has argued is necessary to thwart growing damage to the company’s sales.

“It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free,” John Sargent, Macmillan’s CEO, wrote in a letter announcing the new policy.

Libraries must buy multiple copies of e-books, just as they do with regular paper copies. And libraries pay a premium for those e-books — up to four times the cost a regular person would pay to download a book online. Sonoma County Library Director Ann Hammond said the publisher’s new policy would hurt residents.

“A lot of people use the public library for access to materials,” she said. “We are available to everybody free of charge. If you can’t afford (to buy a book), and you depend on the library, we’re letting those people down. To me, that’s a grave injustice.”

The Sonoma County Library Commission’s unanimous vote paves the way for an advocacy committee to draft a letter to the publisher.

Sonoma County’s action comes amid a backdrop of nationwide, librarian-led protest, as American Library Association Executive Director Mary Ghikas announced a pressure campaign against Macmillan during the Digital Book World conference in Nashville, according to the Associated Press.

There’s an online petition at, that, as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, had more than 89,000 signatures urging Macmillan to rethink its decision.

Macmillan is one of the five largest U.S. publishers, a group which also includes Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. It’s likely the smallest of the Big 5, representing less than 10% of the total market, but that’s difficult to pin down because it’s a privately held business that doesn’t release much financial data.

The Sonoma County Library, which includes more than a dozen branches across the county, has an annual print book budget of $977,400. It spends another $287,600 on e-books, according to data provided by the library.

And while the library gets a discount on hard- copy purchases — it paid $16.65 for “The Testaments,” by Margaret Atwood, compared to the retail price of $28.95 — it pays far more for e-book copies. It spent $55 for the “The Testaments” e-book, buying 17 copies, a purchase good for just 24 months before the library will have to repurchase the books.

Individual consumers can buy the same e-book for $14.99.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at On Twitter @tylersilvy.

‘Grave injustice’: Sonoma County Library joins ebook campaign against publisher

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