March of the Penguins

This story may sound slightly familiar. Penguin Books has decided to opt out of the Library ebook market. The company is citing “security concerns“, much in the same way that Harper Collins cited the “need to protect their authors” when they imposed the 26-circulation cap on library ebook lending back in February 2011.

The same rules are applying in both cases, Harper Collins picked a date, and any item purchased before that date had unlimited loans–anything after that date was subject to the “Rule of 26”. Penguin is doing the same thing: anything purchased before a specific date, the libraries get to keep (without Kindle lending options). Anything after that date, well there is no after. Any library who has a lot of fans of Penguin authors is going to have a lot of unhappy patrons.

Although most of the focus is on OverDrive, because that’s the way most public libraries get their ebook content and deliver it to patrons, a Penguin statement refers to all library lending, not just OverDrive — and not just the Kindle Lending Library, either.

Random House is now the librarian’s best friend in the ebook marketplace. They are the only one of the “Big 6” publishers that provides new titles and doesn’t cap lending. Hachette Group still allows unfettered access, but they hang on to their new ebooks for a while before libraries get access. That still makes them way friendlier than everyone else in this increasingly cold marketplace.

The irony in this news comes from the survey released last month from Library Journal‘s Patron Profiles. According to the survey data, library users are a publisher’s best customers. Not just because the libraries themselves provide a steady market, but because people who check out books from the library buy more books. And the data says this is just as true for ebooks as it is for print books. This is one of those things that librarians always knew, but it is excellent to see it backed up with statistics.

So, instead of library borrowing cutting into sales, what really happens is that library usage allows readers to find authors they really like. When they find an author they like, they go out and buy more books from that author, whether they are print books or ebooks. Penguin Books has just cut themselves out of that channel for introducing readers to their authors.

Penguin Book Group is the publisher of the Complete Idiot’s Guides. How appropriate.

 

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