Macmillan eBooks Boycott

ebooks catalog screenshot

UPDATE MARCH 17, 2020: We are happy to share some good news regarding the Macmillan ebook embargo (spoiler alert: it’s been lifted!): "Macmillan Abandons Library E-book Embargo," Publisher's Weekly, 3/17/2020. This means we will be resuming the purchasing of Macmillan ebooks. Many thanks for your support of our boycott. On a national scale, we believe it made a difference.

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On November 1, 2019, Macmillan Publishing announced that it was placing an embargo on ebook purchasing for public libraries. This embargo restricts the purchasing of new ebook titles to one copy per library during the first eight weeks of a publication’s release, regardless of the size of the population being served, or the popularity of a title. This restrictive tactic keeps libraries from upholding their basic mission of providing access to books and other materials to the people we serve.

Ebook embargoes are particularly distressing for public libraries. Unlike metered access, where an ebook can be accessed for a specific period of time or a specific number of checkouts, embargoes like Macmillan’s don’t permit libraries to purchase additional copies to meet reader demand. This means the challenge of providing access to our patrons can’t be solved by directing more resources to the purchase of additional copies, a common practice that helps improve the wait time patrons are facing for high demand books.


For these reasons, and in solidarity with libraries across the country, the Somerville Public Library will boycott Macmillan ebooks effective March 1st, 2020.


The decision to join other public libraries in boycotting Macmillan ebooks was carefully considered, and based on information we gathered during the development of our new Strategic Plan. Survey results indicated that e-books, audiobooks, and other online resources are the third most important service that we offer. Additionally, our e-resource circulation increased 93% between 2017 to 2019. Given that we are committed to providing e-resources for all, including those who cannot reach our physical spaces and cannot use print books, this embargo is in direct conflict with our mission, as outlined in our Strategic Plan.


When Macmillan CEO John Sargent raised concerns that the ebook lending practices of public libraries was leading to, “growing fears that library lending was cannibalizing sales,” he neglected to provide any hard data to prove his point. As the Urban Libraries Council outlined in their statement, this decision to enact the embargo impacts those “who already face significant barriers to equitable knowledge and information access in our communities-- including youth, people living with disabilities, and those with limited financial means.”


We are joining libraries locally and nationwide in this boycott to send a message, to both Macmillan and other big publishing companies who may be thinking of releasing similar embargoes on libraries, that we will not support a lending model that does not have our patrons’ best interests at heart. It is imperative that libraries strongly oppose this lending model at this time and place in order to prevent a slippery slope where profitability is prioritized over equity of access.