Access To Books Is An Intersectional Issue

Today join me as I stand at the intersection of socioeconomics, disability and one of my favorite things in the whole world: libraries.

I love reading. I love places with wifi where no one expects me to buy an $8 cup of coffee to sit there and use it. I love public events with authors and local leaders and art exhibits presented free to the public. I love hardcopy books and ebooks and audiobooks. Libraries give people all that and more.

You know who doesn’t love that? Publishers.

Author Ijeoma Oluo, who wrote We Need To Talk About Race, posted a tweet thread about something she learned while she was negotiating the audiobook contract for her next book. She found that a major audiobook distributor (spoiler: It’s Audible) wants to limit the number of audiobook licenses they grant to libraries. In other words, they don’t want to make it possible for libraries to have multiple copies of audiobooks to lend to patrons. What they want is the wait for library copies to be so long that patrons give up and buy the books, so the publishers can make the money off it.

This isn’t new. Ebook publishers are doing the same thing. Starting in November, Macmillan publishing will only sell libraries 1 license for ebooks for the first 8 weeks after release of a new book. That means that the wait time for that bestseller you wanted to read on ebook is gonna go from a few weeks to the back end of never.

This is such an intense type of capitalist fuckery that I can hardly describe it. Audiobooks and ebooks have big upfront costs – editing, layout, recording, producing – but once they’re in the can? Nada. There aren’t even shipping costs. Load them on distribution platforms and everything rolls in as profit. But that’s not enough for publishers. They want even more profit even if it means screwing marginalized people.

Yeah, yeah, some library patrons are people like me who just want to get their hands on a new mystery novel. If that’s who you picture at the library, then this might not seem like a big deal.

But what if you picture a kid who needs a book for a school project and can’t get it another way – because the embargo extends to school libraries, too? Or what if the person waiting on the audiobook is blind and faces financial hardships due to disability and can’t afford books? What if the reader or listener has cognitive disabilities that require adaptive tech like audio or font adjustment or whatever and suddenly their library can’t accommodate them?

Now do you see where this is going?

The libraries are willing to pay for the licenses. They’re happy to buy the product. It’s the publishing industry that is refusing to sell to them. It’s peak bullshit and we should let publishers know that we see them.

Vote with your dollars, folks. That’s all capitalism understands.

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