Wednesday, October 03, 2012

E-books in Libraries: They Still Don't Get It

This is a guest post from a librarian who emailed me about his dissatisfaction with the way the ebook future for libraries is shaping up.

I agree with him 100%. He didn't want to use his full name because he might get into trouble at work, and I've changed his first name to make sure this doesn't get linked back to him.

So here's Librarian X....

Librarian X: Before we get started, I'm going to step down from speaking in my official title because I'm going to use some language that could get me in trouble at my next annual review. My name is X. I am a published author and I work for a mid-sized library system in South Carolina and I'm going to talk about the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and their current pissing contest with the American Library Association. There has been a post about ebooks and libraries here already but I wanted to bring up some points that have come to light since and were not talked about.

For those of you who have known librarians, you know weren't not a confrontational sort and it takes a lot to get us worked up but we, as a profession, have about hit our proverbial boiling point. The current President of the ALA, Maureen Sullivan, along with a committee have had numerous meetings with the Big 6 publishers in efforts to reach some form of standardized agreement on pricing and loaning of e-books. As a result of these talks, we've had HarperCollins impose a twenty-six loan limit on a e-book before we have to buy it again. Funnily, we don't have to buy print copies after they have been read X number of times. HC has tried to argue that since e-books don't wear out, they never have to be replaced. Which begs the question why are e-books being treated in the same way as a physical item? You can see how well this strategy has worked for the MPAA and RIAA.

Random House tripled the cost of all their books so, for me to buy a copy of a $7.99 backlist title now costs me $23.97. To buy a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey would cost you $9.99 - that same copy costs a library $47.85. Hachette, beginning October 1, will be increasing the price of their titles by an even greater margin from early accounts. Oh, and Hachette won't sell frontlist titles to libraries at all - we can only buy backlist (and very old backlist at that). Which drew the reply from Sullivan: “Now we must ask, with friends like these...?” I couldn't have said it better myself.

Now the AAP is "disappointed" by the ALA's open letter. Let me quote the relevant part of their response:

"Publishers recognize libraries’ interest in serving their customers and we want books to have the widest distribution possible.  The issues surrounding e-lending, however, are not as simple as [ALA president Maureen]. Sullivan claims.  Publishers support the concept of e-lending but must solve a breadth of complex technological, operational, financial and other challenges to make it a reality.  Each publishing company is grappling individually with how to best serve the interests of its authors and readers, protect digital intellectual property rights and create this new business model that is fair to all stakeholders.  And while the 9000-plus library systems’ non-profit status permits them to convene, debate and reach consensus on these issues, commercial publishers cannot likewise come together due to antitrust restrictions."

This is bullshit. Made even greater so by that they are now trying to use the DoJ lawsuit as a reason for it. Publishers (and I mean the Big 6) do want the widest distribution possible for their books - just as long as they are getting paid for every single person who reads that copy. The elephant in the room is that publishers don't like libraries. They cost them sales.

"And while the 9000-plus library systems’ non-profit status permits them to convene, debate and reach consensus on these issues" 

I nearly pissed myself laughing when I read that. Do these people even know a damn thing about what they're writing about? It is a minor miracle within a single department in a library building to get consensus on anything and, yet, we seem to have this magical ability to organize and become a mythical threat like the homosexual agenda. No, I'm afraid the real reason is that your policies against us have become the proverbial straw.

They do have one thing to think about though: 9,000+. At the rate of bookstore failures, how long will it be before the library becomes an individual's main source of reading material? Since the publishers seem to want to prop up their dead tree business as long as possible, dicking around with libraries is not a good decision. We tend to have long memories. What does this mean for e-books? It means that no one person is going to buy everything they want to read - especially in the economic climate we are currently in. They can't afford to buy it and they can't get it through the library so they don't bother reading it. Sure, publishers will say, they weren't going to buy it anyway so what? The what is that your author now has an even smaller number of people reading them which doesn't bode well for follow-up books, you who are so concerned about the bottom line.

If you don't sell us your frontlist authors, what will happen in time is that other authors will show up who will take their place who are just as good if not better and the odds are that these others will be self-published or publish through a smaller publisher who doesn't view libraries as enemies. Speaking personally, I don't buy e-book titles from any of the Big 6 any longer. Why bother? I can buy titles from smaller publishers and authors for less than $10 through OverDrive and, in my studies of my circulation figures on those titles, they circulate just as well as the more expensive ones. Why should I care? With my purchasing decisions, I'm buying more titles and showing a return on investment far sooner. My boss is happy and I'm more than pleased to be doing my part to twist the knife even if only a little.

"Commercial publishers cannot likewise come together due to antitrust restrictions." 

Wow. So you're still trying to justify the agency model? Try some common fucking sense. It isn't hard. Cheaper books = more copies sold. More copies sold = better chance of said author selling more copies of their work in the future. If a buy a copy of a e-book and it suddenly starts getting lots of holds on it, I buy more. If a new title comes out from a author and his previous one circulated very well, I buy more copies. All libraries work this way.

Jesus Christ! Libraries are not out to destroy publishing. We kind of have a vested interest in publishing continuing in the future... but it doesn't necessarily have to be with the current Big 6. We would like nothing more than to buy all your books and champion your authors to as many people as we can but you're doing your damnest to cut off your nose to spite your face.

Joe sez: I'm currently working on the third novel in the Codename: Chandler series which is overdue to Thomas & Mercer, but when I'm finished then Blake Crouch and I are going to finish up creating purchase orders and library contracts and offer our catalogs to library systems as I described in my previous post. $3.99 per title, the library owns it forever without DRM and can make copies.

I've also gotten lots of emails from authors who want to offer libraries the same terms.

The problem is organization. We need someone to act as a liaison between publishers and libraries to run something like this on a big scale. And I believe that person should be paid. How big a job this will be, and how much of a cut they deserve, can be discussed in the comments section. But indie authors need to come together to offer libraries their books, and dealing with 9000 different library systems would be a full time job.

As for my personal view on how publishers deal with libraries, I think Librarian X heaped an appropriate amount of scorn upon them. Greed is hurting libraries, and authors. The Big 6 seem to think they still have control over the industry, and readers, including librarians, will pay whatever high price they charge.

The Big 6 are wrong. More and more libraries are going to stop buying your expensive, expiring ebooks. And that will accelerate the end of the bestseller I predicted years ago.

Libraries want ebooks. As authors, we may soon be in a position to give them our books at fair prices.

132 comments:

TK Kenyon said...

Bravo, Joe!

Thank you Librarian X for writing about this problem so very well.

Overdrive seems large and difficult, but it's my next goal.

It would be really great if Smashwords could make a deal with them.

TK Kenyon

MySpace is still around, right? My Amazon profile. Tweet with me! I tweet links to free e-fiction on the web and happy thoughts! A great place to see what I’m up to, writing-wise. All my reviews on Amazon:



David Darracott said...

Please, count me in. There are few things I'd like better than to get my books into libraries. Any organization of independents that facilitates this process has my support, and I'm sure, the support of many other writers who find it difficult to get shelf space in any form. Whether in libraries or independent bookstores, we want shelf space. We have the products, but it's like pulling your own wisdom teeth to get placement from people who refuse to accept change. We, the writers, have changed. We employ whatever new technology or delivery system that gets our work to readers. I'll support any organization that represents the true interests of writers in distributing our work.

Robert Michael said...

So, did I understand that right? The Big 6 charge 3x the RETAIL price to libraries and then ask them to buy a new copy every time it is loaned more than 20 times?

If that is true, there is no reason libraries should deal with them. That is highway robbery, complete snobbery, and obvious collusion. They never learn, do they?

In their greed and their pursuit of the almighty peso, publishers are making the case for anti-trust suits and government regulation of their business practices.

Maybe calmer heads will prevail and realize that libraries are an extension of an ad campaign. They are better dollars spent than half their launch parties and agent luncheons.

The equivalent would be all those Amazon Select authors who can't wait to put their books on free for their requisite five days. They are looking for a mystical "bump" in their rankings to propel their paid sales. A resultant effect of this is that those who download the book for free find they enjoy the author, and buy the back list or the new edition when it comes out. The same marketing strategem works with libraries.

I first read a Stephen Hunter from a recommendation from a friend. I read his copy of DIRTY WHITE BOYS. Then, I got a copy of BLACK LIGHT from the library. I have purchased 5 of his other novels since then, including HOT SPRINGS and HAVANNA.

I am not alone. This phenomenon has happened with my daughter and my son as well. They pick up a book at a library and then the next thing you know, we are buying them the whole series.

Publishing companies need to smarten up and realize that the libraries are a win-win situation. The publisher gets a requisite and comfortable amount of sales, can build a rapport, and gets free marketing help for their authors. DUH!

Suzan Harden said...

From a business perspective, I hope the big publishers continue to unload a entire clip of an AK-47 into their collective feet.

But as a homeschooling parent who depends on my local library to supplement materials, publishers' attitudes piss me off.

And on top of it all, I'm trying to teach my son the value of reading and money. He's already figured out that he can get six or seven self-published e-books for $20. It won't be long before he starts into my adult SF/F books at home because he can't afford publishers' prices and the genres he likes aren't available at the library because the library couldn't afford the books either.

What's going to happen when he wants to share the stories he loved as a child with my grandchildren and nothing's availble because the publishers are bankrupt, the libraries don't have copies and the rights of the books are God knows where.

Sorry for soapboxing, Joe. The short-term thinking drives me insane.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm going to post about the concept of ownership sometime.

In a nutshell, I used to have thousands of CDs. I had them on my wall, and loved looking at them, even if I hadn't listened to some of them in years.

Along came the iPod. I wound up digitizing all my music.

Now I look at iTunes, and all my mp3s, in the same way I coveted CDs.

I have a Kindle, and a growing ebook collection. The weird thing is, after I read a book, I want to own it. Maybe as a souvenir. Maybe because seeing the cover when I'm browsing my Kindle jogs my memory. Maybe because someday I'll read it again.

In other words, I like owning. Which means that even if I get an ebook from a library, once it expires I'll want to go out and get a copy.

