Why can’t you borrow that Penguin e-book from the library?


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Starting today, if you go to your library to borrow the e-book of ‘Bringing Up Bebe,’ Pamela Druckerman’s new book about parenting the French way, you’ll come up with nothing. That’s because its publisher, Penguin, has pulled out of its relationship with OverDrive, the vendor that supplies most libraries with e-books and audio books.

The change was unexpected, but it is not surprising. Penguin joins publishers Simon & Schuster, MacMillan, and Hachette Book Group in not allowing e-book library lending. As e-books have increased in popularity, major publishers and libraries -- who share the goal of getting books into readers’ hands -- have found themselves bumping into a number of complicating factors that seem to put them at odds.


For Penguin, that issue was OverDrive’s relationship with Amazon. A 2011 arrangement made library lending possible on the Kindle. Publishers have objected to the library loans being executed through Amazon’s servers -- imagine walking into your public library then finding yourself at the Target checkout counter.

The industry newsletter Publishers Lunch reported that unnamed publishers ‘have told us that Overdrive’s implementation of their Kindle library lending--in which library patrons are sent to a commercial, third-party retailer, in this case Amazon--is in their view a direct violation of Overdrive’s contracts.’

Paul Aiken, the executive director of the Authors Guild, told Library Journal essentially the same thing. “It’s really hard to overstate the impact of Amazon’s particular deal with OverDrive and the shock wave that sent through the industry,” he said. “The notion that public libraries, for the first time, would be sending their patrons to a commercial website for borrowing books — and not just any commercial website but the website of the entity that has a tight grip on the online marketplace for books — was bound to get a negative reaction.”

Publishers may also be looking to find new solutions in what had previously been a closed market. OverDrive, which had previously supplied audio books to libraries, swiftly became the leader in the e-book supplier field. Yet other interested players have begun to move into the e-book library lending sphere, notably 3M. With other options, publishers started looking around; when 3M debuted its new e-book library lending system at the American Library Assn. meeting last year, it announced it was working with IPG and Random House. In January, a delegation from the American Library Assn. met separately with Penguin, Macmillan, Random House, Simon & Schuster and Perseus to discuss library lending. Libraries are concerned that they have not been included in key decisions made regarding e-book lending that have been recently made by ‘intermediaries’ (such as OverDrive and Amazon). Libraries have certain priorities, including serving local communities, protecting privacy, and fostering a love of reading, that may not be given consideration by the intermediaries making e-book lending decisions.

In announcing its withdrawal from OverDrive services, Penguin made clear that it does, in fact, want to work with libraries regarding e-books. “In these ever changing times, it is vital that we forge relationships with libraries and build a future together. We care about preserving the value of our authors’ work as well as helping libraries continue to serve their communities,” Penguin’s statement reads. “Our ongoing partnership with the ALA is more important than ever, and our recent talks with ALA leadership helped bring everything into focus.”

The American Library Assn. responded to Penguin’s announcement with a remarkably agreeable statement. “This is a radically dynamic time of change, and we look forward to crafting stable and sustainable business models that enable libraries and publishers to connect readers and authors in the digital age as successfully as we have done since Gutenberg.”


That spirit of cooperation is coming a little late. A new survey of more than 2,000 digitally savvy patrons by Library Journal points out how far libraries and publishers have to go. Of those with smartphones and e-readers, 44% had not borrowed a library e-book because the title wasn’t available, and 23% gave up because the e-book borrowing process was too complicated.


Now libraries can loan Kindle e-books

March 2011: HarperCollins’ 26-checkout limit on libraries’ ebooks starts today

Jan 2011: Where do libraries and e-books meet?

-- Carolyn Kellogg