April 20, 2024

Penguin Group USA to No Longer Allow Library Lending of New Ebook Titles


See also: Librarians Face Patrons Unhappy With Penguin Policy Change; ALA Condemns Ebook Decision

(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.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.


  1. This is getting ridiculous and seriously hampering libraries and readers. If anyone knows the best way to send Penguin and the other non-participating publishers protest letters/emails please speak up.

    • Ask them for your money back. Money talks. If we stop buying, they’ll take notice. If you’ve already paid for an ebook that you no longer have access to, they should reimburse you.

    • It seems to me that if we stopped buying all of it – Penguin print and digital – for 6 months they would revise their stance. If they value the work we do connecting readers and writers, then let’s see it.

  2. Victoria Mathews says:

    Or maybe we should have a closer look at the real risk publishers are taking when they make their book availabe for loan (not purchase) is a digital format.

    • Mike Schryver says:

      The security/risk argument was exposed as a pile of nonsensel when they pulled only the Kindle versions of existing books.
      This is about a power struggle between Penguin and Amazon, and Penguin are lying through their teeth when they say otherwise.

    • There’s a financial risk. Publishers are trying to fight an internet culture that wants things for 99 cents or for free, not because they are greedy heartless people, but because it’s going to devalue it for both them and their authors. It’s ironically similar to offshoring jobs: in both cases you have large entities using their clout to drive prices and compensation down. Multinationals for offshored jobs, the big aggregators for creative works, like Apple and Amazon.

      I think that’s the kind of risk we have to look at for digital lending, that it has none of the drawbacks of library lending (no late fees, no physical copy limits, no limited hours or selection.) and can significantly cannibalize sales. Writing these days is rapidly becoming something you either do as a hobby, get lucky and write a blockbuster, or churn out massive amounts of mediocre content to make money on volume. I wish people would look at it from the writer’s view, instead of the “why can’t I get content for free?” consumer.

  3. Erin O'Rourke says:

    I find it interesting that Penguin will continue to offer ebooks in non-Kindle format (for the non-new ebooks). Why are they choosing to disallow Kindle ebooks, but continue to allow epub of the same title?

    • One of the problems may be that (at least in our system) when people check out the Kindle books through Overdrive they remain in their archives and aren’t “returned” to the library after the allotted time which leads to free ownership of some titles.

    • It’s not accurate to say that the Kindle ebooks remain in the device and aren’t returned to the Library. While some digital information does remain in the archive, the user cannot access the book again unless they reborrow or buy the book.

  4. Publishers need to understand that digital products can have multiple price points – in the context of the content industry it works exceptionally well. Unfortunately, emulating traditional and legacy models seem to be preferred…

  5. I just twitted to their official twitter account @penguinusa that I am suspending all the purchases of Penguin books (ebooks and physical books) until this is resolved. I am a frequent library user but I also buy a lot of books, especially children books. I will go out of my way to avoid purchasing from Penguin.

  6. Catherine Johnson says:

    I’m curious to know if this has anything to do with the Kindle announcement that they would be providing a lending library for an annual fee. Was that service made possible by the deal with OverDrive? Did Amazon negotiate with OverDrive for the use of the OverDrive lending software system as part of the deal to allow OverDrive to provide access to Kindle versions of titles? While I agree that publishers need to carefully consider the library access issues, including the historical perspective, there could be some other larger economic power struggle in which library’s are being used as a pawn. I write this without any indepth knowledge, just a gut feeling, any thoughts, knowledge or expertise out there?

  7. Margaret Ellis says:

    Michael, “loan” is a noun. the verb you wnat is “lend.”

    • tesla coyle says:

      Loan is acceptable as a verb.
      According to Merriam-Webster: “Although a surprising number of critics still voice objections, loan is entirely standard as a verb.”

  8. Deb Lambert Czarnik says:

    The Penguin contact for more information, and to register complaints about this new policy is:

    Erica Glass
    Media Relations Manager
    Penguin Group (USA)

    I’ve let them know that restricting lending to certain devices is a form of censorship that is impossible to explain to my tax-paying members!

    • Sorry, since Portuguese libraries still don’t lend ebooks I’m not really sure of how this works but… Kindle supports mobi, don’t libraries have also that format? (And, if not, isn’t it easy to convert epub to mobi or kindle formats?)

  9. Messier and messier. But the bottom line is this: Authors want readers and readers want eBooks. Anyone facilitating that relationship (and currently Amazon is doing as good a job as anyone) is in a position to prosper. Anyone thwarting that relationship (publishers and the mindless public library/Overdrive distribution model) is endangering their existence.

    See, The End of Libraries

  10. I personally applaud Penguin for the decision not to make their new titles available to readers in an electronic format. In a world littered with far more serious issues that could benefit from our collective or even individual energies, angry e-people might take a step back and re-order their priorities. Getting livid over not being able to access a book electronically seems pretty far down the list of topics to get enraged about.

    • Yeah. Let’s stop publishing and lending e-books so we can kill more trees to publish lots more paper books.

    • Alan Stewart says:

      Not sure I understand your point. Penguin isn’t making their e-books unavailable electonically to all readers — just to libraries, and the readers who patronize them. Penguin is perfectly happy to sell you, as an individual, an e-book. Why do you think disenfranchising library users is something to applaud?

  11. Ruth Greenman says:

    Obviously, Penguin and its Media Relations director have thought this through and had to make a difficult decision designed to protect and encourage authors as well as the publishing industry. Our entire planet is in the process of having to rethink business practices to catch up with ever changing modern technology that is being pushed in accordance with Moore’s Law. I applaud their taking a step back to get this right for the long run.