I don't believe I'm the only one like this. When I like an author, I acquire her entire backlist. Used to be in paper. Now it's digital.

Publishers don't have anything to fear from libraries. They help find readers. They may inhibit some sales, but they encourage sales in others.

There will always be people who don't buy media. In other words, not all readers are customers. But the more readers you have, the more customers you have.

Dan said...

Re: the indie library liason - It seems to me that the structure would be straightforward: indie publishers sign up for library distribution for $25/year, and then the liason works with distributors and with libraries directly to get the submitted books available at reasonable cost (whatever - say your $3.99).

So, no commission for the liason, I think, just fee-for-service.

Infrastructure would be electronic, obviously, and I think there should be some sort of print marketing, too. It sounds like paper books are a ripoff for libraries, too. Indies could get their print books to libraries more affordably, as well.

Cyn Bagley said...

Actually, I want my ebooks in libraries. I wouldn't put a limit on how many lends. (I have my stuff on Smashwords and Amazon.)

Sorry that you are having such problems. Another mess by the Big 6. sigh

TeriB said...

"So, no commission for the liason, I think, just fee-for-service."

While I agree that the system should be as simple as possible, that isn't going to happen. Possibly a tiered fee-for-service system would work; more than a certain number of 'books' sold and you'd have to go up a level and pay more.

Otherwise the library liason could not make a profit. The bandwidth costs to fill requests for reasonably successful mid-list author in the US alone would easily be $25 a year.

Jude Hardin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Perry Wilson said...

I would be happy to put my books in libraries. I have opted into the Library Direct channel on Smashwords, but no purchases yet.

I'd be happy to pay an annual fee for this kind of service.

Lisa said...

I think this is excellent. I abhor what the big 6 are doing and wish more authors would make deals like this. As a reader, reviewer and novice writer who has no intention of going the traditional publishing route, I see a desperate need for this change. My only true regret is that I don't think I would qualify to be a liason to help make this happen. I would love to somehow be involved with this project though. Drop me an email at lisapottgen@justanotherrabidreader.info if there is anything I could do to help with this endeavor.

Sean McCartney said...

I am a teacher and libraries are some of my kids only avenue for getting books. My publisher is going out of business and I would like to get involved in the library system. Count me in.

Sean

Anonymous said...

There is an even bigger problem when considering loaning ebooks via libraries.

It's an ebook. You only need one library. Not 9000.

Libraries are under funding pressure worldwide. While relatively few have closed, they have cut staff and opening hours and tried to justify their existence in a digital age by offering DVD loans, selling coffee and hosting more community events.

Ebooks give people even less reason to visit a library. So why have a library at all? That's the fundamental problem that libraries are grappling with today.

Like traditional publishers, they are under pressure to change or disappear.

It's very likely that a private distributor like Amazon will take over the function of libraries. You can already download (not borrow) every classic out of copyright text.

A private company taking a lead in elending is bad for brick and mortar libraries but there's no drawback for readers. With any luck it will be good for authors too in the same way that independent publishing has increased author royalty rates. Authors are presently paid a pittance for lending rights and most of it goes to big name authors anyway.

If libraries are on the decline, it makes no sense to give them the power to decide how ebooks should be loaned because one thing they probably won't do is agree that you only need one ebook lending library to run an efficient ebook lending system.


Lee Child said...

Joe, I'm not sure I'm understanding you. Help me out here.

You seem to say next time I want to read a Konrath title, I can get it from site "A" for free, or site "B" for $2.99. Why would I ever even visit site "B"?

Your sales would be capped at 9,000. Or less, given a little gray-area file sharing between systems. Or more, you say, if someone wanted to "own" that file afterward. But how many would that be? A few hundred?

Seems to me that the "libraries are teaser ad campaigns" meme depends heavily on the physicality of paper books. Sure, when you're hooked on a series and the wait list is 200 long, you might go buy a copy. But with infinite e-copies there will never be wait lists.

I think you're proposing a scenario where no sane consumer ever buys a book again.

Joe Konrath said...

You seem to say next time I want to read a Konrath title, I can get it from site "A" for free, or site "B" for $2.99. Why would I ever even visit site "B"?

I've found that the "what if" game isn't very accurate, or helpful. It's a thought experiment, and not a good one. On the surface, it seems like a good argument. But probing deeper reveals that it isn't a new fear, and has never been a problem.

We've always had libraries. They not only lend books, but music and movies as well. Yet books, music, and movies still sell to consumers. Assuming ebooks would somehow be different is a big leap of faith.

I have a library card. My library lends ebooks. Yet I've bought hundreds. I'm not the only one.

I can get any ebook I want to, for free, via torrents and file sharing. Yet I still buy ebooks. I'm not the only one.

Your sales would be capped at 9,000.

I'll play devil's advocate and pretend you're correct. Libraries will somehow be able to topple Amazon and every other publisher and retailer, and no ebooks will ever again be sold directly to consumers, only to libraries who loan them freely.

Let's say there are 25,000 libraries worldwide. I've got a backlist of 40 titles. They're worth, at $4 each in this market, 4 million dollars.

I can comfortably write three more every year--another $300k a year. Less than I'm making now, but a comfortable living.

If the library market doesn't happen worldwide, fine. I'd still make $1.5 mil on US library sales of my entire backlist, and then be able to sell my ebooks to foreign customers. I've sold 100,000 self-pubbed ebooks in Europe, and the market is getting bigger.

And ebooks aren't the only way to exploit rights. I've made nice money selling paper on my own, and audio and film rights.

Even if libraries somehow take over the world and crush all competition, I'll make a nice living.

BTW, moat self-pubbed ebook authors would be thrilled to sell 9000 copies of a $4 ebook. That's $36k--a bigger advance than I got for Whiskey Sour or Afraid, and more money then the vast majority of authors earn.

The mean annual household income in the US is $51k.

So a writer doing two books a year, selling only to libraries, is doing well above middle class.

I think you're proposing a scenario where no sane consumer ever buys a book again.

I don't agree with your premise. It isn't supported by the past.

There was fear that music recording ala Edison would ruin musicians' careers, because no one would ever pay to see them play live again.

There was fear motion pictures would destroy live theater.

Fear TV would prevent people from watching movies in theaters and sporting events in person.

Fear that cassette tapes would ruin the music industry because people could make copies.

Fear that VCRs would destroy both TV and film.

Fear that mp3s would stop music from selling.

Fear the Internet would destroy everything.

But in every case, music, movies, and television survived.

Remember the hysteria when Amazon began selling used books? Authors and publishers went ballistic. "But it will destroy new book sales!"

Didn't happen.

Assuming libraries will be the only place to get ebooks, or that no one will ever buy them if libraries offer them for free, just isn't supported by facts or history.

Dave S. said...

Lee Child said...
Joe, I'm not sure I'm understanding you. Help me out here.

You seem to say next time I want to read a Konrath title, I can get it from site "A" for free, or site "B" for $2.99. Why would I ever even visit site "B"?


My wife and kids went out to dinner last Saturday. There was a lady at the restaurant making balloon animals. She was great. I gave her a tip even though I bet that the place paid her to be there as well. I could see myself doing that for a good book, too.

I think you're proposing a scenario where no sane consumer ever buys a book again.

There's also a convenience factor. Since the book sellers are also the ones making the e-book readers, it is always going to be easier to get an ebook by buying it that it is to get it from the library.
Selling books isn't the only story-teller business model that is possible. Joe likes to talk about in-book advertising. I'd bet with enough library circulation, you could make some decent money on the xxxxxx series fan club ($12.99/year membership). Think like the musicians too, sell t-shirts. And let's not forget; how many authors would be excited if they sold 9,000 copies of their novel?

Lee Child said...

Joe says, " ... that no one will ever buy them if libraries offer them for free, just isn't supported by facts or history."

But all those facts and all the history you quote are tied to physical product, which was always in limited supply.

This is a new paradigm with no physical product and an infinite supply.

If I can legally and conveniently one-click a download for $2.99, or legally and conveniently one-click it for free, which am I going to choose?

And ... we've seen numerous changes already, so why assume the current Balkanized library system will endure? Why won't we have just 50 state systems in the US? Or one federal system? Why won't a couple hundred cover the world?

Why make so many unexamined assumptions?

Robert Michael said...

I don't usually say this, but, Amen, Joe. Libraries have been around for a long time, why would they suddenly become a threat to the industry?

As far as the liason between small epublishers and the library systems, I think a small national department could fit the bill. But, I like your entrepreneurial spirit. A small business or several small businesses competing with one another for reach, quality of service, and pricing would be a good way to put some of those 8%+ to work.

We need more ideas like this in our country. Create jobs by creating new businesses. What a concept.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

I like this idea and I want to participate. I would love clarification on one point. Right now, my library offers books for free (ebooks and paper). However, there is often a wait. Sometimes the wait isn't worth it and I buy the book.

If we offer unlimited copies of our ebooks to libraries, then anyone who wants any of our books can get them and get them RIGHT NOW. With ebooks they probably don't even have to leave the house!

They can check it out again as soon and as often as they want. In essence, with a little work they own the book for free forever.

If I have my entire catalog with a library, I'm not sure how this will result in demand for purchasing my titles from people who use the library.

Of course, there is word of mouth from those reading via the library. Yet, those people may just say, "Dude, get them all free at the library, no waiting!"

Hmmm. Sounds a lot like torrents aka advertising. (I may be answering my own question just by writing it)

However, there is a big difference between the number of people who will go to the effort to figure out how to download from a torrent and those that will use the (legal) library system.

I suppose I should think of the income from library sales as money in the bank and the books being out in the library world as advertising.

To find a downside, I would have to assume that everyone would quit buying books and only get books at the library, which isn't going to happen. Some will, most won't and as Joe stated some may get them at the library and then buy them afterward.

Plus, I have loads and loads of other products (live events, classes, retreats, etc.) that the books advertise for me.

Ok, I think I have wrapped my mind around it now! :)



Jason said...

