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White House Announces E-Books Initiative for Low-Income Students

The White House announced last week that, as part of the President’s plan to expand access to education, book publishers will make available over $250 million worth of free e-books to low-income students. At the same time, libraries will be partnering with nonprofits to develop an app that can deliver both these books and materials from the public domain to students across the country. And in a related effort, over 30 communities have committed “to put a library card in every student’s hand,” according to the announcement.

The Authors Guild supports literacy programs—especially programs like this, aimed at encouraging kids to become lifelong readers—and we particularly applaud the President’s intention to benefit underserved communities, whose access to books is key to maintaining a vibrant and diverse literary ecosystem.

The White House and the publishers have advised us that many of the details are still being worked out. But we do have some questions about the program. How will children access the books, and who will provide the hardware? Apple has pledged $100 million to the project, but how will that be allocated? And how will the e-books be kept secure?

The Authors Guild was not a participant in the planning process. As the program develops, we hope that authors will receive recognition for their significant contribution to this initiative, as it is authors’ as well as publishers’ generosity that makes this program possible.

Many publishing agreements do not allow for royalty-free donations for charitable purposes, although some do. In any event, all of the publishers we have spoken with are either asking authors’ permission or allowing authors to opt out.

Many authors have contacted their publishers asking their books to be included in the program. But some have expressed reservations. Authors wishing their books to be kept out of the program are encouraged to contact their publishers, which we have every reason to believe will be cooperative in carrying out their authors’ wishes.