In an announcement made yesterday, Penguin Group has terminated its contract with OverDrive, the largest distributer of digital content to American libraries and Penguin’s sole e-lending partner. While Penguin has previously limited the availability of its ebooks to libraries, pulling new titles from OverDrive and temporarily suspending the “Get-to-Kindle” functionality in November 2011, the new move will signal Penguin’s complete exit from library ebook lending. In an email from OverDrive to its partners, Penguin also specified that Kindle wireless downloads will no longer be made available to library patrons: “Penguin eBooks loaned for reading on Kindle devices will need to be downloaded to a computer then transferred to the device over USB. For library patrons, this means Penguin eBooks will no longer be available for over-the-air delivery to Kindle devices or to Kindle apps.” Penguin is working on a “continuance agreement” with OverDrive to allow libraries currently holding Penguin titles to retain access.
While Penguin has not provided an extensive explanation for the February 10th cutoff, commentators have speculated that publisher “disintermediation” from library lending has become one of the driving factors in the decision.With the increased prevalence of digital lending to Amazon Kindle devices, a service which draws patrons from OverDrive to a third-party site (i.e., Amazon), reporters like Michael Kelley of The Digital Shift claim that the new set-up has “left some publishers feeling a bit left out in the cold, since the supply chain that has grown up around library lending of ebooks has evolved among other third-party commercial entities without much input from the publishers.” During talks with ALA leaders on January 30 and February 1, Penguin and other publishing leaders expressed fear of a truly “frictionless” lending environment in which readers, offered the ability to borrow from home without any sort of physical inconvenience (i.e., having to actually go to the library–and back), will shirk the purchase of new titles. The idea of library e-lending cannibalizing sales has been a reoccurring concern for major publishers.
Of the Big Six publishers, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan do not offer digital titles in any form to libraries or library wholesalers. Hachette does not lend their frontlist ebooks. HarperCollins operates under a 26-loan cap, while Random House offers unrestricted access to its digital titles despite a recent uptick in prices.
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