Previous Blog Entry Next Blog Entry

With yet another publisher announcing today that it’s dropping out of the library eBook market, I decided to put up a new sign in our library in a few different spots to raise public awareness.  The sign lists which publishers won’t do eBook business with libraries and provides contact information for the publishers in question.  I’ve posted about the issue on our library blog and pushed it out on our Twitter accountFacebook page, and Google+ page.  And here’s a direct link to a downloadable copy of my sign on Google Docs. It’s not fancy, but feel free to take it, modify it, use it. And if anybody has better contact info for these companies, let me know. This is what I could glean from Reference USA and the company websites. Update: I have since added a QR code to the sign at the suggestion of several people, pointing people to the library’s blog post with this information.

sign at the San Rafael Public Library

I know it’s a small gesture. It’s just a sign (although I did put three of them up).  I am also writing letters as the Library Director (in many cases, again) to the publishers on the list asking them to try to work with libraries…telling them we’re open to negotiation and suggestion, but that walking away the library market is damaging to all of us.

As a librarian and as a reader, I am tired of publishers walking away from the library table.  I have no problem with them walking away from a particular third party vendor, but only if they have a plan in place to offer up their own platform or be signed with an alternate vendor already.  Gaps in service, gaps in availability of their titles to our patrons equals stupidity in my opinion.  Walking away from the library eBook market makes no financial long-term sense, nor does it continue the positive relationship that publishers and libraries have cultivated for centuries to help bring information and entertainment to people.

I think it’s about damn time we, as library professionals, started getting the public riled up about this too.  We need legislation passed (or copyright law clarified) that states that indeed, libraries can license/purchase and lend out digital items just like they can with physical items.  Fragmentation and exclusionary business practices hurt the people we serve.  As a librarian I feel we must stand up, as a profession, and say “no more.”

As I was putting the signs up today, I got a few questions immediately from library users.  Within a half hour of the Penguin/OverDrive news being announced, I had three phone calls to my desk from concerned San Rafael residents about yet another publisher not being available through their library’s eBook collection.  Now, admittedly we have a mightily active and concerned citizenry here in San Rafael (I love you guys!), but I’m guessing every other community has a good base of people who would also think this is ridiculous and be willing to do something about it.  I’m encouraging users to contact the publishers and tell other book-lovers they know.  This is one of those issues we’ve been dealing with in the library vacuum–an issue 99.9% of the public has no idea exists, and an issue that would invoke at least 80% pissed-off-ed-ness if we tell people about it.

Put a sign up in your library.  Say something to people at your eBooks classes.  Do something.  Because nobody, including ALA, is going to do it for you.

“Notice to publishers: curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal”

  1. jessamyn Says:

    I think this is worthwhile. Mind if I copy the image and link to it from

  2. Sarah Says:

    Copy, steal, and improve upon it as you wish. I just wish we had bigger paper at ready disposal right now so it didn’t look so janky!

  3. Sarah Says:

    I agree that we need to inform library users about this issue and encourage them to speak up. Right after I read your post, I came across this one, about meetings between ALA President Molly Raphael, an ALA delegation, and representatives from several publishers, on the No Shelf Required blog: This seems like a step in the right direction, don’t you think?

  4. Tim Spalding Says:

    I hate to be a downer, but a year ago we were boycotting HarperCollins. That didn’t work, and now, ironically, their restrictive terms are good by comparison.

    It seems to me that libraries need to face facts. Publishers have never liked the library model, where libraries pay the same price consumers do, but get 10 or 20 times as many reads out of it. They didn’t like it, but they couldn’t do anything about it. First-sale does that. With ebooks, First Sale goes away. It’s not surprising that publishers are looking to restrict lending (HarperCollins), charge more (Penguin) or have avoided it altogether (the other big four). No amount of protests are going to change the laws of economics.

    So, no, I don’t think librarians should “say something to people at your eBooks classes.” They should stop HAVING ebook classes. They should stop promoting this dreadful technology that cuts them out and puts their existence at risk. Ebooks hate libraries. Hate them back.

  5. jessamyn Says:

    I put up a post on my blog. Thanks Sarah.

