Blackstone boycott updates

Thank you for your interest in following the Blackstone boycott. Below is a summary of the events of the week. If you are considering a boycott of your own, you are welcome to use materials from our toolkit.

As of Friday Oct 4, 2019

The Berks County Public Library system joined us several weeks ago, announcing their plan to boycott both Blackstone Audio and Simon & Schuster audiobooks. The Reading Public Library, which is part of Berks County, is taking that two steps further and adding Macmillan and Hachette audiobooks to the boycott. Here is the Berks County announcement, including an image of their OverDrive stats related to these publishers’ eAudiobooks.

I also heard this week from Yolo County Library in California, which plans to boycott Blackstone and eBooks and eAudiobooks from Macmillan for six months. Here is Yolo County’s announcement. They also have shared the news on the California Library Association’s listserv.

We are proud to have these library systems join us and thank them for their work on behalf of patron access!

Week ending Friday Sept 20, 2019

A library system has let me know that they will be boycotting audiobooks from Blackstone, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette! They have not yet announced the boycott so I will add them to this site when they have done so.

Since Blackstone answered our questions a couple of weeks ago, I expect Blackstone-specific news to taper off, so plan to post only when there is an update rather than every week. We are starting weekly emails related to boycotts on other publishers, however. If you would like to receive these new email updates, sign up here.

Week ending Friday Sept 13, 2019

A new media mention for the Blackstone boycott

The online news site Digital Trends called this week to talk about the Blackstone boycott as part of a larger article on publisher restrictions. It’s a great read, covering several different aspects of the impact that embargoes have.

ALA takes action!

As you probably know, ALA has launched a petition for libraries to share with the public, asking specifically that Macmillan drop its embargo. If you want to post to your library’s social media and invite your patrons to sign, you can find suggested text (with all the hashtags) here. I asked ALA a question about the petition and learned that it is one step in a larger strategy, so it will be interesting to see how this develops.

Week ending Friday Sept 6, 2019

Anne Fonteneau, VP of Sales at Blackstone talked with us today and offered answers to our two questions:

Q: Will Blackstone publish information for libraries answering questions about the extent of the boycott?

A: Blackstone will not be publishing anything along these lines. Instead their strategy is to reach out to libraries individually, one-on-one. Anne said that if libraries have specific questions, they are welcome to contact their regional sales person or email

Q: Will Blackstone ask its strategic partner to enable embargoed content on the eLending platforms?

A: Blackstone will not approach the partner to ask this. This is speculative on my part, but the contract may overtly specify that eLending platforms are to be excluded. This is troubling, since there is a difference between a contract that says simply “content shall be sold exclusively on platform x” versus one that goes on to say something like “content shall not be sold on competitor platforms, eLending platforms, etc.” Under the first scenario, libraries might be “collateral damage.” Under the second, libraries are targeted.

Patrons are experiencing long hold times on some Blackstone titles and one of our member librarians is trying to catch the patrons in Marketplace and send them an email to let them know why. If you would like to do this too, we have added the email as a template to the toolkit.

New library systems have joined the Blackstone boycott. Their representative librarian states:

“..the seven libraries of the Central Pennsylvania Library District as well as the libraries of the Berks County Library System will be joining in a partial boycott of Blackstone Audio beginning on September 30th and continuing for six months. We are additionally boycotting digital audiobooks from Simon & Schuster during this period, due to their new restrictions on this format.”

The Central Pennsylvania Libraries are:

Welcome Pennsylvania libraries!

Week ending Friday August 30, 2019

My contact at Blackstone has been out all week with strep, so I will attempt to check in again next week. At this point, I am guessing that Blackstone has not taken action on either of our requests (to ask that their partner allow eLending and to publish a statement to libraries explaining the boycott more fully and answering questions). However, we will give it one more try next week and see.

The Blackstone boycott received one media mention this week because I commented on the PW article about the bibliotheca VP communication to libraries regarding publisher restrictions.

Urban Library Council has a member resources page for libraries investigating publisher restrictions. Our Blackstone toolkit is linked on the page. I was also especially happy to see there that the Romance Writers of America organization published an official position that opposes embargoes and supports libraries. It’s counter to the Authors’ Guild position, so I wrote RWA a thank you note.

Week ending Friday August 23, 2019

Little to report on Blackstone proper this week. I reached out this morning, hoping they would be able to update me on our requests, but have not heard back from them.

This PW article discusses publisher restrictions and how Wisconsin Library Consortium (WiLS) is looking hard at indie publications. Like WiLS, WDLC has the Indie Author Project books in our collection and we agree that their circulation is good. We love having simultaneous use titles to offer and are currently promoting them through a curated list in our catalog.

This article in the Chicago Tribune offers an author’s perspective on library restrictions. It’s about Macmillan, not Blackstone, but am putting in the weekly update because it is positive: a nice way to end the week.

Week ending Friday, August 16, 2019 published a post about the boycott and key contributor Michael Blackwell has signed up for weekly email updates saying that he will pass along news from here to his platform. Thanks for helping us keep people notified, Michael!

The New York Times is putting together an article about the increasing eBook restrictions from publishers and they reached out for an interview with me (Carmi) this week. We discussed the background to the Blackstone embargo and how, as an exclusive content deal, it is different than the Macmillan embargo, which overtly attempts to make library borrowing more difficult. The reporter did not have a timeline for the article, and was in information-gathering mode, but I expect to see it in the next couple of weeks.

