Penguin to Pilot Library E-Book Lending Program in New York, Windowing Front-List Titles

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

Four months after pulling its front-list e-books from public libraries, New York-based publisher Penguin will begin a pilot program with the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and e-book distributor 3M to bring its digital titles back to library patrons.

The pilot program will allow library patrons to borrow e-books remotely from “public-library compatible reading devices” six months after their initial release and libraries will be able to purchase e-books on one-year renewable contracts, Penguin said in a statement this morning. If successful, Penguin could roll out the program nationwide.

In March, at the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers, Dr. Anthony Marx, head of the New York Public Library, urged an audience full of publishers to partner with his organization on pilot programs to test e-book library lending. At the time, relations between major publishers and libraries were strained over e-books as Penguin had stopped lending to libraries through distributor OverDrive, Random House greatly increased the price it was charging libraries for e-books, and the model of public lending itself was being challenged by the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Marx’s statement may have moved Penguin. In addition, the American Library Association told Digital Book World in April that it intended to engage in direct dialogue with publishers and organizations that represent publishers and authors.

“We’re very pleased to see Penguin is back in the market of supplying libraries,” said Molly Raphael, president of the American Library Association. “We’ve been working with penguin since last January to encourage them to help them find the information they’ve needed to come back.”

According to Raphael, the panel at the AAP meeting with Marx, which she moderated, had an impact on this move.

As part of the pilot, Penguin will only make digital front-list titles available to library patrons six months after their initial publication date for a one-year period. Penguin told the Wall Street Journal that the six month window was meant to prevent libraries from undercutting store sales and that the one-year contracts were meant to imitate “the natural shelf life of print books.”

Prices for libraries to buy the e-books will be in line with what consumers pay, according to a Penguin spokesperson. Borrowing will work the same as it does for other similar library e-book lending programs where patrons can borrow a copy of a book if it’s available and, if not, will have to wait.

According to Publishers Lunch, Penguin may have moved to 3M as a distributor as opposed to OverDrive because of OverDrive’s relationship with retailer Amazon.

Proponents of e-book library lending are opposed to limits on content publishers make available to libraries and say that in a world of diminishing bookstore shelf space, publishers need all the discovery mechanisms they can get. They say that library patrons who borrow e-books are also likely to buy e-books.

Publishers have been hesitant to engage in lending programs with libraries for fear that readers will realize they can borrow e-books for free and not have to buy them, undercutting sales.

“It makes sense for a number of publishers to be experimenting [with e-book library lending],” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project, which came out with an extensive report on e-book reading in April and is coming out with another large study on e-books and libraries tomorrow. “Publishers know that the world is in transition and that there’s a tension in that. They don’t want to be Napster-ized, but the people who are most into their product are anxious to consume books in new formats. It’s not an easy world to navigate.”

In May, New York-based publisher Hachette announced a library e-book lending pilot program that would bring e-books to 7 million library patrons.

“Penguin has come back; Hachette has come back. We look at this as a very positive step and we look forward to Penguin being able to expand to libraries all across the country,” said Raphael, who will be president of the ALA until Tuesday when Maureen Sullivan will take over.

Related: E-Book Library Lending Rises, Publishing Industry Grapples With Change

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