  6. Penguin Unfriends Libraries « Agnostic, Maybe Says:

    [...] Librarian in Black) Share this with others:DiggEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  7. How to Talk to Your Patrons About Penguin & Other Publishers Not Loaning eBooks to Libraries | Librarian by Day Says:

    [...] 1 of the Big 6 Publishers Playing Nice With Libraries, but cut it at the last minute.  Thanks to Sarah’s post about Penguin’s decision to end it’s contract with OverDrive. I’m digging it out [...]

  8. Penguin leaving OverDrive: Another reason for libraries to take over the company | LibraryCity Says:

    [...] dissing of OverDrive and public libraries is hardly alone among publisher, as you can see from this sign from Sarah "Librarian in Black" Houghton, the acting director of the San Rafael Public Library in [...]

  9. Sarah Says:

    Tim – if we promote the free, open access, DRM-free eBooks out there isn’t that a good thing? That’s what I do at my eBook classes. I talk about what our consortium offers (I am one voice out of seven, and cannot single-handedly withdraw participation in any consortial service…like OverDrive, for example). But I can mediate the interactions that our customers have with that service and with others. I promote Project Gutenberg, Open Library, and other sites at my classes. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. That being said, I also don’t believe that libraries have lost all hope with eBooks. I think we sold our souls early on in an eager attempt to get content into our users hands at any cost (and it makes me angry to think how long I’ve been railing about this and that only in the last year has anyone listened). But I don’t think eBooks, as a format, are inherently bad. They’re just bad the way they’ve been implemented by third party vendors that we pay ridiculous amounts of money to. I do have confidence that we can still turn this ship around. And I am not, by nature, an overly optimistic person.

  10. James Day Says:

    I posted about this on my website (, as well. I would also disagree that ALA isn’t going to do it for us. It does appear that during their recent talks ALA was able to educate the publishers on the ebook lending process of libraries and announced that Random House would sell ebooks to libraries.

  11. Penguin ditches OverDrive public library side: more reason for libraries to take over the distributor for more clout | Ebooks on Crack Says:

    [...] of OverDrive and public libraries is hardly alone among publisher, as you can see from this sign from Sarah “Librarian in Black” Houghton, the acting director of the San Rafael Public [...]

  12. Rhonda Says:

    I wrote to Erica Glass at Penguin expressing my concerns and also pointing out that the sentence about Penguin books still being available in libraries was disingenuous at best and insulting everyone’s intelligence at worst. I received what must be an automated reply immediately that was merely a reprint of the press release with the same damn statement about printed books on library shelves.

  13. Rick Gualtieri Says:

    This might be a little self serving as a self- publisher, but why not go after that crowd (similar to how Amazon is marketing to them with their kindle select program)? Personally I would love to get my books into libraries (in any format). On the other side of the table, though is the difficulty in getting into a collection, as opposed to just being tossed into the resell bin.

    In the past this might not have made sense with vanity publishing, but self publishing is starting to become big business. I’m sure many writers would be happy to sell (or probably even donate) their works to libraries. It’s a win-win. It helps out the community and offers us more exposure.

  14. Andrew Luck Says:

    I agree that we need to inform and well…agitate the public. And ALA is probably not going to save the day.

    However, I think libraries need to put all the pieces together:

    The “pay-in” has been raised pretty much across the board for participation in “modern” society. Things that were once free are now something that one has to be paid for. TV would be one example – it was once free, but really experience mainstream TV culture we have to pay for it. The shift to the online job search and application process (and the whole digital divide) might be another.

    Apparently, America has shifted from a “service” economy (even though I didn’t notice that phase) to a “information” economy. This is a big problem for libraries. Especially given the trend to strip “data” of any physical presence. Information is what is being marketed and it’s value is being perceived as increasing.

    The American “information business” has predominantly shifted away from the selling model to a renting model. Essentially this means libraries are competing with American business like never before. It used to be that if someone wanted to own a book they would buy it (ultimately) from a publisher. If they wanted to borrow it, they went to a library. Now that publishers (and record companies and film companies) are only offering the ability to lease the information, why should businesses accept or aid the competition from libraries?

    It looks like an impending train wreck to me and I don’t think we are going to be able to easily “shame” businesses into seeing things our way.

