Penguin Reaffirms Support for ALA; Spurns OverDrive

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 - 06:14

Today is the end of Penguin books on OverDrive, but perhaps the start of new possibilities. In an announcement yesterday, the publisher gave notice that as of today, Penguin books would no longer be available on OverDrive. This latest escalation follows the earlier withdrawal of Kindle loans through OverDrive (later restored and now made more difficult again) and the pulling of any new books and audiobooks from the popular library digital loan service.

In the statement released by Penguin, however, the publishing group reaffirmed its commitment to ALA and libraries. “In these ever-changing times, it is vital that we forge relationships with libraries and build a future together. . . . Our ongoing partnership with the ALA is more important than ever, and our recent talks with ALA leadership helped bring everything into focus.”

My interpretation of this is that Penguin is joining others in expressing dissatisfaction with the OverDrive model. Despite OverDrive CEO Steve Potash being reported as feeling “bullish” about library lending for this year, there seem to be some points of contention. One clue to the root causes can be seen in Penguin again revisiting Kindle loans. OverDrive explained the new restrictions in an email to customers: “Penguin eBooks loaned for reading on Kindle devices will need to be downloaded to a computer then transferred to the device over USB. . . . Penguin eBooks will no longer be available for over-the-air delivery to Kindle devices or to Kindle apps.”

I spoke with Steve Potash at ALA Midwinter about the Penguin/Kindle issue. When asked about the terms of the Kindle loan contract and how Penguin could, if under contract, pull Kindle loans that had been sold by OverDrive, he told me that there wasn’t a specific contract for lending books on the Amazon devices. And this may be the real issue. Amazon has been making waves (and enemies) in the publishing/bookselling worlds. Amazon has been publishing books, and is even opening physical bookstores. It might be that OverDrive—and, unfortunately, its library customers—are collateral damage in this larger fight between Amazon and the traditional book giants.

In the end, what does this mean for your library? Beyond the immediate concerns about the continuance agreement being worked out between Penguin and OverDrive, I think this reveals some new details about the digital landscape in which we find ourselves. Despite our desire to jump from start to full ebook access, we are going to have to go through the same growth process as the music and movie industries (a process that is ongoing and still has plenty of bumps in the road). We may be need to adopt short-term models to get things going again for library lending with Penguin.

As the title of this post notes, Penguin is reaffirming its desire to work with libraries; the publisher is just breaking ties with a for-proft company that happens to be the largest provider of ebook loans to libraries.