Amazon Screwing Public Libraries Now? Is There Anything Those A-Holes Can't Do?

Class War

What is it with these libertarian sumbitches and public libraries? There were public libraries in this country before it was a country at all, and wealthy men used to donate vast endowments to put their names on the town's library systems. Sometimes they even gave money without getting their names slapped on the building, because libraries are good for democracy, and they actually cared about that stuff.

But today the Washington Post reports that Amazon, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, literally the richest man on earth, won't license electronic or audiobooks it publishes to public libraries.

And why not?


"It's not clear to us that current digital library lending models fairly balance the interests of authors and library patrons," Mikyla Bruder, the publisher at Amazon Publishing, told the Post. "We see this as an opportunity to invent a new approach to help expand readership and serve library patrons, while at the same time safeguarding author interests, including income and royalties."

They're doing it for us, see? To protect library patrons and expand readership. Ms. Bruder fails to explain how making it so no one without $15 in their pocket can read a book will "expand readership," but, you know, details!

As Library Journal reported in 2019, Amazon has been laying the groundwork for this move for years by "promoting the narrative that library ebook lending is partly responsible for declines in retail ebook sales." At the time, Amazon denied it.

Representatives from Amazon denied the rumors, while acknowledging that the company does share comprehensive data with publishers about their titles, including consumer sales, subscriptions, and Kindle ebook circulation at libraries via OverDrive. According to Amazon, it has been sharing this information for years, and the company views it as part of a normal relationship between a publisher and a retailer. Citing the relationship with OverDrive, representatives said that Amazon supports library lending, particularly for patrons that would not otherwise have access to content.

"We believe that public library lending is very important to society and, among its many benefits, helps increase literacy and provide[s] authors and their books with broader audiences," an Amazon spokesperson told LJ. "Publishers make their own business decisions regarding library lending."

Turns out, that was bullshit. In 2021, Amazon will still sell them hardcover copies from its publishing catalog, but if libraries want to allow their readers to enter the 21st century — or get books during a viral pandemic that closes all the branches — then they are shit out of luck.

As Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler points out, libraries already pay more for books in digital format than retail customers do. Sometimes a lot more.

Nobody is arguing libraries should get freebies from publishers and authors. In fact, libraries usually pay more than we do for e-books — between $40 and $60 per title and as much as $100 for a popular audiobook. And unlike print books, which libraries can loan out to one person at a time again and again, e-books often come with digital locks that make them expire after a certain number of loans or a set period of time.

Amazon already wielded virtual monopoly power between Kindle, Audible, and its bookselling platform. But now as publisher, too, it controls the distribution of the books completely. So popular titles by authors such as Mindy Kaling, Trevor Noah, and Dean Koontz are simply unavailable to vast swathes of the American public who can't afford to buy their own copies. And it's a problem that will only get worse as more books are published in digital format only.

Various state legislatures are currently considering legislation to force Amazon to license digital books on reasonable terms to public libraries, a move which it is sure to challenge in court, dragging the process out for years on end. And the behemoth company is already able to wrest billions of dollars in concessions from states and cities as a price of setting up shop in their towns. What's to stop it demanding that state legislators nix book licensing laws as the price of doing business?

And all this is happening as libraries are adapting to the needs of a wildly unequal society in the digital age with programs to lend out items such as power tools, business suits, and laptops.

In a week when we're all keenly aware of Amazon's rapacious business practices, let's pay some attention to the way they're out to rape and pillage one of the pillars of American democracy. The library belongs to all of us, PROTECT IT.

[WaPo / Library Journal]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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