  15. Friday News and Deals: Penguin Pulls Entire Digital Catalog From Libraries | Dear Author Says:

    [...] librarian has posted a sign indicating that the reason certain content is not available to patrons is the result of decisions [...]

  16. Michael Says:

    All the attention has been on the big 6, understandably. But there are some sizable publishers outside that group who are equally bad in terms of ebooks & libraries that have not gotten any scrutiny so far (that I’m aware of).

    Consider Norton. They do not make their eBooks available to libraries, either. And they publish some major names like Michael Lewis, Anne Enright, Jared Diamond, Nicole Krauss.

  17. E-nough | Impromptu Librarian Says:

    [...] fretting about their future and what publishing looks like in a digital future, but trust me, folks. Antagonizing the librarians is not a good idea.  We should be your allies in all this, not your enemies. Share [...]

  18. Wylie Ackerman Says:

    I was also discouraged to receive the news from OverDrive that we would no longer be able to purchase Penguin titles. However, I find the changes in Kindle lending for already purchased title more insidious. This appears to be Penguin’s attempt to insert more “friction” (mentioned in the summary of the ALA meeting with the publishers) into the process. How many exceptions and variables can an already convoluted process of checking out library eBooks support?

  19. Scott Kushner Says:

    I copied the poster and pasted it into a word document. I see that you said we could “steal” it so I assume it’s o.k. to post it around our library and on our website. Please let me know if there is any issues with that

  20. Melissa Mannon Says:

    I put it on one of my Pinterest boards. It dovetails perfectly with blog posts I wrote this week about using Pinterest for museums, libraries and archives. Great attention getting sign!

  21. ALA, Authors Guild, 3M Weigh In on Penguin-OverDrive Dispute — The Digital Shift Says:

    [...] and as a reader, I am tired of publishers walking away from the library table,” Houghton wrote. “I have no problem with them walking away from a particular third party vendor, but only if they [...]

  22. Sarah Says:

    Steal the Google doc version of my sign. Do what you will with it. Someone will probably make a much swankier, prettier version too :)

  23. Spekkio Says:

    Make the sign Creative Commons…then you won’t have to answer all these questions about it. :-)

    That said, I share the pessimism of Mr. Spalding and Mr. Luck.

  24. Sarah Says:

    My whole website and everything on it is Creative Commons :) Note the CC license in the sidebar.

  25. Andrew Luck Says:

    Sorry if I was unclear, but I would not consider my views pessimism or discouraging.

    I think we should communicate with our patrons about these issues. Encouraging people to do this is great. We are often their advocates and they should be ours too.

    I also think this is a fight we can win. Actually, it’s a fight we HAVE to win.

    However, I think we need to understand the scale of the problem confronting us. This is not just a misunderstanding or disagreement.

  26. Sam Says:

    It is so frustrating to have a ‘professional’ organization be so completely worthless, especially in the ebook case. In fact, I don’t know what case ALA is not completely worthless. I guess they promote their own creations like Teen Tech Week and such. But honestly, it’s no wonder people say, “oh, I didn’t know you could get a master’s degree in library stuff, what do you study Dewey Decimal?”

  27. Cathy Nelson’s Professional Thoughts » Blog Archive » Biggest Loser? Says:

    [...] Sarah Houghton over at Librarian in Black  wrote  “Notice to publishers: curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal” [...]

  28. Why Penguin terminated its contract with OverDrive | Ebooks on Crack Says:

    [...] Also: Notice to publishers: curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal (via Librarian in [...]

  29. Letting patrons know about publisher woes « Guy Librarian Says:

    [...] response to Penguin’s departure, Sarah Houghton creates a sign listing the publishers that refuse to license eBooks to libraries. Like this:LikeBe the first to [...]

