The Tor e-book embargo and reluctant readers

Access, Advocacy, Minors, Social Justice

By: Lisa Hoover

Tor Books, a branch of Macmillan, recently announced an embargo on e-book sales to libraries, which I believe could have significant negative impact on younger readers in particular. The embargo prevents the sale of library e-books for four months. (Readers First, 2018).

locked treasure chestOne of the core values of librarianship is access, particularly equal access, to books and other materials, as well as ideas. An embargo of this sort limits access by those who cannot afford to buy their own books and therefore rely on the public library. I am particularly concerned about the potential impact on younger readers.

Tor is one of the major science fiction and fantasy publishing houses –’s tag line is “Science Fiction. Fantasy. The Universe. And related subjects.” (, 2018) Tor publishes many of the major names and titles in the genre, including Robert Jordan, Steven Erikson, Orson Scott Card, and Brandon Sanderson. Indeed, take a look at the number of Tor books in this recent list of Hugo Award winners.

Covers of The Way of Kings, The Eye of the World, and Ender's GameWith the major success of science fiction and fantasy films based on novels recently including The Hunger Games (not published by Tor) and Ender’s Game (published by Tor), I have long thought that science fiction and fantasy was a great “gate way” genre for reluctant teen readers in particular. I know I have often suggested titles in this genre to friends with children who are reluctant readers. Did he like The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe? Get him the other books in the series. Does she like Star Wars? Does she know there are literally dozens and dozens of Star Wars books? I think teasing readers with finding out what happens to a character, or how characters met, is a great way to attract new readers. And once you get them hooked, you want to be able to point them toward other greats in the genre. This embargo makes that harder to do and potentially leads to reader frustration.

And when we’re talking about kids, they can’t necessarily just go buy it themselves if they don’t want to wait, especially if they are from poorer families. These are exactly the kids who most need the public library and the resources it offers. Therefore, this embargo on Tor e-book sales raises significant concerns regarding access and equality to an important area of literature.

Granted, Tor and Macmillan is a private company, and they’re not obligated to sell to anyone, even if we all agree in principle to a right to read and a right to access. However, Sari Feldman points out that Tor was founded in the 1980s specifically to help expose readers to science fiction and fantasy writers. In honor of this legacy, it seems Tor would be particularly concerned with reaching out to the same readers I am discussing here. Preventing libraries from buying e-books certainly does not aid that goal. It also seems odd given that Tor seems to encourage openness in other ways – I have noticed that many Tor Kindle books carry the notice that “At the Publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.” That seems at odds with a policy of placing embargoes on books.

Not to mention it seems counterproductive – shouldn’t Macmillan want librarians turning new readers on to their books? After all, if my experience with fantasy readers tells me anything it’s that once we are hooked we stay hooked for life.

Given all of this, as a librarian and a buyer of Tor’s books myself I would add my voice to those asking Tor and Macmillan to reconsider this embargo.

For other statements on the Tor embargo visit:


Feldman, S. (2018) A dystopian twist for library e-books. Publisher’s Weekly. Accessed August 20, 2018 at

Readers (2018) A communication to Tor/Macmillan. Accessed August 20, 2018 at (2018) Accessed August 20, 2018 at


Lisa HooverLisa Hoover is a Public Services Librarian at Clarkson University and an Adjunct Professor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton. In addition to her MLS, Lisa holds a JD and an MA in political science. She began her career as an editor and then manager for a local news organization, adjunct teaching in her “spare time.” She teaches courses in criminal procedure, criminal law and constitutional law. She is passionate about 1st Amendment issues. She recently began her career as a librarian, starting at Clarkson University in June 2017 teaching information literacy sessions and offering reference services. Lisa and her husband Lee live in Norwood, New York with their cats Hercules, Pandora, and Nyx, and pug-mix Alexstrasza (Alex). Find her on Twitter @LisaHoover01.

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