You seem to say next time I want to read a Konrath title, I can get it from site "A" for free, or site "B" for $2.99. Why would I ever even visit site "B"?

C'Mon Lee, really? For decades and decades readers have been able to borrow the vast majority of all Big 6 books published from libraries for free...and yet book sales have still been strong over these same years. Why would it be any different for e-books?

Here are just a few reasons I can think of off the top of my head why I would buy an e-book from store "B" for $2.99 instead of store "A" for free:

- I like the author very much and want to financially support her through the purchase of her e-book.

- I like to own e-books by my favorite authors so I can share them with friends/family or read them again at my leisure.

- With a full time job, 4 kids, and a select soccer team to coach it sometimes takes me longer than 3 weeks to read a book. Buying = no expiration date.

- If a library e-book I'm reading does expire before I'm done with it, I would have no problem going to site "B" to purchase the e-book to finish it right away vs. waiting in line (or waiting a mandatory day) to e-check it out again.

- I ask for and get Amazon and Barnes & Noble gift cards for birthdays, X-Mas, etc., then use them to purchase e-books.

- I often use library e-books to test out an author, then will switch to purchasing the rest of his e-books if I like him enough and if they are priced reasonably.

I could go on, but you get the point. You don't honestly think Joe or any other author's sales would be capped at 9,000 if they sell their e-books directly to libraries...do you? If so, then I'm very disenchanted. I thought the author of a series as amazing, intelligent, and consistently good as the Reacher series would have more common sense than that.

I'm having trouble believing you're really him.

Dave S. said...


Lee Child said...

But all those facts and all the history you quote are tied to physical product, which was always in limited supply.


Um no. I don't think they were. Can somebody please put in a box and send me one 'live performance by a musician' and one 'live television broadcast' and one 'sporting event' ( I prefer baseball, and require that it include a beer and hotdog vendor...They taste better at a ballpark).

Robert Michael said...

Lee said: "This is a new paradigm with no physical product and an infinite supply."

Some library systems are limiting the number of borrows at a time. In that case, it would be the same as borrowing a printed copy. The borrower is loaned one copy of the book for a specific time and it is not available to loan unless the library has purchased multiple copies of that book.

That seems the most fair distribution to all "stakeholders" in the equation. The publisher gets their 9000 plus sales (some library systems have dozens of branches and each branch will want a copy oftentimes), they get the assurance that those copies will not be an infinite number of borrows, the library system gets to operate more efficiently with the ability to give their customers a large volume of front list books.

The only sticking point at that juncture would be the price at which the publisher will sell their erights to the library systems. Three times the cost of retail would only seem fair if that would be the only required purchase they would have to make. In addition, at prices like that, the libraries could demand other free considerations in lieu of the price jabbing--author tours, signage, sponsorship of library endowments, contests for library patrons, etc. Instead of the libraries fulfilling the costs of these matters, publishers could take a hand in it and use it as a creative and inexpensive way to continue the relationship with the end users--readers. Creative marketing sometimes wins hearts and moves wallets.

Just some ideas. Go hug a librarian today, will ya?

Dave S. said...

Oh, yeah. I also forgot about the piracy sites on the Internet. Every e-book that is the least bit popular (and then some) is already available for free on the Internet.

Joe Konrath said...

If I can legally and conveniently one-click a download for $2.99, or legally and conveniently one-click it for free, which am I going to choose?

I posted earlier in the thread about ownership. People like owning things, and libraries are often a gateway drug to purchases.

I've also stated many times that consumers care about cost and convenience. Free certainly is more attractive than paid. But the ability to surf Amazon using your Kindle is a huge sales tool.

Perhaps someday there will be a Kindle Fire ap that will let me download library ebooks, but somehow I doubt it.

Media has become increasingly digital. We can stream Netflix, have cable TV and Hula YouTube, and I've rented many Amazon Prime shows.

But Blu Ray still sells. iTunes still makes a fortune, even though there are many ways to get free digital music.

why assume the current Balkanized library system will endure? Why won't we have just 50 state systems in the US? Or one federal system? Why won't a couple hundred cover the world?

You're stretching here, Lee. If it happens, I'd be surprised. But worrying it might happen is worrying an asteroid is going to hit earth next year.

But if something like this did happen, and it was no longer worthwhile to sell to libraries, then we change the terms, or stop offering ebooks to them.

Christy Pinheiro said...

Got my first PO last week from a library in order to sell direct. They bought 5 of my books.

I love it. It's like free publicity for me. I think that creating a company that brings authors together to sell books directly to libraries without issues from a middleman is a great idea.

Christy Pinheiro said...

People like owning things, and libraries are often a gateway drug to purchases.

I've found tons of my favorite authors through libraries. Melanie Rawn, James Herriott, etc. I've bought all of their books based on the first ones I got from my local library.

J. R. Tomlin said...

I'll simply repeat what I just tweeted: What IS it with publishers and the AAP going after libraries? Libraries are how people FIND new authors. This is STUPID! [end of tweet]

I am going to look into Overdrive which I haven't because it is rather intimidating. But unlike the big publishers I WANT my books there. Libraries are our FRIENDS.

Lee Child said...

Jason said, "For decades and decades readers have been able to borrow the vast majority of all Big 6 books published from libraries for free...and yet book sales have still been strong over these same years. Why would it be any different for e-books?"

Because books used to be physical. Long wait lists frustrated customers, prompting their second choice, i.e. purchase. E-books are different. No wait list, no prompt to purchase.

"I like the author very much and want to financially support her through the purchase of her e-book."

OK, the working-for-tips theory. No, thanks.

"I like to own e-books by my favorite authors so I can share them with friends/family or read them again at my leisure."

You'll be able to do that anyway. Will libraries re-insert DRM on Joe's titles? I don't think so.

"With a full time job, 4 kids, and a select soccer team to coach it sometimes takes me longer than 3 weeks to read a book. Buying = no expiration date."

Why assume libraries will continue with expiration, after a one-time purchase? Why would they?

"I often use library e-books to test out an author, then will switch to purchasing the rest of his e-books if I like him enough and if they are priced reasonably."

Why? The tip theory again? Charity? What, exactly?

"You don't honestly think Joe or any other author's sales would be capped at 9,000 if they sell their e-books directly to libraries...do you?"

Yes, until I see a model that moves otherwise.

"I thought the author of a series as amazing, intelligent, and consistently good as the Reacher series would have more common sense than that."

Thanks for the kind words. But you've heard of Reacher because I have been right enough over the last 15 years to make it happen. Why assume I'm wrong now?

And Dave S asks, "Can somebody please put in a box and send me one 'live performance by a musician' and one 'live television broadcast' and one 'sporting event' ... "

You make my point for me. A live performance by a musician is one physical being at one physical venue at one moment in time. Ditto a sporting event, and by definition a live TV broadcast. Their origins are entirely physical and finite in supply.

You're not thinking clearly. Don't base new thinking on old assumptions.

Dave S. said...

Lee Child Said..
OK, the working-for-tips theory. No, thanks.


What do you think you've been doing for the past 15 years? It's not like you spent time sending job applications around, and once a publisher sent you an advance, you started writing your books.

You wrote your stories, and hoped somebody would buy them. It's just that currently your readers have to leave the tip before they get the story rather than after.

Anonymous said...

Librarian X, I really can say I know what you mean. I've been a public (and now college) librarian for over thirty years; seven years ago I went part-time as a librarian so I could write. I've self-pubbed one book, with my second coming out late this month.

I remember a time when publishers actually played nice with libraries. A time when we had a shared, collegial goal of bringing books to people. What Big 6 publishers are doing today is scurrilous. Do they think we're so stupid (or so nice) that we don't know we're being royally screwed? And given our profession's legacy, we'd probably take that crap if it was just us--the librarians--being kicked around. But it's our patrons taking the brunt of their unconscionable greed, and Big 6 misjudges us "nice" librarians if they think we won't fight back.

I doubt my library will read this blog, but just in case, I'm going anonymous here (something I don't do) because of my blunt language: publishers I once had great respect for have proven they've become a bunch of soulless bastards. I have the 'pleasure' of seeing that both as a librarian and as a writer.

Signed Anonymous Pissed-Off Librarian

Lee Child said...

Dave S said, "It's just that currently your readers have to leave the tip before they get the story rather than after."

And that's the way I like it, because currently the before-the-story rate is close to 100%, and I'm guessing the after-the-story rate would be close to 0%, human nature being what it is. I mean, I enjoy this blog, but I don't send Joe a tip every week or so. Do you?

Dave S. said...

@Lee Child

Not exactly, but I have bought a couple of Joe's books as my way of saying thanks for this website. I even read one of them to confirm what I suspected. "Not in my genre, didn't enjoy."

William Ockham said...

Lee Child lays out a nice little "just so" tale, but it is hogwash.

What's the difference between Amazon and your local public library?

Who spends more on advertising?

Who has more computer infrastructure?

I live in Houston, Texas. There is no way that my library system is ever going to be able to supply this city with ebooks. It won't happen. They will be supplying ebooks to the same people they supply books to. People who can't afford to buy (kids, old people, the poor) and/or have more time than money.

Here's something that writers forget. The people who really pay the freight in publishing are the people who buy and read lots of books. That is true in physical books and ebooks. It's even more true in ebooks. There is real data out there. You can look it up. I suggest starting at pewresearch.org.

Here's the key fact that shouldn't be overlooked. The people who buy lots of books have disposable income. You have to money be able to buy lots of books. The investment they make in time taken reading your book is worth more than the cost of the book. Always. We read because we love it. We don't mind paying. And most of us learned to love it in a library when we were kids. Cutting off libraries is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Jason said...

Lee, you asked why any sane person would purchase e-books when they could get them for free. I provided you some very credible reasons. Charity? Hardly. More like respect for a decent product, and I'm not alone in thinking that.

Sure, libraries may change their expiration policies in the future, but these policies do exist right now for e-books. Which makes my related reasons for buying credible now and in the near future.

Still sane, still planning on both borrowing and purchasing.

Lee Child said...

William Ockham said, "It won't happen."

