Proposed Deal Still Locks 40,000 Audiobooks Away from Libraries & Independent Bookstores
Last week The Hill revealed that Amazon’s years-long ban on libraries loaning its accessible books might finally be loosening thanks to the hard work of library advocates. Amazon is reportedly working on a limited deal with a non-profit vendor that would allow libraries to purchase licenses for some of its ebooks. Unfortunately, that deal does not include audiobooks and also does not meet our core demand: that Amazon simply sell its ebooks and audiobooks to libraries and independent bookstores directly.
Audiobooks such as Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are part of a collection of over 40,000 titles which Amazon’s Audible refuses to sell to libraries. During the pandemic, audiobook and ebook lending are frequently the only way for low income people to access books.
"Amazon’s whole business model is about domination, surveillance, and exploitation. They have weaponized data to destroy small businesses and prevent their own workforce from organizing—it’s no surprise that these same tactics are being used against libraries," said Lia Holland (she/they), a digital rights advocate with Fight for the Future. "In Amazon’s future, libraries and indie bookstores would become obsolete—replaced by the convenient monopolies of Kindle and Audible. Amazon’s profits grow if they control access to essential human knowledge and information."
A petition calling on Amazon to end its war on libraries and demanding an antitrust investigation into the company collected over 15,000 signatures at the start of the month.
Aggressive restriction of circulation for 40,000 Audible Exclusives is only the tip of the audiobook iceberg for Amazon, which uses its market power to impose embargoes of 90 days to 12 months on new audiobook releases, even through vendors that are not owned by Amazon. These embargoes cripple the ability of libraries to provide new audiobooks to low income and disabled people, and force independent bookstores to miss out on sales during the most marketable moments of a book’s existence.
"Audiobooks are more than just a diversion in the car or on a run," said John Chrastka (he/him), Executive Director of the EveryLibrary Institute. "They allow visually impaired people to enjoy literature, help people with certain cognitive disabilities use educational materials, and offer a gateway to reading for younger listeners. Libraries should be able to lend any audiobook in order to ensure that everyone has access, regardless of income or ability.”
"Controlled Digital Lending, where libraries can purchase an ebook or audiobook and lend it to patrons the same as any other book, is a common sense policy in an increasingly digital world," added Evan Greer (she/her), Deputy Director of Fight for the Future. "Amazon may be one of the most egregious examples, but publishing companies in general need to stop spending so much time, money, and energy keeping their books out of people’s hands. Our message is simple: just let libraries buy books!"