(This story has been updated from an earlier version to include comment from OverDrive.)
The number of ebooks available for libraries to loan has just shrunk as Penguin Group USA has decided, for now, to no longer make digital editions of new titles available for library lending.
Erica Glass, the media relations manager for Penguin Group (USA) sent LJ the following statement today:
Penguin has been a long-time supporter of libraries with both physical and digital editions of our books. We have always placed a high value on the role that libraries can play in connecting our authors with our readers. However, due to new concerns about the security of our digital editions, we find it necessary to delay the availability of our new titles in the digital format while we resolve these concerns with our business partners. Penguin’s aim is to always connect writers and readers, and with that goal in mind, we remain committed to working closely with our business partners and the library community to forge a distribution model that is secure and viable. In the meantime, we want to assure you that physical editions of our new titles will continue to be available in libraries everywhere.
Glass did not elaborate on what the security concerns were exactly or how Penguin could abruptly withdraw frontlist titles from library collections that it had previously agreed to license.
OverDrive, the largest vendor of ebooks to public libraries, posted the following brief entry on its Digital Library Blog:
Last week Penguin sent notice to OverDrive that it is reviewing terms for library lending of their eBooks. In the interim, OverDrive was instructed to suspend availability of new Penguin eBook titles from our library catalog and disable “Get for Kindle” functionality for all Penguin eBooks. We apologize for this abrupt change in terms from this supplier. We are actively working with Penguin on this issue and are hopeful Penguin will agree to restore access to their new titles and Kindle availability as soon as possible.
Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not license ebooks to public libraries. Hachette Book Group withdrew its frontlist ebook titles from library circulation in July 2010, although it has been reconsidering that decision recently.
A number of commenters on an Amazon discussion group as well as a blogger noted the recent unavailability of Penguin titles from what their libraries were offering to loan via OverDrive’s Kindle library lending program, but the decision as far as it affects new titles is not just limited to Kindle editions, according to Glass. Penguin will not be offering any digital editions to libraries for new titles, Glass said. However, the Kindle functionality specifically is being disabled for all Penguin ebooks. David Burleigh, a spokesperson for OverDrive, said this means that Penguin titles that are not new would still be available in other (non-Kindle) formats.
Cynthia Laino of the C/W Mars Library Consortium in Massachusetts wrote:
Neither Penguin nor OverDrive made any sort of announcement to library staff regarding this issue. I came in to work this morning (Monday) to find my digital books email account filled with emails from irate patrons. Rightly so! We library staff were so happy to be able to provide library content to Kindle users (finally!) and not having to tell Kindle-loving patrons “Sorry, you can’t use our digital collection.” Our ebook usage has increased by at least 50% in the last two months. We have bought many additional copies of our most popular titles simply to meet the increased demand for them once Kindle users were added to our borrowers. We would not have spent the additional funds (thousands of dollars) had we known this issue would arise. Hopefully, OverDrive, Amazon, or Penguin will make some sort of announcement soon and, at best, add the Kindle-format versions of these titles back to our collections or, at the very least, supply some form of compensation to the libraries. I work for a consortium of 150+ libraries and expect lots of calls and emails regarding this. :(
A check of the Brooklyn Public Library’s site showed that its ebook offerings had contracted by about 1000 titles over the weekend. This story will update as more details become available.