We've seen a lot of people say that about a lot of things, in this debate and others. Dangerous words, and almost certain to be wrong.

Almost anything can and will happen. Texas libraries being able to download small files on demand seems very doable to me. Customers bookmarking free library sites instead of Amazon seems very doable, too. But post-hoc voluntary and charitable tipping of authors doesn't seem very likely.

Mark Terry said...

Dude,
I'm with you on your library initiative. If you want an extra author, let me know.

Mark

Ken Lindsey said...

I am a reader, a frequent book purchaser, library borrower, and author. I love the library system, and Joe's gateway drug analogy is spot on in my situation.

The first Konrath book I ever read came from my local library. I have purchased six since then. The same goes for me all the way back to middle school. I found Gaiman, the Goosebumps books, Tom Robbins, and many more of my favorites through the public library. Since then I have bought so many books from them that I hate to think of the money.

Libraries need to be supported, and publishers who do not are doing so to their own loss.

Ramon said...

I'm still sane (currently) and have check out books from the library. 99.9% of my reading is through bought books, though. I remember a book on the free friday for nook, and I loved the book. Won't be downloading the second from the library because I'm buying it. Just like others have said, I like to own. I could subscribe to Gametap(I think it's called) and just do a monthly fee to rent multiple video games a month, but I don't. I buy my games and keep them in my library. Like music and books. I've been lent a game by friends and gone on to buy the same game because I wanted to own it; even though they said I could borrow it whenever I wanted.
MP3s, same thing. I don't do torrents. I purchase products I wish to consume. Also, lots of people gift ebooks as well.

I think the main thing about this is the old analysis paralysis thing. We could 'what if' till the cows come home, but I don't see libraries hurting us any more than nextflix hurt blu ray, or gametap hurt video games.

William Ockham said...

Lee Child,

Have you run a large ecommerce site? Do you know what it takes? Have you analyzed web traffic patterns over time for a major site? Have you ever been responsible for a large public site that went off-line or malfunctioned during a busy time? Have you done capacity planning for any large distributed computing system? Have you ever had to protect a system against a denial of service attack?

I have done those things. It ain't easy and it ain't cheap. The incentives that a library has are different from the ones of an Amazon or Kobo. You can't just hand-wave all this stuff away. You can write better fiction than this. You aren't even trying.

Janet Sked said...

Without the little library down the road from me when I was growing up, I would never have been able to feed my book addiction. People need to read, and folks like my mom - who has a kindle, but is terrified of pushing the wrong button, so gets me to do it for her - can only benefit from a friendly environment like a library that enables them to download the books they want to read. I'm more than happy to jump in on this. Thanks to Librarian X for a great insight, and to Joe for giving him the forum to post it. - J. S. Sked

David Darracott said...

For the vast majority of us, the issue isn't cannibalizing our current sales with library loans. The issue is getting shelf space, anywhere, anyway, anytime, just to get physical exposure for our work.

I'll gladly take any library space that's offered. Possible lost sales are the concern of brand name authors, not the rest of us.

For the libraries, the answer is simple: don't kowtow to the big publishers. Say no to them. We indies have the product you need and you have the space. Let's make whoopee together and leave the big guys outside.

Authors unite, you have nothing to lose but your anonymity.

Librarian X said...

There seems to be some misconceptions going on here. Libraries do NOT offer unlimited e-books. Under all current vendors of e-books to libraries, the DRM on them limit them to "one copy per user" - i.e. just like a real book. If someone has it checked out, you can't get it until it is returned. We're comfortable with that model. The DRM is a pain in the ass but we understand why it is there. So, No, Lee - millions of library patrons won't be grabbing your book in unlimited amounts. If you're popular, they'll have to wait or hope the library buys more copies (or go out and buy their own). LET ME REITERATE: LIBRARIES CANNOT POSSIBLY EVER SUPPLY ENOUGH E-BOOKS TO EVERYONE WHO WANTED THEM. We don't have the money, IT infrastructure or the manpower to do it. While we value the high opinion of what we do, the conception of just how powerful we are seems to be inflated.

What we're angry about is the pissing down our backs and telling us that it's raining. Many of the current big authors should be grateful that libraries were around to expose people to their books because otherwise you'd be just another name on Amazon or elsewhere fighting for sales on equal footing with everyone else. Trust me, publishers aren't going to do half as good a job pushing a new (or mid-list) author as they get through libraries.

Ramon said...

I'm still trying to get into the libraries, myself. I feel like I'm getting closer, but the response has been a slow climb up the chain of command, so to speak.

TeriB said...

"For the libraries, the answer is simple: don't kowtow to the big publishers. Say no to them."

Oh. So the libraries just say no. I guess that means they don't order any more books from the Big 6 at all then? That won't go over well with the library patrons who want to read those books.

Joe Konrath said...

If someone has it checked out, you can't get it until it is returned. We're comfortable with that model.

My model is no DRM, unlimited check-outs at once. A library system should be able to buy one ebook and make as many copies for as many patrons as needed.

Librarian X said...

The big problem with that, Joe, is that many libraries don't have the infrastructure to support that. To implement such a system, the library would have to put in place some sort of validation check against their library card - otherwise you're just putting up a link and anyone on the planet can get it (thus defeating the purpose). That's why so many libraries go with e-book vendors like Overdrive or 3M. And a lot of libraries don't even have servers to do something like that... and perhaps that might be a way to get some additional money. You sell the access to the book and for a small fee for "joining" someone with some web/database programming does some library barcode range entry to validate the user. Thus taking a lot of the load off of libraries who like turnkey solutions.

Librarian X said...

Hmmm... After thinking on this I might have a easy solution to validation. I'm going to run a experiment tomorrow on our web server and see how bulletproof it is.

Jill James said...

I've heard Overdrive is great but hard to get into.

Patrick said...

The last time I stepped foot in a library was about six years ago. Knowing the kind of books I enjoy, the librarian recommended a book by an author I had never heard of before, called Killing Floor. I took it home, read it in a few days and really enjoyed it. When I finished it I cruised on out and bought this author's backlist.

Funny how things work out.

Mu biggest disappointment of the entire Jack Reacher series is that teeny tiny pocket-sized Tom Cruise is playing him the movie.

Oh well.

wannabuy said...

Wow... If libraries turn on the big6, this could be a huge opportunity for indie authors.

I do not see this ending well for the greedy. I see no risk for the authors but rather opportunity.

Neil

Mark Asher said...

@Joe: "I have a Kindle, and a growing ebook collection. The weird thing is, after I read a book, I want to own it. Maybe as a souvenir. Maybe because seeing the cover when I'm browsing my Kindle jogs my memory. Maybe because someday I'll read it again."

If you want a souvenir just download the sample chapter. That's a good reminder that you read the book.

You can also set up a Goodreads page and list the read book there.

My feeling is the opposite if yours. After I read an ebook I don't feel any need to own a copy of it unless I really think I will read it again. It's nice to have a reminder of the book but it's a lot like your old CD collection -- you liked looking at them but you seldom listened to them.

Give me a list of the titles I've read and that's as good as having a full copy of each title.

Alan Spade said...

If 100% of books owned by libraries were ebook, the whole thing would not bother me. But I cannot suppress the feeling self-published authors would be second class authors in the mind of librarians if they were to buy only ebooks from us.

If a librarian likes an author and wants her ebook, shouldn't he also command the POD version ? If you want to support us, do it properly, in every way possible.

Should'nt be Createspace and lulu and other POD websites be linked to the command system of librarians ?

Librarian X said...

@Alan Spade. Those are some valid points. Unfortunately POD is one of those technologies that is going to be regulated to a "luxury" item that only people who really insist on a hardcopy turn to.

I've bought POD books for the library where I work unfortunately, however, it is a uphill battle. Most librarians aren't going to touch something unless they see it reviewed in Kirkus or Publishers Weekly. It's just the way it is drummed into us (fortunately some of us choose to ignore old habits).

As to being "second class citizens" so what? The opinions of us do not matter when it comes to the reading public. There are plenty of things I see get checked out that I think are utter garbage but they like them so who am I to argue? I buy more of what they read - that's my job.

Alan Spade said...

"I've bought POD books for the library where I work unfortunately, however, it is a uphill battle."

Thank you for stressing that. And thank you for your support of self-pubbed authors. I think it could take one generation or two for the mentalities to change in libraries, so yes, authors will have to grab what they can in the meantime.

billie said...

I would love to get my e-books into libraries as you described - keep us posted if/when there is organization around doing this as a larger group.

Alcare ePublishing said...

I was curious if anyone has tried using Amazon's CreateSpace Extended Distribution channel. Admittedly, it's a physical channel and not as cost effective as ebook distribution; however, the program does reach libraries as well as other more traditional avenues of distribution.

Looking at the royalties calculator, it doesn't appear to be a money maker for authors unless you drive up the list price, thus potentially harming your sales. So I won't be suprised if many authors haven't tried this route.

By the way, I'm not a publisher...yet! I'm just exploring some options in regards to a start-up based on some of Joe's principles.

Robert Townsend said...

In two weeks I am taking the California Zephyr to San Francisco, by which time I hope (and pray and whatever) to have the beta draft of next novel done. I intend to use Nebraska to figure out overdrive and library lending. I will also reread this post, all the comments, and perhaps add something useful to Joe's suggestion (hire someone to coordinate to libraries). Isn't there an Independent Author's Association existant?

Alan Spade said...

Joe, you have what I consider great success with Createspace (gaining 1500 $ a month with POD is not easy, as every experienced self-publisher can figure).

Do you use Createspace Extended Distribution channel ? If yes, do you know the proportion of books sold to libraries ?

Merrill Heath said...

Librarian X said: The big problem with that, Joe, is that many libraries don't have the infrastructure to support that. To implement such a system, the library would have to put in place some sort of validation check against their library card - otherwise you're just putting up a link and anyone on the planet can get it (thus defeating the purpose). That's why so many libraries go with e-book vendors like Overdrive or 3M. And a lot of libraries don't even have servers to do something like that... and perhaps that might be a way to get some additional money. You sell the access to the book and for a small fee for "joining" someone with some web/database programming does some library barcode range entry to validate the user. Thus taking a lot of the load off of libraries who like turnkey solutions.