  30. Amber K Clooney Says:

    I don’t know how much it will help, but we might as well all sign this petition to the White House. The situation with ebooks, publishers, and vendors is not sustainable long term.!/petition/reform-copyright-law-allow-libraries-keep-digital-copies-ebooks-and-other-media/lh2kQpxr

  31. Dennis Says:

    Thanks to Sarah for the idea of getting this information to our public.
    This latest setback continues to shoot holes in a plan (not mine) to encourage people to buy ebooks (ebook licenses anyway) for the library OverDrive account with the agreement that we’ll move those patrons to the top of the waiting list for any title they purchase. If they’re going to buy it anyway, why not buy one where it will be read more than once? Question for Sarah, in the course of your ebook classes, do you ever talk to your “students” about how they feel about not being able to share what they purchase? I wonder if there will be a consumer backlash at some point.
    I do think the publishers hold a pretty strong hand and will “work” with us again once they’ve all raised their prices, er, the prices of their licensing agreements. I don’t thing there’s anything to stop up from “buying” ebooks and loading them on to devices and then loaning out the devices, is there? So we can’t really argue that we’re shut out of the ebook market. Our “distributors” are being shut out. What we really lose is the e-distribution part. But that is probably significant enough.

  32. Resources & Search Tips, Moraine Valley Community College Library » Blog Archive » Publishers Who Refuse to Provide Ebooks to Libraries Says:

    [...] is a link to Sarah Houghton’s blog post: Notice to Publishers. This is the sign she put up the San Rafael Public [...]

  33. Virginia Says:

    Hi Sarah, we put a similar message up on Thanks for the inspiration!



  34. Libraries, e-Books and Publishers | Visual Resources Center Blog Says:

    [...] A lot of libraries do not buy e-books directly from the publishers. Instead they buy access to collections via a distributor. On February 10, 2012, Penguin ended its relationship with OverDrive, the biggest player in the library e-book marketplace. In response, the Librarian in Black has posted a call to action. [...]

  35. Glenn Peterson Says:

    Sarah, did you see this article? If not skip to the second to the last paragraph which includes this: “…Following productive discussions between the ALA leadership and executives from Penguin, Macmillan, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Perseus, there is some talk about…lending ebooks to patrons from within library branches, the same way physical media is lent, rather than lending ebooks online.” The rationale? To make it harder for patrons to get ebooks: “…restoring the “friction” that differentiates libraries from online shopping…” How insane! Didn’t someone at ALA recognize the chaos that would ensue? Or how this would cripple our relationship with our users?

  36. Ebooks and Libraries Don’t Mix Says:

    [...] kudos to the Librarian in Black for taking my advice and starting up just such a campaign by putting up a notice in the library as [...]

  37. Traci Says:

    AUDIOGO pledges its continued support of libraries!


  38. Kate Says:

    Here’s my contribution to the ebook battle: a petition on Please sign, and help reach the coal of 25,000 signatures. And if you’d be so kind, please post this on blogs, Facebook pages, tweet about it, etc. I know these petitions can work, so let’s make this one work for us!

  39. Why Your Kindle Isn’t Welcome at the Library | Vincent A. Alascia Says:

    [...] Here is  a link to the full article [...]

  40. Tina Says:

    In response to Tim Spaulding’s comment that protesting Harper didn’t work. Well, fighting corporations (sociopathic “people”– thanks Noam Chomsky and Citizens United for those definitions) frequently doesn’t work the first time. We need a groundswell. In the academic world people have been complaining for a long time about publishers and their business model with academic writers. Finally, there is a groundswell, academics all over the world pledging online for everyone to see that they will not write for, or do free work for (peer reviews) Elsevier. None of these changes that we seek are going to be easy, but we have to put forth the effort. Yes, get your customers involved. I’m not anti-business or anti-profit, and spent 25 years in the business world. But things are just getting so out of balance. I’m tired of it.

    Thanks for your efforts Sara, Love the sign :-)

  41. Barbara Huff Says:

    Library users are book buyers….What ARE the publishers thinking?

  42. The Second Floor Librarians » Blog Archive » Why the New Steve Jobs Biography Isn’t Available in Library2Go Says:

    [...] Notice to Publishers: Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal A LOT of librarians like to blog, but Librarian In Black is a particularly popular blog by Sara Houghton. This post from her blog inspired us to want to inform our public too of the publishers that will not cooperate with libraries. [...]

  43. Why Your Kindle Isn’t Welcome at the Library « WESTSIDE WORDSMITHS Says:

    [...] Here is  a link to the full article [...]

