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Penguin halts libraries' e-book lending, citing security fears

Amid a surge in e-book sales, the publisher raises concerns over insecure book-lending distribution and pulls back on allowing digital-book borrowing.

Penguin Group is the latest company to balk at allowing libraries to lend digital copies of its books to patrons.

The book publisher, whose imprints include Viking, Riverhead Books, and Dutton, among others, has suspended authorization for libraries to distribute its books electronically, citing security concerns.

Tom Clancy's upcoming book, 'Locked On,' will be published by Penguin's G.P. Putnam's Sons imprint next month. It may be among the digital titles unavailable for borrowing from libraries under Penguin's new policy. Penguin

"Due to new concerns about the security of our digital editions, we find it necessary to delay the availability of our new titles in the digital format while we resolve these concerns with our business partners," Penguin spokeswoman Erica Glass said in a statement.

Glass didn't disclose Penguin's specific security concerns. Nor did she answer questions about whether the publisher experienced any intellectual-property theft through library lending. But Glass noted that Penguin intends to resume digital-library lending at some point.

"Penguin's aim is to always connect writers and readers, and with that goal in mind, we remain committed to working closely with our business partners and the library community to forge a distribution model that is secure and viable," Glass said.

The decision only applies to new titles. So, for example, Tom Clancy's upcoming book, "Locked On," which Penguin imprint G.P. Putnam's Sons plans to publish on Dec. 13, won't likely be available for borrowing from libraries.

(Full disclosure: Penguin imprint Portfolio published my book, "Design Is How It Works," last year. But since this decision applies only to new titles, my book is not affected.)

Library lending, of course, has always presented something of a challenge for publishers, as it gives consumers the opportunity to read books for free. Unlike physical books, digital copies never wear out. So libraries never need to replace e-books.

Penguin is not the first publisher to balk at library lending. Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster also don't make digital copies of their latest titles available to libraries for lending. And in February, HarperCollins limited the number of times libraries can lend each of its titles out to 26 before the license to the book expires. That number is based on the average life span of a library book, according to the company.

Most of the major electronic-book devices--including Amazon.com's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and Sony's Reader--enable digital library borrowing.

Update November 23 at 3:13 p.m. PT: Penguin issued a statement, according to The Digital Shift blog, saying:

"OverDrive, a supplier of ebooks to US libraries, removed "Get for Kindle" from its offering. Penguin has subsequently been informed by Amazon that it had not been consulted by Overdrive about the terms of Penguin's agreement with OverDrive. Amazon has undertaken to work with Penguin and OverDrive between now and the end of the year to address Penguin's concerns. Penguin will, as a result, restore the supply of these titles until the end of the year in order to return the availability of older titles to all its digital customers."

Meanwhile, OverDrive posted this statement on its Digital Library Blog:

"'Get for Kindle' for all Penguin eBooks in your catalog has been restored as of this morning. Penguin titles are available for check out by Kindle users and the Kindle format will be available for patrons who are currently on a waiting list for a Penguin title. Upcoming releases remain unavailable."