Hmmm...sounds like there's a huge opportunity for some innovative company to provide a turnkey ebook kiosk to libraries. Sort of a Redbox for ebooks.

I.J.Parker said...

All of them are greedy. The libraries want our e-books cheaply so they can lend them out free. The publishers deny us a fair share of the sale. Why would someone pay for a book if it's free at the library? I don't in most cases. My book purchases would multiply madly if I couldn't get reading material at the library.
I repeat what I've said before: let libraries pay a small amount to the author/publisher every time a book is checked out. This is what happens in other countries.

Librarian X said...

Well, it turns out that it was easier to do than I thought. I looped the access to the books through our proxy server so you can't get the book without putting in your library card. It's the same system we use to validate remote access to our databases so it was merely just modifying what was already there.

So any library with a halfway decent IT department and/or access to a server can do this. Unfortunately, real small libraries are going to have problems.

Librarian X said...

@I.J. Parker. That won't work. Libraries, like any business, have set budgets. So you're asking someone to set a budget for a unknown variable. Sure, maybe you'd get lucky and have less use than your budget but what happens when you have more use than money? Someone doesn't get paid and everyone looks bad.

It's a nice idea but impractical.

Librarian X said...

Since there seems to be a belief that libraries are going to rob you of your spare pocket change, let's look things.

The average e-book from a unknown author sells a average of 150 copies but, in this case, let's go big and say 500. And that's just direct to the consumer.

You offer up your book to libraries. Overdrive has over 18,000 customers. Let's say that you get 10% of them to buy a single copy (extremely unlikely). That's a extra 1800 copies sold. So which would you rather have? 500 copies sold or 1800? The good odds are that you'd have both.

There seems to be a belief that e-reader users at libraries are suddenly going to cut everyone off at the knees. I'm not seeing Amazon or Smashwords crying in their beers - they've all implemented sales to libraries because they know that it is a additive market not subtractive.

Stella Baker said...

Librarian X, you said "Well, it turns out that it was easier to do than I thought. I looped the access to the books through our proxy server so you can't get the book without putting in your library card. It's the same system we use to validate remote access to our databases so it was merely just modifying what was already there."

Are you talking about EZProxy? If so, you've given me foder for a conversation with my library(ies).

Librarian X said...

@Stella Baker. Yes I use EZProxy. One minor change to the config file and it was done and working.

Sariah Wilson said...

In reference to the service you think someone should create to act as a go-between for libraries and authors - is a library buying a single copy that they can then do in whatever format they wish, or are they buying one copy to put in any format and have unlimited copies? Or will it be one e-book per person at a time?

Sariah Wilson said...

Dave S. said...

Oh, yeah. I also forgot about the piracy sites on the Internet. Every e-book that is the least bit popular (and then some) is already available for free on the Internet.


Piracy sites that are riddled with viruses and malware. Even if I wanted to get a book for free, I'd never, ever go to a piracy site just because I like my computer and the stuff on it.

I'm still trying to figure out how this thing would work because I'm with Lee Child on this one. I think most people, if given the choice to get it for free on demand whenever they want it, or to pay $2.99 for the same thing, are going to get the free book.

jvin248 said...

@Librarian X
"Most librarians aren't going to touch something unless they see it reviewed in Kirkus or Publishers Weekly. It's just the way it is drummed into us (fortunately some of us choose to ignore old habits)"

I see now why my local library collections director hasn't returned my queries on getting my ebook in their system (even if I donated it).

Anonymous said...

Even if every book was free, not all of them would be read. There are already plenty of books out there that no one has read for a hundred years.

There are books in your local library that haven't been checked out for a decade or more. They might have been good books when published but no one is reading them now and when the shelves are full they'll be the first to be thrown away.

While they don't need to throw digital books away, that doesn't mean anyone will read it.

As Librarian X points out, libraries have neither the know-how or the money to make a success of ebook lending. There is zero chance of them lending best-selling books on a worldwide basis because of international marketing territories.

It will take an Amazon or a Google to make ebook lending work efficiently. Don't think they haven't thought of it.

While wannabe writers will give their books to libraries for virtually nothing, professional writers will consider their options. Unlike Joe not all of them believe that making books DRM free will not affect their sales. This might be because unlike Joe they don't write half a dozen books a year!

The most acclaimed authors write one book a year at most. And they'll think very carefully before giving it away.

A decision to take part in an ebook lending scheme isn't just a decision about making more money. It can be a decision to lose money.

Lee Child is correct. Having a limited amount of copies of a book in a library makes a book desirable. It extends the period over which it will be an object of desire. The person who finally gets hold of it is very likely to actually read it.

Having a limitless number of copies might make it a one day wonder. As always, people want what they can't have and they often place no value on things that are free and easy to obtain.

However, all the trends indicate that digital downloads are replacing most types of media. DVDs and CDs are virtually dead. Video and music shops are going out of business.

But the distribution of digital downloads is carried out by a very small number of global companies who have the infrastructure to deal with the task.

Ebook lending will take off. It just takes agreement from authors and publishers to make it happen. The technology is already there.

But if your book isn't good enough to sell for $1.99 don't imagine it's going to get many more readers simply because it's free.







Anonymous said...

ebks can be gotten anywhere for lending. Including author sites eventually. There are big companies that control the lend leases to libraries now. Let libraries have them on lend-lease.

But also libraries are reliant on taxpayer funding and are being cut left and right. Having ebks to lend place them as trying to compete with global reach of other lenders who have already set themselves up like traveling libaries on the internet.

Libraries are in similar position to newspapers, publishers and bookstores. Except libraries are subsidized, which makes them very vulnerable. Their brick and mortar plant is often very old even though often beautiful. The cost of heat and air and carbon are huge for the systems across the nation. I for one never want to see a library close, or a bookstore. But the internet has changed everything, and destroyed much.

The publishers and what they do... yawn. How to save libraries whose own taxpayers refuse to pay more taxes to subsidize them...that would be the issue, I think. Given that so many jobs in libraries have been cut, budgets for buying slashed, old plants needing repair and replacement. Ebks cannot save libraries. There are already many many places to borrow them, esp behemoth AMZ.

Here there is talk of merging lib with museum, mainly to preserve one huge structure instead of two. But even then, many jobs will be lost. Has nothing to do with ebks. Has to do with taxpayers drilled out and irresponsible fiscal accounts... for decades.

There may be some libraries that have endowments [such as universites] that will be able to continue. Most dont have endowments. They belong to city governments for the most part and are ruled by the budgets passed by city council. In many cities, education, roads, jobs are the taker of the most revenues, and will remain so. I dont want to see the libraries go down. But, it appears they are, many of them, not going to be in the forms we have known.

Joe Konrath said...

As always, people want what they can't have and they often place no value on things that are free and easy to obtain.

Which is why no one values libraries, explaining why all libraries closed decades ago.

Those 9000+ libraries in the US are just imaginary, because people place no value on things that are free and easy to obtain.

It's also why TV and radio have disappeared. Free music? Free shows and movies? Sorry, those things don't have any value.

Flash mobs? Not interesting. The only good performances are those you pay for. Which is why Paul Simon's concert in Central Park was ignored and no one showed up.

Open a bar and offer free beer. Then watch how no one shows up.

You do realize I gave away ebooks on my website for ten years, and still give away ebooks on a regular basis, right? I encourage piracy of my ebooks. I encourage file sharing sharing.

But if your book isn't good enough to sell for $1.99 don't imagine it's going to get many more readers simply because it's free.

What an incongruous thing to write.

If libraries buy them, I imagine it is because their patrons want them. And I also imagine patrons will like to be able to browse a library's collection and be able to check out ebooks that are always available, rather than wait weeks for them to be returned. Can you really imagine someone saying, "Hmm, that book sounds interesting, but it's available right now, which means there must be something wrong with it. Nope, I won't check it out. Instead I'll put my name on a waiting list for something else."

Every book in a library is free. I've given away 70,000 ebooks in three days on Amazon. And yet I'm doing okay.

While wannabe writers will give their books to libraries for virtually nothing, professional writers will consider their options. Unlike Joe not all of them believe that making books DRM free will not affect their sales. This might be because unlike Joe they don't write half a dozen books a year!

No one owes anyone a living. Pros who don't understand the value of free haven't done the experiments I've done. It's this same knee-jerk fear that prompted that silly NSPHP petition.

"Oh, I see something I don't like! Rather than discuss it and try to understand it, let's all gather together and condemn it!"

Piracy is a fascinating issue that the majority of artists and their corporate masters would rather condemn than understand. As a result, a computer company who did understand it--Apple--has become the number 1 seller of digital media in the world.

I just downloaded a bit torrent for every episode of Kappa Mikey, an old cartoon, because they aren't available to buy. But the soundtrack is available. After watching the shows I bought the soundtrack. If the shows ever get a release on Blu Ray, I'll buy them as well.

That's the value of free.

Alan Spade said...

"As always, people want what they can't have and they often place no value on things that are free and easy to obtain."

This sounds true. But what says Joe also sounds true. How could this be ?

I think : there are different kinds of publics. You just have to look at the commentaries on this blog to see that. There are people who would take the free ebooks and never buy another one and there are people like Joe.

I think Joe is right and you can target Joe's and Cory Doctorrow's people and earn a living. But Anon and Lee are also right, you will lose sales doing that. It's a question of targeting a kind of public. I prefer to sell my ebooks without DRM and let people the liberty to share them.

But people have to be educated. I think libraries' patrons are. We have to be careful, though, of associations of ideas. In the mind of people, numeric has not to mean "free". So yes, it would be wise to keep a waiting queue, and not to make too easy a legal free download (in the exception of "permafree" ebooks).

Mary said...

That 9000+ doesn't include school and classroom libraries. The middle school librarian I work with would like to add ebooks but affordability and availability will keep us out for 2-3 years. Yet, forty (ish) percent of our students have an ereader of some sort.

Joe Konrath said...

