The growing availability of e-book titles for borrowing through public libraries has hit a bump. On Tuesday, Penguin Group USA announced it would no longer allow digital editions in any e-format of new titles to become available for library lending -- and it is disabling availability of all titles for lending in Amazon's Kindle format.
In a statement, the publisher said it had "always placed a high value on the role that libraries can play in connecting our authors with our readers." But, the company said, it would "delay the availability of our new titles in the digital format" until concerns about the security of digital versions were resolved.
The decision apparently does not affect library e-books of older titles in non-Kindle formats.
Penguin added that it was "working closely with our business partners and the library community" to create a secure and viable distribution model. It's not clear what the security issues are, or whether Penguin's withdrawal was permitted under the existing library licensing agreements.
Overdrive, the largest distributor of e-books to libraries, said in a statement that it was instructed to "suspend availability of new Penguin eBook titles from our library catalog." The distributor also noted that it was told to disable "Get for Kindle" functionality for all Penguin eBooks in libraries.
The availability of e-books on a lending basis to libraries has been rapidly evolving. Several major publishers, including Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, do not license to public libraries, while others have put limits on e-book borrowing through libraries. Only Random House allows e-book lending through libraries without conditions on the number of times a book may be borrowed, or limits on which titles are available.
New programs to allow patrons to buy e-books borrowed through libraries, such as one soon launching through the New York Public Library, may help soothe publishers' worries. In that program, the library gets a cut of each sale.
Security, or Business?
In September, Amazon announced a new program, where owners of its Kindle devices could borrow e-books from more than 11,000 public libraries in the U.S.
Earlier this month, the giant retailer announced the launch of its Kindle Owners' Lending Library for customers with an Amazon Prime membership. Kindle-owning members can now borrow any of thousands of book titles in that private library for free. The selections include a number of current or former New York Times bestsellers, and the frequency can be as much as one book a month. There are no due dates for the "return."
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry firm Current Analysis, pointed out that publishers "have been highly skeptical about lending e-books," but, at the same time, they don't want to appear hostile to libraries.
The security issue was not specified, although it likely refers to piracy concerns. But Greengart said he wondered how much of Penguin's objections have to do with security and how much with the business model of lending titles, especially new titles, through libraries.