Simon & Schuster to Launch Ebook Program With New York City Public Libraries [UPDATED]

Simon & Schuster, among the slowest publishing houses to sell its ebooks to libraries, has finally launched a one-year pilot program making the digital titles available to New York City’s public libraries.

The New York, Brooklyn and Queens public libraries will have access to bestsellers like “The Great Gatsby,” “Lonesome Dove” and “Steve Jobs,” starting April 30, the company said in a press release on Monday.

The latter example there, Walter Isaacson’s blockbuster biography of the late Apple boss, perfectly illustrates the snail’s pace at which Simon & Schuster’s relationship with public libraries has adapted to the digital age.

Simon & Schuster has remained the only of the Big Six publishers to not make its ebooks available to libraries.

In a piece last December on the “Wild West” of digital licensing, NPR interviewed Brian Kenney, the director of the White Plains Public Library, about the unavailability of ebook offerings. The anecdote he recalled? A guy trying to download “Steve Jobs.”

“It was a middle-aged guy, you know, had a high techno-comfort zone, he was carrying his iPad, and he approached the desk carrying the Isaacson bio and said, ‘How do I download this,’ ” Kenney told NPR. “And it was the classic case where I had to explain to them, ‘Well, sir, actually, you can’t download that from here.’ And then ensues the discussion why, as though somehow or other the library was stupid or failing in its job.”

Indeed, if the program is successful (though the parameters by which Simon & Schuster will judge success remain unclear) the company plans to replicate it across the country. And a percentage of each ebook sale will be donated to the libraries, according to an individual with knowledge of the deal.

“This is a path breaking step that will ensure that as ebook readership grows our citizens can enjoy access to books akin to what the library has always provided,” New York Public Library President Tony Marx said in a statement. “Publishers win by growing their audience and readers win with more ebooks to borrow.”