  44. KB Says:

    I think the public would be more up in arms about this if it was made clear that libraries are not the only potential victims here — what’s to stop the publishers from deciding access to an ebook in perpetuity is bad for everyone? I’m sure all of those license agreements have a clause in them that basically say ‘we can change the terms at any time’. Just because you paid for it (so did the libraries!) is no guarantee that, like Darth Vader, they won’t alter the deal.

    Sure, right now it seems unlikely, but that’s not stopped the RIAA and the MPAA from trending ever further down the crazy path. The publishing world is right behind them. It’s not at all unreasonable to think libraries are a test market for imposing more restrictions.

  45. E-Books and Growing Pains « Civil Civil Servant Says:

    [...] in Black:  Here, here, here and [...]

  46. Head Tale - FTRW 2012 – The E-Book as A Form of Censorship Says:

    [...] top of that, there’s a number of large publishers who have simply refused to make their titles available for library lending and that, to me, is a form of censorship as [...]

  47. » Libraries: it’s not just Random House Reader Love Says:

    [...] post up at called let’s be honest about the ebook situation. She says in part: Sarah Houghton has a great post about ebooks, the current situation with some publishers opting out of providing ebooks to libraries and what [...]

  48. Add Random House Says:

    Add Random House to the list because while not officially “dropping out” , by tripling their price , they are making it impossible for libraries to but the product. It is now cheaper for a library to buy Kindle and add “Cahterine the Great” to it ($79 + $14.99) than to but the Overdrive copy ($105)

  49. Going to PLA? Says:

    Librarians who are going to Public Library Association Conference:
    Please use PLA as an opportunity to express to the publisher representatives all of these important discussion points.
    Penguin Group will be at Booth #223.

  50. Rett Says:

    While I love my ereader and my local library, I also love the ability to have books get published. With ereaders so popular now, particularly the library program, the publishing industry is tanking. Respectfully, they have to do something to stay in business. Borders didn’t update to the new reading technology fast enough and they suffered the consequences. What happens when only one publisher can afford to be open?With that monopoly, what kind of variety of books will we have then? How will we access quality reading entertainment? By sifting through the $2 self-published ebooks, hoping to find something that isn’t glorified fanfiction?

    I wish these groups didn’t say one thing and do another, that is definitely wrong. But I can see how they realized that their jobs were in jeopardy under that agreement.

  51. TechieThing #2 – eBooks and eReaders! « TenTechieThings Says:

    [...] should we alert the public to write letters to publishers, as some librarians are encouraging ( Please share your thoughts. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  52. renting bytes: the case for digital non-ownership Says:

    [...] program of ebooks by libraries wouldn’t exist. In fact note that Macmillan, which is among publishers that refuse to give ebooks to libraries, is one of those moving to DRM-free ebooks. These facts have a powerful relationship to each other [...]

  53. 5 years from now Says:

    I don’t think I will be out of line predicting that 5-10 years from now most U.S. readers will prefer ebooks. This will be especially true for the younger generations. With publishers refusing to sell ebooks to libraries, the role libraries served for centuries could significantly erode in less than a decade. Where will it leave us as a society? Clearly libraries’ appeal to publishers is not working. The situation is getting worse, not better. Penguin reported more than 26% profits increase in 2010 and another 5% in 2011. Apparently these profit increases are not enough. They are determined to squeeze out every dime they can. It seems without a legislation that will deny publishers the right to limit the format in which they sell books, the big six are not likely to give ground. I would also place more stock in appealing to authors rather than publishers. With many authors attributing their love of reading to libraries, I hope they will be disturbed to hear that young generation of readers will be denied the same opportunities.

  54. Notice to publishers: curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal | Tech Breakfast Says:

    [...] Notice to publishers: curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal—Librarian in Black blog, February 10, 2012 This entry was posted in ebooks. Bookmark the permalink. ← Tablet, e-reader ownership nearly doubles over holidays [...]

  55. and more regarding Librarian in Black and also about ebooks « studiumlibrarios Says:

    [...] Addressing an issue I discussed yesterday, and with what is possibly my favorite post title that I’ve come across: “Notice to publishers: curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal.” [...]