    By the way, this is not censorship…no one’s speech or thoughts has been abridged or impeded.

    • Why couldn’t Penguin’s Media Relations director have said something to libraries, consumers, and the general public before removing books that libraries and the public had paid to license? With whom does Penguin have a relationship? Not readers, apparently. How is anyone (other than those who don’t use libraries or who think sharing paid-for books is bad for business) supposed to be on their side when the form of communication is from Overdrive trying to explain why books have disappeared? What a train wreck. Libraries should just tell the public that these publishers are setting impossible conditions and that until this is fixed people will have to share printed books – a practice publishers would probably make illegal if they could.

  12. Carrie Herrmann says:

    Research shows that public library users do not just borrow books. They also purchase books and many of their purchasing decisions are based on the authors or books they first discovered in the library. A recent study (http://www.thedigitalshift.com/research/patron-profiles/library-patrons-and-ebook-usage/) showed that over 50 percent of all library users go on to purchase books by an author they were introduced to in the library. I believe that publishers are missing a great opportunity to market to libraries and the many users libraries serve.

  13. I’m bummed, but not so much at Penguin. It seems like the aggregators (Amazon, Apple, B&N, etc) are really calling the shots these days, and both libraries and content providers are trying to survive. I think publishers and libraries have a common challenge here — and maybe we can work together to solve.

    The aggregators own the points-of-sale and have lots of flexibility on what inventory (including non-book) to push. Libraries and publishers have one thing — content. I think we’re both over different sides of the same barrel.

    I *hate* the lack of options libraries have to lease or purchase eBooks and loan them to patrons. It’s bad and wrong, and we can’t just wait for someone else to address a problem that is really ours, as libraries.

    Let’s help solve the issues around DRM and lending directly with publishers. I’ve always hated just buying something from a vendor. All successful tech projects I’ve been involved with included a strong partnership with our vendors. Especially on complex projects. eBooks, DRM schemes, and lending are complex.

    Penguin, if you’re listening — I’m willing to help, as a partner. No charge.

  14. Beth Tanner says:

    E-pub books also remain on computers. They are just protected by DRM. Unfortunately, it’s easy to use Calibre to strip DRM. Doing so requires the use of an add on and is NOT part of Calibre. If you read reviews of any e-reader, you’ll see numerous references to stripping DRM. The perception is that the digital form of a books cost the publisher (and libraries) nothing. Users also think that they should be able to read an e-pub book on a Kindle without purchasing another copy. From a publisher’s point of view this is like expecting to walk into a bookstore, put a paperback on the shelf & walk out with the hard cover version. Same book different format. Obviously this is going to limit the availability of books. What I don’t understand is how Penguin can pull all the books without refunding the money.

    • Alan Stewart says:

      They’re not pulling the books, just not allowing them to be loaned as “Kindle versions.” Though I would still argue that there is an argument to be made that libraries have suffered harm, and deserve some sort of compensation from Penguin. We bought their titles expecting them to remain available for Kindle, and our customers who put them on hold for Kindle are going to be angry when their hold becomes available and the book they’ve waited for for weeks won’t work on their device — after they were told it would!

  15. Wayne Martin says:

    Piracy (aka Xerox) will be with us forever. What’s needed is a new business model for everyone, so that the publishers make money, the authors make money, and the public gets access to digital publications.

    One change in such a business model would be to stop selling books to libraries, but site-licensing them, so that the publishers are not expected to subsidize the reading habits of library patrons. It couldn’t hurt to allow libraries to charge fees, which would help to generate funds–rather than expecting “the rich” to be taxed, in order to pay for all of these “free books”.

    Such a change would be “revolutionary” to some, and “revolting” to those who advocate “more of the status quo”. But we here in the US are spending over $15B a year on public libraries. The most of this money is spent on staff salaries and benefits. It’s very difficult to see what these people do, other than “move paper” from one place to another. The promise of “digital” is to use less of that money in a different way, such as increasing the availability of “books” from a 8-10 hour-a-day window to a 7/24 window, and making books available from every source available via the Internet. This goal is nothing short of “universal access” to all books ever published.

    So, if that means shutting down a goodly number of local libraries, and shifting those funds to a “copyright holders fund”, which would be used to compensate copyright holders for use of their books–then this would seem like a “progressive” move that would benefit everyone except those displaced by the shift in the technology of information distribution.

    The “shift is in” .. and there is no going back now.

    • “Move paper from one place to another.” ? You do not spend anytime in libraries do you? You have NO IDEA what local Libraries mean to a community. Checking out books to patrons is the least of what we do. I would have to publish an e-book to list all the things we do and all the service we provide to our community! Believe me, if a library employee has time to “push paper around” it is because they have stayed after hours to get more work done, which we do not get paid anything for.
      Publishers do not subsidize books for libraries. Here is a helpful hint. You need to go to a library pick up a book or tow and learn about a subject before you give your uninformed opinions. Better yet, Try volunteering at your local library, we can always use the help.

  16. It is highly ironic that politicians in local communities seem to want their public libraries to ramp up their eBook collections for what they predict will be future cost savings. Don’t get me wrong. I love eBooks. But I disagree with some sort of politically driven notion that more eBooks will ultimately lower the costs of having public libraries, eventually supplanting brick and mortar. The latest chapter with Penguin just puts a fine point on the issue. If publishers believe that potential profits are being lost because borrowing eBooks from libraries is too “frictionless” (love that), then I forsee them pricing eBooks so that print actually and ironically becomes more cost effective for libraries. Readers are coming to expect “frictionless” access to content. Publishers now have decided that they don’t want to give that convenience away through public libraries. We live in interesting times.