There are people who would take the free ebooks and never buy another one and there are people like Joe.

A smart observation. There are also people who have yet to be represented in this discussion, who may go either way.

There are also numbers involved here. We don't know how many library borrows lead to fans who become paying customers. We also don't know if selling to 25,000 libraries worldwide might be more sales than selling to customers on Amazon. Most ebooks don't sell 25k, AFAIK, though as time goes on all eventually will--forever is a long time.

Fact is, if I'm wrong, and selling my backlist to libraries with no DRM or restrictions winds up hurting my backlist sales on Amazon, I can always raise my price on new titles, or stop selling to libraries altogether.

The Big 6 are screwing libraries without any data to back up their reasoning. They only have a vague idea that library sales will hurt ebook sales. If they had supporting evidence, no doubt they'd trot it out and say, "We love libraries, but the fact is that each library sale costs us 25+ customer sales, so we have to charge more to make up for that loss."

But they haven't run any experimented. They're simply being greedy and assuming that library sales will hurt ebook sales, even though libraries have been around for centuries and sales are fine.

We won't really know until someone (me) gives it a shot and sees what happens. Those who read my blog know I've done stuff like this many times. I'm the guinea pig, and I report my results. YMMV, but I hear a lot of feedback that my numbers and experiences are helpful data for authors.

So we'll see.

Joe Konrath said...

Another thought. I'm pirated like crazy. And I've found the way to compete with piracy is cost and convenience.

Someone could log onto their library, browse their selection, and download me for free. But is it easier to use a Nook or Kindle to log on directly to the etailer and download with one click? So far, yes. And at $3 an ebook, the amount of money seems to be small enough that people will pay it for the extra convenience.

If ebooks in libraries become huge, and I'm getting millions of free readers, I think I'm smart enough to use that to get a movie deal,or get ad sponsorship from Coke or Nissan or tomake up for the lost sales.

I've been predicting free ebooks, driven by ads, for five years now. If I've got a proven readership of several million people, advertisers will pay to reach those people. That's how radio and TV are free.

Mark Asher said...

One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that the number of libraries that might buy an ebook is probably smaller than imagined. I think the small libraries in an urban area will pool resources and share an ebook collection -- that's what they do here in St. Louis. There are dozens and dozens of libraries, but only three sources for ebook lending that I know of because the small libraries share an ebook collection.

If you think about it there's really no reason for each library to have it's own ebook collection. It makes much more sense for libraries to share a collection. Their patrons get access to more ebooks this way.

Ultimately there's no reason to not have a national ebook library. Why not have one? Make it free for students and senior citizens and charge anyone else $25/year for membership.

Librarian X said...

@Mark Asher. If you think publishers hate libraries now could you possibly imagine what one large library would do? There'd be executives having aneurisms at their desks and battalions of lawyers rushing paperwork to make such a thing illegal. It would make their currently pissing fit with Amazon look like a friendly disagreement.

Anonymous said...

Joe said:

"I just downloaded a bit torrent for every episode of Kappa Mikey, an old cartoon, because they aren't available to buy. But the soundtrack is available. After watching the shows I bought the soundtrack. If the shows ever get a release on Blu Ray, I'll buy them as well.

That's the value of free. "

You bought them because you earn $500,000 a year!

Yet still stole the copyrighted items via the torrents. That cartoon series isn't "old."

I think you just summed up two problems with ebooks that libraries are going to have to contend with.

First they don't have $500,000 a year to spend. And second they'll have to find ways of protecting against piracy.

Libraries are not in a healthy state. Funding is declining. They are having to dream up imaginative ways of attracting customers to justify that funding.

Lending ebooks means even fewer people will visit. Which means it's going to be hard to justify funding a grand old building full of paper books.

I love libraries. But it seems obvious that fewer people each year share the same enthusiasm.

This is why it is important to separate the idea of sustaining the old fashioned library and creating a platform for lending digital books. Other than nostalgia there is no need to connect one with the other.



Librarian X said...

Wow. Really? Our circulation of material is the highest it's been in five years. Our door counts is also at about a 20% increase over last year. Good thing to know that our use is declining. Thanks for letting us know!

Alan Spade said...

Joe said : "I've been predicting free ebooks, driven by ads, for five years now."

Yes you did. And you had many opponents, with solid points.

By the way, you didn't seem very enthusiastic about the efficience of advertising in those entries :

http://jakonrath.blogspot.fr/2006/12/rant-against-advertising.html

http://jakonrath.blogspot.fr/2006/12/rant-against-advertising-part-2.html

http://jakonrath.blogspot.fr/2006/12/rant-against-advertising-part-3.html

Yes, Google can move billions dollars of advertisement value. Don't let it blow your mind. It's Google. There's no other search engine with that kind of success.

Look at Facebook : a powerful social network, you would think, with so many people on it even J.K Rowling wouldn't spit on them if they were to reinforce the ranks of her readers.

It is not so successful with ads. It has not met outstanding success since its introduction in stock exchange.

Ads weren't put inside paper books. Why would it work inside ebooks ?

Enhanced ebooks ? You mean, with video, sound, special effects and all. But, wait ! Wait a minute... There is a name for that. Movies.

Interactive ebooks ? You mean, with a scenario, and the reader can be involved, and play with characters ? Already taken. Videogames.

It's great to experiment and to try new things. But ads supporting ebooks ? I don't see it coming, and frankly, I would rather rely on readers, even as volatile as they seem to be, than on ads.

Joe Konrath said...

By the way, you didn't seem very enthusiastic about the efficience of advertising in those entries :

There's a difference between my using ads to find customers, and my using advertisers to make money.

Advertising isn't going away. I don't have to believe it works in order to make money from sponsors.

Ads weren't put inside paper books. Why would it work inside ebooks ?

Actually, every paperback has ads in the back. And for a while they had ads in the center as well.

We accept ads in Internet, magazines, TV, radio, newspapers, and film. Ebooks will happen.

You mean, with video, sound, special effects and all. But, wait ! Wait a minute... There is a name for that. Movies.

Nope. Here's my conception of it:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/05/tech-talk-and-active-ebook.html

I've also had a business plan for putting ads into ebooks for a long time. If I wanted to devote my life to creating a start-up company, I could. I'd rather just write.

But eventually someone will figure out what I already did, and ads will become commonplace.

Romance Lover said...

More ridiculous shenanigans by big publishers. Shame on them.

Good on Librarian X for speaking out.

Romance Lover said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Joe's idea for ads in books is an interesting approach and one that Amazon are already exploring with their cut price Kindles.

But there is a big problem with Internet advertising. A lot of it doesn't work.

Here is the latest report on Smart Phone advertising. 40% of clicks is due to accident or fraud. Conversions are at about the same percentage of other forms of media advertising but you have to remember that other forms of media advertising are already at an all time low.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/10/05/mobile_advertising_smartphone_ad_clicks_due_to_small_buttons_fat_fingers.html

There will always be advertising. But the fact that people find so many ways to blank them out, skip past them or ignore them entirely tells you that the public don't welcome adverts in any kind of product.

Still, if the book is free some people will suffer them and advertisers will continue to put them there until they finally figure out what the rest of us already know. After which they'll go looking for some other space to inhabit because their business is to sell advertising whether it works or not.

If advertising worked, they'd take a royalty and customers would be happy to pay it.






Jasminder Jass said...

a cool way to learning

Patrick said...

We accept ads in Internet, magazines, TV, radio, newspapers, and film. Ebooks will happen.

I don't know how accepting people are to ads in general. Most people I know don't watch TV in real time, choosing instead to record a show so they can fast forward through commercials. Hell, Dish recently introduced something that skips recording commercials entirely. There are websites/forums that I won't visit because of the ads. Or if it's one of those annoying audio/video ads I turn the sound off on my PC first. I have 10 radio stations programmed into my car and the second one goes to commercial I click to another one. Or I just plug in the mp3 player.

The way Amazon does their ads on the lower priced Kindles is probably the only way a company could it without me being pissed off. If I buy an author's book I want their book not a special message from Coke or Nike or Victoria's Secret.

OK, maybe Victoria's Secret.

Since I've become an adult I am hard hard pressed to remember anything outside of a movie that I've purchased because of an advertisement. But I can list dozens of things that I have not purchased because the ad annoyed me so much.

I ebooks start becoming inundated with friggen advertisements that will piss me off to no end and I'll have to find another way to read a book. Because, if the last decade has taught us anything, there is ALWAYS another way.

Karen Cantwell said...

The original purpose of the public library system (and a continuing purpose, i might add) is to improve literacy, since the country's poor and underprivileged are not able to purchase books. That the Big 6 should seek so mercilessly to profit from a non-profit, goodwill venture, frankly disgusts me. They should DESIRE that more people have the ability to read books, not thwart the reach. I have already joined in the effort to support public libraries by selling my books to the Harris County Libraries (see Joe's earlier post) and will gladly join any movement/organization that would assist public libraries across the country to purchase books easily and affordably.

M.P. McDonald said...

As I started reading the blog post, I started thinking that if Indie authors formed a group and offered our books, that would put some pressure on the Big 6. Of course, as I read down, I see that is already discussed. GMTA. ;-)

I would love to put my books into libraries and I think the person to do this sort of thing must be a librarian. They know how libraries work. Librarian X might be a good candidate if he/she wants to do that, but as an author themselves, they may not want to take on what would be a huge project.

I hope you'll post updates on this as I would love to include my books.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Because books used to be physical. Long wait lists frustrated customers, prompting their second choice, i.e. purchase. E-books are different. No wait list, no prompt to purchase.

Whenever I browse ebooks on my local library's website, I'm always running into "place a hold" on popular books because someone else has checked them out. And when I do manage to check out a copy, it expires after a couple weeks.

So I'm not exactly sure what you're saying here.

Jude Hardin said...

So I'm not exactly sure what you're saying here.

He's saying that under Joe's model, where authors sell to libraries for "$3.99 per title, the library owns it forever without DRM and can make copies," most consumers would never again feel compelled to buy a book.

