Wyden, Eshoo press publishers over library e-book contracts

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The largest book publishing companies in the U.S. are facing pressure from Democrats over e-book lending contracts with libraries that advocates and librarians have criticized. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) sent letters to the publishers, Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, on Thursday asking for detailed responses about the contracts and any restrictions on deals made with libraries for e-book licensing. 

“Many libraries face financial and practical challenges in making e-books available to their patrons, which jeopardizes their ability to fulfill their mission,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is our understanding that these difficulties arise because e-books are typically offered under more expensive and limited licensing agreements, unlike print books that libraries can typically purchase, own, and lend on their own terms.” 

Wyden and Eshoo underscored the importance of remote access to e-books because the COVID-19 pandemic prolonged school and library closures. 

Unlike with physical books, which libraries can purchase and lend out for as long as copies hold up, libraries have to adhere to conditions in licensing agreements that constrain how long they can keep e-books in circulation. Librarians and library groups have called out the licensing agreements for prices they say are too high.

Wyden and Eshoo call for the publishers to share data, including the average price of physical copies of books sold to consumers and the average price of e-book licensing to libraries, on their 100 most sold or licensed works in 2020. 

Lia Holland, the campaigns and communications director for Fight for the Future, said the group was “thrilled” to see lawmakers taking action on the issue. 

Fight for the Future has been advocating for greater library access to a wide array of digital books. Holland called the “licensing schemes” on digital books “restrictive and expensive.” 

“We hope that legislators will take swift action to ensure perpetual access to knowledge and diverse voices for everyone,” Holland said in a statement. 

Spokespeople for the publishing companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The Democrats did not target Amazon with their letter. The tech giant until recently had even more restrictions in place — prohibiting Amazon published e-books to be sold to libraries for lending.  

The company reached a deal in May to make all Amazon Publishing titles available through the DPLA Exchange, a  library-centered content marketplace. Library patrons can access the titles through the SimplyE e-reader app. 

Amazon’s deal was cut shortly before a Maryland law went into effect that would have required publishers that offer license to an electronic literary product to also offer to license that product to public libraries. 

Tags Amazon Anna Eshoo Ebook HarperCollins Penguin Random House Public Libraries Ron Wyden Simon & Schuster

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