Libraries: Macmillan unfairly restricts access to e-books

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

The mission of public libraries is to provide equitable access to information for all. So when something stands in the way of our core values, it is imperative for us to speak out. Macmillan Publishers has recently announced a new policy, beginning Nov. 1, that restricts public libraries from purchasing more than one e-book copy for the first eight weeks of a new release. This is regardless of the size of the library system or the population it serves.

Macmillan claims library lending is negatively impacting their digital sales, despite the fact that collectively Pratt and Baltimore County Public Library have purchased over 5,000 copies of Macmillan titles — at inflated prices. The current pricing structure of e-books for libraries is already excessive, and the licensing is incredibly restrictive. For one upcoming new title, a consumer pays $14.99 to download the e-book. Meantime, a public library is charged $59.99 for 24 months of usage, after which the library has to decide whether to pay again to extend that licensing. Paying nearly four times the cover price for most e-books already handicaps libraries from meeting the demand of customers. Yet, as these purchasing policies have been instituted, public libraries have been patient and understanding colleagues to the publishing industry in our shared book culture world.

The main hall of the Central Enoch Pratt Library.

This embargo, however, means the gateway to reading and information will be obstructed, with only two customers able to read a new e-book in the first two months after its release. Is this fair to area residents who visit Baltimore and Baltimore County libraries more than 6.3 million times annually? Or to Marylanders across the state who download almost 4 million e-books and e-audiobooks annually?

While Macmillan argues that library usage eats into the profits of publishers, research disputes that statement. A recent Library Journal survey found that 76% of users purchase another title by an author they discovered at the library. Libraries provide word-of-mouth marketing to borrowers, refer customers to bookstores, assist new writers with publishing aspirations and visually place merchandise throughout our libraries to represent and promote book titles. Both Baltimore County Public Library and Enoch Pratt Library host public author events (often paying fees to authors) to provide a platform for writers and their publishers. Many times, we purchase extra copies of their books for our respective library collections, and we host book sales and signings on site.


With this new barrier to access, what explanation is there for students who need e-books and up-to-date information for assignments, for those who are homebound and rely on electronic access for all of their reading materials, or for our visually impaired readers who rely on e-books for adjustable text size and spacing?

 Towson Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library

Information and knowledge is power. Our founding fathers understood that, which is why they introduced the concept of public libraries as an equalizer in our democracy. An embargo against libraries does the opposite. It closes doors and deepens the digital divide that already exists in this country. It shouts out that you can only have knowledge if you are privileged or wealthy enough to buy it.

The power (or perception) of profit should not override the power of knowledge. Corporations should not be able to undermine the social contract of equal access to information through our public libraries. When they do, the power of our democracy diminishes.

The Central Enoch Pratt Library, first opened in 1933, held a Grand Reopening on Sept. 14 after a $115 million restoration.

This embargo goes against everything libraries stand for — equal access, lifelong learning, educational support and digital inclusion. This issue is so important to public libraries that the American Library Association, the Urban Libraries Council and the Maryland Library Association have all issued statements against the embargo. This issue is so important that many mayors and county executives across the country are signing on to the Urban Libraries Council’s “Statement on Equitable Public Access to E-Books.” Our libraries are aligned on this. But now, publishers need to hear from the public.

So today, we are asking for the support of our readers, library users, teachers, college instructors, colleagues in the information industry, and all who believe in the value of equal access to information and knowledge. Stand with us and other library advocates to show your support by signing the American Library Association petition against Macmillan’s library embargo at

Speak out to keep the doors of knowledge open — for everyone.

Heidi Daniel ( is CEO and president of Enoch Pratt Free Library. Paula Miller ( is director of Baltimore County Public Library.