Fairfax County, Virginia

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Jessica Hudson,

Fairfax County Public Library Takes a Stand Against Unfair eBook Practices by Macmillan Publishing


Due to new restrictions on libraries’ purchase of eBooks and eAudiobooks produced by Macmillan Publishing, the Fairfax County Public Library stopped purchasing eMaterials from Macmillan and its imprints November 1.

The Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) is the 17th largest library, by circulation, in the United States according to the American Library Association. When FCPL’s eBook collection via Overdrive surpasses 2 million annual downloads this year, as predicted, it will be one of only about 20 libraries in the country to do so.

Macmillan Publishing began limiting library access to its eBooks and eAudiobooks on November 1 by:

  • Restricting libraries to the purchase of a single electronic copy of a title for the first 60 days after publication, regardless of the number of people the library system serves or the number of library branches in the system.
  • Allowing libraries to purchase additional copies of the title after the embargo at inflated prices.
  • Limiting the lifespan of these copies to two years, after which libraries must either re-purchase them at full price or lose access to them.

The decision to stop purchasing eBooks and eAudiobooks from Macmillan was “not a decision we made lightly,” Library Director Jessica Hudson said. “But this new eBook policy unfairly impacts selected populations in the county and would have a significant negative impact on the library’s purchasing abilities by requiring us to spend additional funds on one format per title.”

Digital material has changed the reading landscape over the last few years. The ability to manipulate font size and choose fonts has helped readers with vision loss and dyslexia. Library materials also provide equal opportunity for low income residents. The new restrictions impact the library’s ability to offer equal access to information for all.

“We understand publishing is a business, and it’s not our objective to tell businesses how they can and should profit; however, libraries already pay higher costs than the general public, Hudson said. “The new policies would have increased the costs exorbitantly for titles under Macmillan, so our decision allows us to use those funds to expand the library’s collection where our dollar goes further. We have a duty to make taxpayer dollars go as far as possible in serving our over 400,000 cardholders.”

FCPL will continue to purchase Macmillan titles in print and on compact disc, as federal law protects sales to libraries in those formats.

FCPL joins many public libraries nationwide that have elected not to purchase eMaterials from Macmillan including

  • Arkansas Digital Library Consortium (AR)
  • Charleston County Public Library (SC)
  • Columbus Metropolitan Library (OH)
  • Des Moines Public Library (IA)
  • King County Library System (WA)
  • eLibraryNJ (NJ)
  • Multnomah County Library (OR)
  • Nashville Public Library (TN)
  • Reading Library District (PA)
  • Topeka andShawnee County Public Library (KS)
  • Yolo County Library (CA)

More information including the list of imprints and authors under the Macmillan umbrella is available in the library’s online guide: eBooks: Inside the Industry.

More information about library responses and impacts can be found on the American Library Association website, including the eBooks For All petition currently supported by nearly a quarter million signatures.

Fairfax Virtual Assistant