Amazon Withholding E-Books From Public Libraries Slights Nation’s Readers
PEN America says company must not exacerbate the 'digital divide' between public library patrons and other readers
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — Amazon’s decision to withhold thousands of e-books and audiobooks from U.S. public libraries indicates that the company is not serious about its obligations to the nation’s readers, PEN America said today.
The Washington Post reports that Amazon—the dominant e-book platform in the United States—does not offer digital versions of the books it publishes to public libraries. This catalogue includes more than 10,000 e-books, as well as tens of thousands of audiobooks. According to the Post’s reporting, Amazon is the only major publisher that flatly refuses to provide libraries with digital collections. Amazon, explaining its rationale in an emailed statement to the paper, cited “safeguarding author interests” as the motivation for its decision.
“The people who rely on public libraries deserve better than second-tier access to e-books. If Amazon wishes to be a major part of the nation’s literary ecosystem, it should recognize that it has a social obligation to ensure its books are available in public libraries in both physical and digital formats.” said James Tager, PEN America’s director of research. “Public libraries exist because we recognize the importance of an informed, engaged, and thoughtful citizenry. The decisions that companies like Amazon make will lay the foundation for access to literature in the 21st century. A public library patron isn’t just another customer. We call on Amazon to immediately set a new course, one that prioritizes the placement of digital books in the hands of library patrons over the placement of public money in Amazon’s pockets.”
Amazon announced in December that it is in negotiations to sell e-books to the Digital Public Library of America, which offers technology to libraries. These negotiations, however, reportedly do not include Amazon’s audiobooks from Audible or from Amazon’s self-published books. According to the Post, such a deal would not help most of America’s public libraries, which distribute e-books through a different platform.
The American Library Association has called digital sales bans “the worst obstacle for libraries,” and a “particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide.” Digital borrowing is growing at public libraries, with an estimated 90 percent offering online loans as of 2018. Digital borrowing has also surged during the pandemic.
To learn more about PEN America’s work on ensuring equitable access to digital books, see our 2020 statement on e-readers in American prisons.