Simon & Schuster has been a conspicuous early mover in ebook lending programs through U.S. library networks. However, it also has tried to lever the initiative by insisting on a “Buy It Now” button for borrowed ebooks, to drive borrowers to actually buy the books they have virtually taken out. Apparently, that has deterred some libraries from coming on board with S&S, and the publisher has now taken the decision to make Buy It Now opt-in rather than mandatory.
According to the S&S press release, “effective immediately, ebooks from its catalog would be made available to libraries nationwide irrespective of whether or not the library participates in the publisher’s ‘Buy It Now’ merchandising program.” Carolyn Reidy, President and Chief Executive Officer of Simon & Schuster, added: “We very much look forward to serving the broadest possible segment of the library community in order to bring our ebooks to their patrons, while at the same time we hope libraries will consider ‘Buy It Now’ as a new and viable option to generate revenue for the library and provide a service for their patrons.”
Currently, S&S’s ebook library program runs as follows:
Each Simon & Schuster title acquired by a library for lending is usable for one year from the date of purchase. The library can offer an unlimited number of checkouts during the one-year term for which it has purchased a copy, although each copy may only be checked out by one user at a time. All of Simon & Schuster’s frontlist and backlist titles that are available as ebooks are eligible for the program, with new titles being made available simultaneous with their publication
The American Library Association welcomed the news, with ALA President Courtney Young stating: “From the beginning, the ALA has advocated for the broadest and most affordable library access to e-titles, as well as licensing terms that give libraries flexibility to best meet their community needs. We appreciate that Simon & Schuster is modifying its library ebook program to provide libraries a choice in whether or not to participate in Buy It Now. Providing options like these allow libraries to enable digital access while also respecting local norms or policies.”
If this is a sign of some flexibility and pushback in the dialog between publishers and librarians on ebook lending, then all to the good. To my mind, the Buy It Now program does not seem like an overly aggressive or harmful type of piggyback marketing, but if some U.S. librarians object to it, or have legal/compliance issues with it, then so much the better if it can be bypassed on occasion. All told, it looks like S&S will still get the benefit of a greater number of sales to libraries as well as possible further knock-on sales – with or without Buy It Now.