Simon & Schuster (S&S) on Monday announced a one-year pilot program in which the publisher’s complete catalog of ebooks will be available for sale and lending at the New York Public Library (NYPL), the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL, and the Queens Library beginning April 30. With the announcement, S&S became the last of the Big Six publishers to explore a program of licensing ebooks to libraries.
Although representatives familiar with the deal did not disclose pricing for the titles, other details most closely resemble the model that Penguin launched as a pilot with NYPL and BPL last fall, and has subsequently expanded to all libraries that are using the 3M Cloud Library or Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform. Libraries can acquire any S&S ebook title with a one-year license, offering unlimited checkouts under a one book, one user model, which would presumably equate to a maximum of 26 loans per year with two-week loan periods. All S&S frontlist and backlist titles will be available, with new titles available immediately upon publication. In this pilot, 3M will support lending while BiblioCommons facilitates acquisition for NYPL and BPL. Axis 360 will support both lending and purchasing for Queens.
In addition, the participating libraries will offer patrons the option to purchase a copy of S&S titles from within their online portals, with the libraries receiving an undisclosed share of the proceeds from each sale.
In a statement, Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of S&S, described libraries as partners that “play a vital role in fostering and encouraging reading in every strata of our society, and … help to create an audience for our books and authors.” She added that the three New York systems “have shown an extraordinary willingness to try innovative models with the potential to be a long-term solution for all involved. In making our full list available we think we will get a better sense of lending patterns and patron behavior, and I am particularly eager to start seeing the actual data so that we can better understand this still-new phenomenon.”
If S&S views the pilot as a success, the program will be expanded to other libraries, according to the publisher.
Tony Marx, president and CEO of NYPL, said that negotiating ebook pilot programs with Penguin, Macmillan, and now S&S had been a priority since his tenure began in 2011.
“When I got to the library a year and a half ago, I was struck by two facts: one was that a quarter to a third of New York City residents depend on the library…because they can’t afford books,” he told LJ. “And the second fact that I learned was that only two of the big six publishers were willing to sell ebooks to libraries. So we really faced a terrifying future in which a technology that wants to increase access to information was going to actually decrease access to information.”
The purchasing power and high circulation of New York’s library systems, as well as their proximity to the headquarters of the major publishing houses, helped facilitate these negotiations, Marx said.
“We decided to try to use our leverage to have individual negotiations and to address publishers’ concerns.”
Meanwhile, NYPL was also instrumental in the development of the ReadersFirst initiative, which helped libraries throughout the country agree on a set of principles aimed at developing a more streamlined ebook lending experience for patrons, along with business models that work for publishers, authors, and libraries. Both BPL and the Queens Library have been active participants in the initiative.
“Queens Library has been on the Leadership Team of the ReadersFirst Initiative from the beginning, working cooperatively with publishers to develop a business model that fairly compensates authors and publishers, while making digital titles accessible and affordable for public libraries,” Thomas Galante, president and CEO, Queens Library, told LJ.
Galante noted that working with libraries was simply good business for publishers.
“Public libraries bring a lot of value to publishers and authors by helping them market and develop audiences, and we purchase a lot of content,” he said. This is simple market economics at work. We want what publishers have to offer, on behalf of our library users, but it has to be on reasonable terms. Publishers are business people. They understand a win-win solution. We are all trying to find our way in the digital content arena and are going to see a lot of evolution in the next few years.”
Noting that the announcement came during the 55th annual National Library Week, American Library Association President Maureen Sullivan said “We hope that Simon & Schuster will extend its pilot to libraries beyond New York City in the near future. Books and knowledge—in all their forms—are essential. The ALA and our members welcome new and expanded digital access for all.”