October 20, 2014

Penguin Further Narrows Library Access, Suspending Availability of Audiobook Titles

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(This story has been updated from an earlier version.)

Penguin Group has suspended the availability of download audiobook titles for library purchase across all vendors, according to a message that OverDrive sent to its library partners today.

The OverDrive message says: “This change does not affect any Penguin audiobook titles currently in your library’s catalog. Your library will be able to purchase additional copies of titles released before 11/14/2011. However, titles released after this date and new releases will not be available, per instruction from the publisher.”

“What we’ve shared with our partners is all we know at this time,” said David Burleigh, a spokesperson for OverDrive. OverDrive offers about 40,000 audiobook titles in its US catalog, Burleigh said.

This latest decision comes on top of the policy shift that Penguin announced in November that ended public libraries’ access to new ebook titles from the publisher.

(On Thursday, Erica Glass, a spokesperson for Penguin, told LJ that the company had meant to include audiobooks in its November announcment, but had neglected to do so.)

In addition, it further narrows public libraries’ access to audio titles since at the end of this month BrillianceAudio will also suspend the availability of downloadable audiobook titles across all vendors, according to a policy announced January 4 by the Michigan-based company. This change also does not affect any titles currently in a library’s catalog.

Brilliance Audio was acquired by Amazon.com in May, 2007. Amazon also owns Audible.com.

A Penguin representative could not be reached for comment, and Mark Pereira, the CEO of BrillianceAudio, did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The growing inaccessibility of downloadable audio titles and other digital media is a serious issue for public libraries.  According to a Patron Profiles report released this month by Library Journal, there are key patron subgroups who are more likely to own a mobile device, such as the 21-40 age group, and who also demand expansion of the full range of library services, from movies to games to ebook collections so they can better use their devices.

“Such demand will continue to grow as long as new mobile digital devices are selling rapidly, and it points to a problematic gap for libraries in terms of delivering enough to meet expectations,” the report says.

In addition, the entire audio format may be facing a sea change, as the  EPUB 3 Media Overlays feature, a standard approved only in October, enables combo ebook/audiobook packages, which may become an increasingly market-efficient answer for publishers to maximize revenues, according to Bill McCoy, the executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum. Apple adopted the EPUB 3 standard in June, primarily for talking books initially.

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Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

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

Comments

  1. George Johnson says:

    Can someone explain to me why libraries can’t sue publishers for the right to purchase these titles? This is anti competitive behavior and it seems like publishers are engaged in collusion against libraries.

    Another thought . . . why doesn’t the library world organize and engage in nonviolent direct action against publishers. I’m sure publishers would hate to see large protests in front of their offices. They obviously think librarians are a bunch of wimps and we won’t do a thing to stop this.

    Sometimes it just feels like the whole world is against us! There are people out there who hate us for what we do.

    • Jessi Leigh says:

      Hi George—As a library director, I ask myself that same question every day. Unfortunately, I keep waiting on my national organization–the American Library Association–to lead that charge. Even though I’ve been told that they are working on these issues, I can’t say that I see what is being done by them.

      I fully agree that these practices seem to be breaking antitrust laws, and I do not see how these companies can get away with it. Except for the fact that, as you say, we’re a fairly powerless group to begin with.

      I truly believe that these companies are practicing discriminatory behavior.

      That said, most of us as librarians are overworked and stretched quite thin. Our business is booming, but our budgets are slashed. Most of us are trying to muster the energy to keep fighting for our paltry budgets, and I think this battle may seem overwhelming to a lot of us. I know that personally, I don’t know where to begin.

  2. Hmmm…Penguin has contracts with libraries across the nation to provide access to e-content, but one day decides to not honor their agreement. I’m sure top executives and their think tank came up with a strategy to increase their bonuses. Whatever it takes to put more money in their pockets and step out of the digital access arena is only going to hurt them in the long run. Their paychecks may be bigger, however, the brand Penguin is already suffering. Stock prices are dropping as I write this. Wall Street, I mean Penguin Publishing, is demonstrating bad faith by not honoring the contract.

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