  56. Be the Boss of Your Own San Rafael Chocolate Business Says:

    [...] for an explanation of this chocolate opportunity in San Rafael. Your San Rafael Chocolate Guru "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" was a bestseller among San Rafael entrepreneurs, parents and San Rafael home b…ss" href="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">San Rafael [...]

  57. Why unglue when you can buy the book? (For starters, you can’t.) Says:

    [...] Five of the Big 6 publishers, collectively responsible for about half the (non-self-published) book market, including many of the best-known current titles, won’t sell ebooks to libraries. (One, Penguin, has just started a limited pilot with the New York Public Library, but to my thinking this is firmly in the “wait and see” camp.) [...]

  58. The Growing Pains of E-Books « Jenny Arch Says:

    [...] This comes as a surprise to many library users, which means librarians must do a better job of raising public awareness, notes San Rafael Public Library Director Sarah Houghton (a.k.a. the Librarian in [...]

  59. Theresa Bakker Says:

    I’ve got some suggestions for folks who want to not only protest these publishers’ actions but also to take concrete action that will hit them in their pocketbooks:
    1) If you own a paper book from one of these publishers, and you’re done with it, donate it to your local public library. This will maximize the number of uses the book gets, and minimize the publisher’s profit from the sale of that paper book. Do this as often as possible until the offending publisher changes its policies. Write a letter to the publisher telling them what you’re doing.
    2) If you can afford it, select a popular book from one of the offending publishers as often as you can. Buy a copy of that book USED on Amazon or another reseller (prices can be as low as $.01 plus shipping) and donate it to your local public library. Used books do not profit the offending publishers a second time, and you will maximize the number of uses the book gets, while minimizing the offending publisher’s profit from the sale of that book. Do this as often as possible until the offending publisher changes its policies. Write a letter to the publisher telling them what you’re doing.
    3) Repeat as often as possible until change occurs.
    I’d love this message to go viral … Maybe libraries could publish wish lists for books they’d like to receive, so that folks will know what is needed.
    In the words of TV anchor Ed Schultz, “Let’s get to work!”

  60. Theresa Bakker Says:

    Here’s my letter to publishers (further to my post above):

    Plagiarize at will. Please.

    Dear Sir or Madam:

    As an avid reader, I am concerned with your company’s extremely unfair policy regarding the sale of eBooks to public libraries. I am writing to voice my objection and to advise you of the actions that I and other readers will be taking until your policies are changed.

    Over the last two years, the demand for eBooks has grown by leaps and bounds, and many library patrons (including myself) are moving to eReaders as their choice for content delivery. Changing your policies to open your e-content to public libraries for a fair price will profit not only your company but will also mean more readers will find your titles and have the opportunity to discover new authors.

    There is already a secure DRM (Digital Rights Management) solution in use by all providers of e-content to libraries which protects your authors’ intellectual property and consequently your profits. Further, studies show that people who borrow library books also buy them – in every format.

    I would ask you, as a leading publisher, to do the right thing and open your e-content to public libraries for a fair price immediately.

    Until this change occurs, however, I am personally resolved to take the following actions (as well as to urge all avid readers to do the same:

    1) I will purchase no further e-content for personal use from your company as long as you refuse to deal fairly with libraries. I will only buy such books USED, in paper format. Once I have finished reading them, these books will be donated immediately to my local public library.

    2) Whenever I can afford it, I will be purchasing a USED paper book published by your company from a reseller and donating it to my local public library. As you are aware, used book prices are as low as a penny plus shipping. This will maximize the circulation of books published by your company, while depriving you of any further profit from the sale of that book.

    3) I will also be circulating this message as widely as I can, and suggesting that others do the same until such time as your company changes its policy.

    I hope that you, as the publisher of many books that I have enjoyed over the years, will do the right thing and make all published works available for purchase by libraries at reasonable cost.


  61. Librarified » #ALA2013 follow-up: keeping up with ebooks Says:

    [...] Librarian in Black’s sign explaining to patrons which publishers will and won’t allow libraries to lend ebooks [...]

Leave a Reply

LiB's simple ground rules for comments:

  1. No spam, personal attacks, or rude or intolerant comments.
  2. Comments need to actually relate to the blog post topic.