They say it’s an ill wind that blows no good. But what about the wind from an illness?

“There are times in life when differences should be put aside,” writes Macmillan CEO John Sargent in a brief memo (PDF) addressed to librarians, authors, illustrators, and agents. Sargent announces that, effective this Friday, Macmillan will be ending its eight-week embargo on the release of new ebooks and audiobooks to libraries. It will also be “lowering some ebook prices on a short-term basis to help expand libraries [sic] collections in these troubled times.”

This is certainly welcome news in the wake of the sudden coronavirus epidemic shutting down practically any public place where people could gather, including public libraries. Even with the physical locations shut, most libraries still offer ebook checkouts through their websites for those with access to the Internet. With people being advised to sequester themselves in their homes to avoid viral infection (or passing on the viral infection they already have), they’re going to need something to do with all that time—and while video streaming services are certainly available, there’s something to be said for the good old printed word, even if the word is “printed” on an LCD or e-ink screen.

As Andrew Albanese notes in Publishers Weekly, there’s no indication of whether this policy reversion was solely due to coronavirus, or whether it also provided a convenient excuse for Macmillan to end the experiment without appearing to back down. There is also no indication of whether Macmillan will re-impose the scheme when and if the Corona danger has passed sufficiently for libraries to re-open their physical locations. Still, in the sense of not looking a gift horse in the mouth, it’s good to know that new-release Macmillan titles, including popular SF/fantasy imprint Tor, will once again be available to sequestered readers to check out immediately.

It’s also worth pointing out that those who have compatible library cards can also read ebooks, listen to audiobooks or music, or watch TV or movies from Hoopla Digital, a media streaming service that licenses its offerings to public libraries. Although the number of titles you can borrow per month is limited, they are also completely free with a compatible card.

There are a number of other free ebooks out there; for example, Haymarket Books is currently offering ten of its books about social activism as free ebooks. If you run across any other great free ebook offers, please share them in the comments!

Incidentally, if you’ve been worried about me during this epidemic, don’t be; my day job is a work-from-home position that I do from the comfort of my own attic, and I almost never have to leave my house. Indeed, I’ve been staying mostly a homebody for the last several months already, so I’m doing the same thing now as I have been. If anything, I’m just doing more of it.

And it’s really good that libraries are offering ebooks during these times of sequester, when they have to keep their facilities closed, because it’s entirely possible such closures may not become uncommon over the next few years. If this article from the MIT Technology Review is right, we may face the necessity of frequent periods of enforced social distancing—possibly staying distanced for two months out of every three for at least eighteen months—in order to keep corona under control. If we have to stay shut in for all that time, we’re all going to come to depend a lot more on streaming media services and books we can download rather than pick up in person.

We’re already seeing a number of industries take strides toward adjusting to this new reality. Hollywood studios, after insisting for years that they would never stop windowing new-release titles for months from theatrical to home-video release, have suddenly started testing the water. Universal just announced it was going to start digitally renting some new-release theatrical films, including Trolls World TourThe Invisible ManThe Hunt, and Emma, at a suggested retail price of $20 for a 48-hour viewing period, simultaneously with their theatrical release. If those do well, who knows—maybe more could follow. $20 may seem like a bit much for a rental at first glance, but it’s not that much more than the cost of a first-run movie theater ticket—and as with hardcover books, you’re paying a premium for your impatience.

(Perhaps it’s not so surprising after all; as I noted in the piece I linked at the start of the last paragraph, it was the movie theater chains who had the loudest objections—but given that many of them are closing down for social distancing now, they don’t exactly have any room to complain anymore.)

It’s heartening just how many businesses or organizations are suddenly discovering that, when push comes to shove, they actually can make it possible for people to work or participate from home when they never gave a thought to it before. My parents’ tiny church of just a few dozen congregants is setting up streaming for its services so that the most-at-risk elderly don’t have to expose themselves to others to partake, and had never given a thought to making that kind of thing possible before. If our way of life does have to change, or even if it doesn’t, I hope most these changes can stay around.

Photo by cottonbro on

If you found this post worth reading and want to kick in a buck or two to the author, click here.