I have to agree with Lee on this one. If you can click and download a book for free, or click and download a book for $2.99 or more, each with equal convenience, then most people are going to choose free. In this hypothetical future, where libraries are the only paying customers, the number of books an author could possibly hope to sell would be severely limited.

Jason said...

Jude, I'm going to have to disagree with you and Lee again. Just like free physical books from the library haven't hurt book sales, neither will free digital books from the library in the long run. Simply because there will never be 100% equal convenience for library e-books.

Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. will never allow library digital books to be downloaded straight to their e-readers automatically, as is done when e-books are purchased from their online stores or from the e-readers themselves. Library e-books will always need to be 'side-loaded'...and some readers out there just don't want to have to deal with that.

Also, each library e-book will have to be matched to a library card and 'checked-out' regardless of how many digital copies the library has. Which means after some pre-determined period of time, the e-book will have to be 'returned'. In theory, with limitless digital copies the patron could simply turn around and check the e-book out again right away. But again, many readers out there would consider that whole process too much of a pain in the ass to deal with for each e-book.

Especially when the alternative is buying their own copy for as little as $3 or $4.

Stella Baker said...

@Jason, just fyi, you do not necessarily have to "sideload" a library Kindle book. A couple of years ago when Amazon agreed to play nice with libraries, all Kindle versions were initially "ordered" at the library's site (i.e. library website using Overdrive). Patron puts in their library card number to authenticate themselves as a 'real' library patron of that library, then is seamlessly taken to an Amazon page that looks very much like the one used to order a book. One click later your library book gets wirelessly delivered to your Kindle, VERY similar to the buying process at Amazon. However, lately I've noticed that some Kindle versions require USB "sideloading". If I'm an example, you're right about the sideloading issue: I just don't check out a title if I have to USB load. I'm not sure why some Kindle titles now require sideloading and some do not. If I had the time I'd see if I could figure out a pattern (i.e. pub date? publisher? etc.)Maybe Librarian X knows?

Anonymous said...

Karen Cantwell pointed out:

"The original purpose of the public library system (and a continuing purpose, i might add) is to improve literacy, since the country's poor and underprivileged are not able to purchase books."

This is very true. But you could argue that a system in which anyone can publish any book via Kindle is exactly the system you don't want anywhere near a public library since there is no guarantee of educational standards.

All the great works of literature are available for free downloadable from Project Gutenberg, Google Books and other places not just to your library computer but to your smartphone.

No one needs to visit a library or pay a single cent for good literature.


opickaza said...

is very good choice iam glad to meet this blog and i sure you an get he best frm publisher

Anonymous said...

Anyone who wants to make their book available to a wider audience via a global lending system can submit it to the Open Library.

This is a wonderful project with the intention of creating a free and open library system, listing as many books as possible and making them available for reading where possible in as many formats as possible.

Thousands of books are already available for free. You can read them online. You can download them as pdfs, epub, mobi or text files. Read them via Daisy. You can even have them emailed straight to your Kindle. For free!

http://openlibrary.org/

Joe, if you want to give away your books, why not do it here? Some of your books have already been listed.

Jude Hardin said...

Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. will never allow library digital books to be downloaded straight to their e-readers automatically, as is done when e-books are purchased from their online stores or from the e-readers themselves.

If you sell all the files (epub, mobi, etc.) for $3.99 or whatever, how are the retailers going to stop the libraries from making it a one-click affair?

Once ebooks are as convenient to borrow as they are to buy, and once libraries have unlimited copies resulting in no waiting lists, very few people will buy ebooks. Why would they? What would be the benefit of owning a copy (which takes up memory space) when you can have it anytime you want with a click of the mouse?

That's the model Joe is proposing. Of course major publishers aren't going to go for anything like that, so if it happens it will be strictly self-published titles that are available for free in unlimited quantities. Which would pretty much put an end to the appeal of self-publishing, IMO.

Mira said...

Joe, I think your support of libraries is awesome.

A Mitvah, which means a Good Deed. Thank you!

Librarian X said...

@Stella Baker. The reason why you are having to sideload certain books for the Kindle through Overdrive is that they are Penguin titles. After Penguin got in their pissing contest with Amazon about making titles of theirs available through the Kindle Loaning Library, they yanked ALL loaning abilities of their titles. They tried to pass it off as "concerned about security issues" but that's what it was. The only time you will see this is with a Penguin (or Penguin imprint) and with the Kindle version of the book.

Michael McClung said...

Anonymous said:

"But you could argue that a system in which anyone can publish any book via Kindle is exactly the system you don't want anywhere near a public library since there is no guarantee of educational standards."

Sorry, I couldn't let that one pass. Are you actually implying that self-published books will foster illiteracy?

I'll wait for your response before I begin mocking. I'm civil like that.

Rachel Matteson said...

E-books are increasingly useful these days due to their price and accessibility. Libraries have traditional books but it should consider haveing electronic ones too.

Librarian X said...

@Michael McClung: I think he was trying to say that, essentially, there was no quality control that self-pubs go through so you never have a idea of how factual and/or quality of editing is. This is true but the same can be said of traditional publishing. I'm sure all of us have been burned in the past by buying a book that had editing errors, mistakes and outright bias.

@Rachel Matteson: We do!

Jason said...

Once ebooks are as convenient to borrow as they are to buy, and once libraries have unlimited copies resulting in no waiting lists, very few people will buy ebooks. Why would they? What would be the benefit of owning a copy (which takes up memory space) when you can have it anytime you want with a click of the mouse?

There will always be people who don't realize you can get digital titles for free from the library, and they will continue to happily purchase e-books.

There will always be that segment of the population that just doesn't do libraries for whatever reason, and they will continue to buy e-books.

There will always be that segment that doesn't realize libraries have gone to one-click/unlimited borrowing, and don't want to have to deal with any inconvenience when buying e-books since doing so on an e-reader is so easy.

There will always be that segment with a nice amount of disposable income that have no problem paying for e-books and will continue to do so even if library e-books are free.

Joe described the concept of ownership very well. There will always be those readers who must own a book they enjoyed, even if it's a digital copy. They will continue to buy e-books.

I can go on, but you get the point. Free one-click library e-books just won't bring e-book sales to a screeching halt like you're saying.

Also, e-reader space will never ever be an issue. Most e-readers can hold thousands of books. For example, the Nook comes with 2GB of memory (approximately 1500 e-books), and you can get a very inexpensive 16GB microSD card to store up to 17,500 e-books). The Kindle 3 has 4 GB of fixed memory (approx. 3,000 e-books), but if you do run out of room you can delete e-books from the device without fear since every book you buy from Amazon (or B&N for that matter) remains stored for you, and can be downloaded to your e-reader again for free later on.

Mark Asher said...

@Jude: "If you sell all the files (epub, mobi, etc.) for $3.99 or whatever, how are the retailers going to stop the libraries from making it a one-click affair?"

We've yet to see anything that will auto-download a file to an ebook reader that doesn't come from the hardware maker's storefront (Apple, Amazon, B&N, etc.). My guess is it would take a third-party to make a new e-reader that was designed to work that way with libraries.

My own anecdotal experience with checking out ebooks is that I love it. I don't feel nearly the same attachment to an ebook as I do a paper book. I see no need to keep a permanent copy of an ebook unless it's that rare book, one in a hundred, I may want to reread in the future.

So ebooks have led me to this curious place where I no longer feel much desire to actually own them, so if I can get a book for two weeks for free or pay $3.99 for it (and who are we kidding, it would probably be $7.99 or $9.99 if it comes from the big six), I'll opt for free and sideloading all the time.

I'm even considering paying $35 for a year's membership in the Free Library of Philadelphia. They have an extensive ebook collection.

And that raises another question. Why would each local library need to buy a copy of Joe's book? Why not have all the libraries in a city or even a state be in a consortium where they pooled ebook resources? It's faster for me to check out an ebook from Philadelphia than it is to go to my local library in St. Louis and get a physical book.

One last example. Ever since I started using Pandora and Spotify, I have not purchased any music. I get everything I need from those sources. Why should I pay? And if I was going to pay I'd be more likely to pay for a sub to those services since they are what I like using.

M.P. McDonald said...

Does anyone know if KDP Select would bar us from placing our books in libraries as ebooks? I sent an email just now to KDP, but I don't expect to get a reply, or if I do, if it will be as straight forward one. I would have to sell directly to the library, but after that, the books wouldn't technically, be for sale anywhere but Amazon, and libraries aren't retail sites.

Anonymous said...

Michael McClung said...

"Sorry, I couldn't let that one pass. Are you actually implying that self-published books will foster illiteracy?"

No, I said they might not foster literacy which is what an earlier poster pointed out was one of the main functions of a library.

Librarian X seems to have understood.

Librarians used to choose their books with some care, particularly when it came to the children's section of a library.

Sometimes perhaps too much "care" was taken as with the banning of Harry Potter from some US libraries!

http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2007/10/25/man_from_ministry_bans_potter/


But yes, I think it could undermine the literacy function of a library if illiterate books were available. Unless of course they bore a sticker which said, "Don't write like this!"

Let the mocking begin :-)

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend the Self Publishing Podcast that is available here and on iTunes

http://selfpublishingpodcast.com/

To date there are twenty-four episodes.

The three guys that host it have been inspired by Joe Konrath, John Locke, Stephen King and others.

They joke around a lot but they discuss many of the issues that appear on this blog.

Episodes on the KDP Select program, buying reviews and marketing are particularly good.

Two of the hosts write best-selling serials on Kindle. I didn't even know that Kindle had a serial publishing program. Or a single essay/article publishing program until I heard these podcasts.

Give them a listen, I think you'll be surprised at the practical information they impart.

They also take questions from listeners.


Jude Hardin said...

Free one-click library e-books just won't bring e-book sales to a screeching halt like you're saying.

How do you know? You don't. You're just speculating.

I am too, but the word FREE is a surefire attention getter. That's why you see it in advertising all the time.

