Macmillan, one of the "Big Six" publishers, will start selling ebooks to libraries in the next few months. In a statement, the company detailed a pilot program that would distribute 1,200 backlisted titles from the Minotaur crime fiction imprint, the first time it's offered a library program. Like most other big publishers, though, the ebooks will come with restrictions: only one user at a time can check them out, and each copy will only last for 52 checkouts or two years, whichever comes first. As tight as that leash seems compared to physical books, it's still better than Penguin's one-year limit or the 26-checkout cap imposed by HarperCollins back in 2011. Library Journal reports that each title will sell for $25 a copy, not terribly expensive for library ebooks but still over twice as much as consumers would pay.
The American Library Association has praised the program, which it says has been the result of a year's worth of discussion between Macmillan and libraries. Libraries have proved one of the most difficult use cases for ebooks, which are simultaneously simple to replicate and extremely tightly controlled. Penguin has repeatedly vacillated over selling to libraries, and other publishers have raised prices steeply or imposed limits to make sure libraries will remain steady customers. While there are legitimate reasons for these controls, the blatantly artificial scarcity can seem absurd — especially as the need to constantly repurchase books could push libraries into favoring short-term demand over long-term access to information.