NEW YORK (AP) - The standoff between publishers and libraries over e-books is rapidly easing.
On Wednesday, Hachette Book Group became the fourth major publisher this year to announce it was expanding its digital offerings to libraries. Hachette, whose authors include Stephenie Meyer and Malcolm Gladwell, will offer its entire e-catalog to libraries after two years of pilot programs. New books will be available simultaneously in paper and e-editions, a policy also recently adapted by Penguin Group (USA). Hachette, Penguin and other publishers had previously restricted newer works out of concern for lost sales.
"I grew up in public libraries and appreciate deeply their importance to readers hungry for more," Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch said in a statement. "Hachette Book Group believes strongly in supporting the availability of books in all formats to library users, in ways that recognize the importance and value of authors' works."
The publisher's goal is to have its authors' works on as many platforms as possible, he said.
"This step moves libraries closer to ensuring that patrons will be able to enjoy the same access to e-books as they have to print books," American Library Association president Maureen Sullivan said in a statement. "It also recognizes the critical role that libraries play in bringing authors and readers together in the digital age."
Last month, Simon & Schuster ended its policy of withholding all e-books from libraries and announced a pilot program. A second former holdout, Macmillan, announced a pilot program in January. Hundreds of smaller publishers have made their catalogues available over the past few years.
Publishers and libraries are allies in many ways but have long been in conflict about the idea of free books, especially e-books. Publishers worry about a future in which a reader can access a free e-book simply by tapping a library app on a touchscreen. Libraries contend that they help publishers by encouraging reading, especially among young people.
As with other publishers, Hachette is seeking a balance by offering a comprehensive list of e-books, but not unlimited, or cheap, e-book service. For new releases, only one e-book can be borrowed at a time. And libraries, many of which operate under tight budgets, will be charged three times the highest priced print edition for one year of e-book access to a new publication.
"Overall, current e-books don't provide a much superior product over print books," said Alan S. Inouye, director of the library association's Office for Information Technology Policy. "A price much closer to the consumer one seems fair for what libraries receive. However, the marketplace is changing rapidly and there are many factors and so ALA looks forward to engaging in further explorations and discussions with publishers."
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