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A harmful limit on libraries

Airdrie opinion

A few years ago, I wrote a column about how audiobooks helped me rediscover my love for reading. With a career that involves spending the majority of my day staring at words, it was hard to find the motivation to spend my off-hours lost in the pages of a book – staring at even more words.

Since introducing audiobooks into my life, though, I find myself escaping into literature at every opportunity. With the help of my library card, I surpassed my reading goal of 50 books this year back in September and am now on number 68.

But I may not be able to maintain this momentum. Earlier this month, MacMillan became the first major publishing house to introduce a library embargo for all new ebooks, citing concerns the availability of ebooks through libraries has “decreased the perceived economic value of a book.” Other publishers have also claimed they don’t earn enough revenue from digital releases, with some increasing prices or offering versions that expire after a specified time period or number of check-outs.

As of Nov. 1, libraries can purchase only one digital copy of any MacMillan new release in the eight weeks following the book’s publishing date – no matter how many patrons a library serves. Based on what he referred to as “anecdotal” data, MacMillan CEO John Sargent reportedly said he believes “if library users cannot gain access to a new e-book from the library, eight per cent of those waiting will likely buy the e-book.”

Not only is this embargo particularly restrictive to disadvantaged populations, but it hurts the very people who support the publishing industry. Readers buy books, and libraries create readers.

I’ve certainly spent more on books since obtaining a library card – primarily because having access to a wide variety of authors and genres has introduced me to new series and writers that I likely wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. I’ve also maintained my Audible subscription, even with my acquisition of a library card, to purchase and play digital copies of audiobooks I will undoubtedly want to listen to again and again – the Harry Potter series, for instance, as well as Stephen King’s Dark Tower books.

Libraries aren’t the enemy of the publishing industry. They support it, by fostering a love of books and reading within the communities they serve – and by offering equal access to information and content to people of all abilities, income levels and age groups.

While it’s important for both publishers and authors to make a profit on the content they produce, this is certainly not the right solution.

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