Jason Esquerra, the Blackstone sales representative for the Northwest visited 13 area libraries in the last couple of weeks. He gathered questions and feedback about the embargo and shared the top issues with San Juan Island Library (a WDLC member). The issues he listed and promised to bring back to his management team are below. Notably, equitable access is missing, although San Juan Island Library flagged it as important.

  • If the embargo is successful and the title becomes popular, will Blackstone extend the 90 day embargo period. Is it open ended based on popularity?
  • If the embargo is successful will Blackstone add 1st tier authors and titles?
  • We would like a statement from the CEO/CFO about this 90 day hold with reassurances that this embargo was not intended to limit access to patrons but rather to increase popularity of lesser known titles in the vast audio-book marketplace.
  • They would like a list of the titles that will be embargoed.

(Jason asked to meet with me on his trip, but I asked instead that he be included on my phone calls with his boss so that we three wouldn’t cross wires.)

Week ending Friday, August 9, 2019

Carmi talked briefly with Blackstone’s National Sales Manager this week. Blackstone continues to discuss a draft press release that would explain their embargo in more detail. It is unclear as to the status of our request that they ask their partner to permit sales on eLending platforms. I will check in again early next week.

Whatcom County Library System and Bellingham Public Library have published a joint article explaining the Blackstone and Macmillan embargoes to our residents. We will be publishing it in the local daily and weekly newspapers as well.

Our boycott partner Timberland Regional Library has let us know that they are receiving positive comments from patrons on their participation in the Blackstone boycott. Patrons have asked if it would help to contact Blackstone directly with their feedback. So, I have added Blackstone’s library contact information to the Staff & Patron Q&A in the toolkit.

Are your libraries publishing information about embargoes for your residents or are you receiving feedback from patrons? If you would like to share, email me the information and I will post it in next week’s update.

Week ending Friday, August 2, 2019

Boycott supporting materials

The boycott officially began yesterday, so over the next few weeks you may be hearing from patrons about titles they are expecting and not finding. You may wish to prepare talking points that staff can use with patrons, or share information more broadly with your community. In either case, you are welcome to use the sample materials here.

Another Texas library joins!

Seguin Public Library in Seguin, TX has joined the boycott this week. (Click on the link to admire their beautiful building)

I sent Blackstone an addendum to our letter of July 18, stating that Seguin Public Library and East Bonner County Library District had joined.

Media mentions

News of the boycott has reached France. To read it in English, open the link in Chrome. A small dialog will show in the upper right of the page that says “Translate?”

Week ending Friday, July 26, 2019

Conversation with Blackstone

I talked with Robin Kennedy, National Sales Manager from Blackstone for some time on Thursday.  She let me know that they received our letter of last week and there have been many executive-level discussions about the boycott.  They plan to ask their strategic partner if they can enable sales on eLending platforms, since these are not direct competitors with the partner. They will get back to us on that.  She also shared with me that some libraries have not overtly joined our boycott, but have canceled standing order plans to protest the embargos. (I was previously unaware of this strategy.)  Finally, we discussed the possibility of a statement from Blackstone to help libraries understand that they are under a non-disclosure agreement, so cannot share much, but are actively working to address library issues.  More on this next week.

More embargos

Macmillan announced Thursday that it will place a two-month embargo on all titles sold to libraries. WDLC Executive Advisory Committee has opened a discussion about it, including whether a boycott would be an appropriate response. Stay tuned.

Another library system joins!

We welcome another library to the boycott:

East Bonner County Library District, Sandpoint, ID

Outreach to patrons

Dan Owens from Neill Public Library, a member of WDLC, elegantly explains the boycott and the complexities of eBook purchases to patrons in his local newspaper.

Feedback from Canada:

A librarian from Toronto Public Library sent us the comment:

will be doing a presentation at ULC next week about the dire state of digital content. Will make sure to include your admirable stand.

E-content in Canadian libraries is more restricted than in U.S. libraries and a coalition of Canadian libraries put together a campaign to educate library users about the impact, including this impressive site:

Media mentions we have discovered:

Week ending Friday, July 19, 2019

First, six library systems have joined the WDLC in the six-month boycott. We are proud to have them with us!

Schertz Public Library, Schertz, TX
Driscoll Public Library, Devine, TX
Real County Public Library, Leakey, TX
Boise Public Library, Boise, ID
Timberland Regional Library, Tumwater, WA
Tolleson Public Library, Tolleson, AZ

We have also heard through the grapevine that other libraries have created their own boycotts (some including Audio CDs as well as eAudiobooks!) and have notified Blackstone directly. We don’t currently know which libraries are doing this, but over 600 individuals have viewed the toolkit since we published it and they spend an average of 11 minutes on the page, so the word is getting out.

Second, we sent the official letters to Blackstone and Overdrive on schedule yesterday (Thursday July 18, 2019). As yet, neither have responded.

Third, the Blackstone National Sales Manager has been in touch with us. She and her team are extremely concerned about the boycott. We sent her an email describing what Blackstone would need to do in order for us to consider lifting the boycott and recommending that Blackstone publish more details about the embargo to help libraries understand it and respond accordingly. She intended as of Wednesday July 17 to present our concerns to the executive team but we have not heard any results.

Fourth, our boycott has been mentioned several times in national publishing and library publications. We encourage you to read them, since they include good, thoughtful analyses of the patterns of behavior we see publishers taking toward libraries.

In sum, we believe we are making progress on our goals to stop the Blackstone embargo and communicate to publishers about the importance of library customers. If you have a comment, a link to share with us, or a question, please send let us know here. Thanks!