Hypothetically, libraries could become the #1 source of reading material. It wouldn't matter if you "do" libraries or not. If it's a matter of signing onto a website and clicking on the book you want, FOR FREE, then it wouldn't be any different than signing onto Amazon and clicking on the book you want for $4.99. Except now you would have five more bucks to spend at the grocery store.

Anyway, it's a moot point; because, like I said before, the major publishers are never going to let it happen with their books. And, like it or not, their books are, for the most part, the ones people get on waiting lists to read.

Inara Everett said...

Great post!

I have loved libraries and books since earliest childhood. Now, with the ability to sign out ebooks from the library, I can get books more easily than ever! I can tell you this - it will make me buy MORE books, not less. When I read a book I like, I'll watch for that author's next book and likely buy it. I'll recommend it at my book club and maybe give it as a gift.

I ask for ebook gift cards for my birthday and at Christmas, and received over $250 worth last year. I spent it all with such happiness! I used to spend far less on print books. So bring on the library ebooks, baby, and screw the Big 6!

I'm also an indie author - maybe the libraries will want to buy my ebook, which would be a major thrill!

P.S. - I'm up at the cottage for Thanksgiving (Canadian) and tethered my cellphone to my laptop to post this. My husband tripped over the connecting cable and unplugged it, causing a LOT of high-level trumpeting from all parties! Fortunately it ended with everyone laughing! :)

Anonymous said...

Jude Hardin said:

"Hypothetically, libraries could become the #1 source of reading material. It wouldn't matter if you "do" libraries or not. If it's a matter of signing onto a website and clicking on the book you want, FOR FREE, then it wouldn't be any different than signing onto Amazon and clicking on the book you want for $4.99. Except now you would have five more bucks to spend at the grocery store."

And if as you propose that libraries are the number 1 source of reading materials and they are giving books away for free, then how exactly does anyone make a living from writing?

I think some people are confusing what is good for libraries and what is good for people who want to sell books. They are not necessarily the same thing.

Most of the ebooks downloaded for free from Amazon go unread. Or if they are read they are not enjoyed enough to make anyone buy another book from the same author. The conversion rate from free to bought is quite low. It's likely that free books given to libraries would suffer the same fate.

It seems that there are thousands of people who download an ebook simply because it's free. The hosts of The Self Publishing Podcast (check iTunes or their website) discussed it at great length in one of their shows. But they have some clever ideas as to how best give away free ebooks and at least maximize the possibility of a sale.







Michael McClung said...

Okay,

Let's look at this literacy issue:

Anonymous sets up some cognitive dissonance when, in the same post he says

a)No, I said they might not foster literacy which is ... one of the main functions of a library.

but then goes on to say

b)But yes, I think it could undermine the literacy function of a library if illiterate books were available.

First off, books cannot be 'illiterate' by their very definition, which simply means unable to read or write. Or rather, all books are 'illiterate' since no book can read or write. You get my drift.

Second, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but what I think you mean is that poorly written books, from an objective grammar and spelling point of view, would have a negative effect on readers, 'teaching' the wrong way to spell and form coherent sentences. If I'm wrong about what you're driving at, let me know. But that's how I read your 'might not foster literacy' comment. To which I reply, utter nonsense.


If that's not your contention, then all that's left is a matter of taste. You think self-published books are not the equal to traditionally published books, and so should not be available to library goers, which is patent absurdity.

But back to the literacy fostering. My job for the past seven years has been to teach children to read. In that time, one thing has become crystal clear to me: the greatest threat to literacy globally is access to instruction and reading materials.

In developing countries, there may simply be no books or instructors available. In developed ones, children grow up in home environments where none of their caregivers make reading a daily activity. They do not grow up with a culture that values the printed word, and so do not become readers. Reading becomes a school chore rather than a pleasurable activity.

I am all for methodical reading instruction materials that teach the basics and fundamentals of the language. This is what 'fostering literacy' means on a nitty-gritty level that applies to libraries.

But I can also tell you that systematized phonics instruction, followed by methodical component instruction in reading trumps grammar, and even spelling. They simply aren't as closely connected as one might think.

In short, intimating that poor grammar or spelling in a book will push a reader (even a young reader once they are reading independently for their age level) down the road to illiteracy is baseless.

If you want to worry about illiteracy, there are much scarier, much more real threats out there than some poorly edited, self-published book.

Anonymous said...

Ah the self-declared Mocker Michael McCLung has begun. Let me respond:

"but what I think you mean is that poorly written books, from an objective grammar and spelling point of view, would have a negative effect on readers, 'teaching' the wrong way to spell and form coherent sentences."

Absolutely correct. Well done. And perhaps by deciphering my hastily written post you've proved my point that the books in our libraries need to be well written.

"the greatest threat to literacy globally is access to instruction and reading materials."

No one said it wasn't. The discussion was about marketing ebooks to libraries.

"In developing countries, there may simply be no books or instructors available. In developed ones, children grow up in home environments where none of their caregivers make reading a daily activity. They do not grow up with a culture that values the printed word, and so do not become readers. Reading becomes a school chore rather than a pleasurable activity."

Can't disagree with any of that but it wasn't really what we were talking about. We're discussing "Ebooks in Libraries: They Still Don't Get It!"

"I am all for methodical reading instruction materials that teach the basics and fundamentals of the language."

That's good to know. I've yet to meat someone who thought otherwise.

"This is what 'fostering literacy' means on a nitty-gritty level that applies to libraries."

If that means libraries need good books, I agree.

"But I can also tell you that systematized phonics instruction, followed by methodical component instruction in reading trumps grammar, and even spelling. They simply aren't as closely connected as one might think."

I don't think anyone said they were. But good spelling will trump bad spelling any day. Ask Dan "Potatoe" Quayle.

"In short, intimating that poor grammar or spelling in a book will push a reader (even a young reader once they are reading independently for their age level) down the road to illiteracy is baseless."

I didn't say it would. I did intimate that it might. You'll only find out whether it is baseless or not when libraries start issuing badly spelled books and the effects of the policy can be tested. But, as I intimated, I'd rather not take the risk. And if you are telling me that you don't care if the books you use to teach with are badly spelled, then remind me never to employ you.

"If you want to worry about illiteracy,"

I don't want to worry about anything. But thanks for asking.

"there are much scarier, much more real threats out there than some poorly edited, self-published book."

Ah you tease! Let's hear them.








Anonymous said...

There is an interesting interview here from Librarian Marlene Harris:

http://www.ilovelibraries.org/getting-your-self-published-book-library-tips-librarian-marlene-harris

Contains some information about how libraries choose their books (via reviews) and also about the difficulty of getting ebooks into libraries.

Anonymous said...

Here is a website that contains the selection policies for many US libraries:

http://www.acqweb.org/cd_policy.html

I haven't checked them all but two items that contribute to a book being selected are good reviews, from a selection of trusted sources, and the reputation of the author.

Self-published books are mentioned and must meet the same selection criteria as any other books. Which suggests that unless libraries relax their selection criteria they are unlikely to welcome books simply because they are offered or even on the basis of Amazon reviews.

However, I'd imagine that as digital publishing grows, these policies will be reviewed.



J.E. Mullany said...

Regarding the concern about this re: nobody would ever buy a book again...

Simply limit the # of people it can be loaned out to at any given time. This will mean that if your book is great, then there will be a waiting list - therefore another copy purchased for lending. Others who don't want to wait, will buy the book.

The libraries will have to become gatekeepers for book acceptance. Before, the publishers served as this - if they spent the money publishing it then the library could assume it met the minimum standard. Now librarians will have to - or a 3rd party that does this for them. (Ever want to get paid to read? New business opportunity!)

J.E. Mullany said...

Hi Joe,

Regarding libraries, it occurs to me that this is just a continuation of legacy publishing's self-absorption, and I don't say that just to throw insults or jump in with the cool kids. But pre-ebooks there was a rationale for each aspect of the business. Specifically to this case, libraries were charged more because the books sold to them had "library binding." This gave them greater durability to stand up to the heavier-than-average usage that libraries could expect. Even so, eventually the books wore out and had to be replaced. These constraints go away with e-books.

Cue the publishers' response to these costs going away: "Great! Now it's pure profit when we continue doing exactly as before!" It's the same as when ebooks took away all the costs of printing, warehousing, shipping, distribution expertise, etc. and the publishers responded by simply pocketing the savings. ($12.99 ebook, seriously?)

Here's where the self-absorption comes in. Rather than looking at this as a new paradigm for books, they instead look at their own business, their revenue streams, and try to maintain each. Revenue line item for replacing worn out books to libraries? Maintain this by forcing libraries to buy again after 25 lendings. I have a Marketing MBA, so I know wherever there is a cost, you charge for it, plus a profit on top, so a cost line item is really a profit generator, so publishers are trying to maintain a line item for profit.

This is further evidence of an industry refusing to look at how things are, and are instead trying desperately to make the new world fit into their existing structure. Further evidence of a doomed industry.

But door close - window open, there's a new business here. If I were an editor at one of these publishers, I'd get some of my screeners and approach the library association. Someone is going to have to vet ebooks for quality and give a seal of approval for purchase by libraries. This function used to be done by the publishing industry. (If they put $$$ into printing it, then it must meet minimum specs, right?) Libraries simply can't afford to buy every ebook, (some % of these will be crap) and it would be very inefficient to have each library try to vet for themselves. I'd charge authors $25-50 to read their book and if it passed specs, it would be placed on the list of approved books for library purchase.

It's a whole new world in publishing. And once you understand that publishers know that, but are milking the current system for all that they can, then you can leave them behind without a second thought. I did. I have published one book so far, and I never gave legacy publishing serious consideration. (7 rejections to my name! Oh the agony.)

J.E. (Joe) Mullany

Librarian X said...

@J.E. Mullaney. That IS the current library model. One person can have a copy of the book out at one time until they return it. (just like a regular printed book).

So, as several others have said, you can wait for a copy to become available or you can just run out and buy the book.

Libraries do not have a problem with this. We'll buy additional copies if demand for a book is shown. What we have a problem with is being charged 4+ times retail price or not even being able to buy the book at all.

Publishers had no problems agreeing to the "one copy per person at a time" model but now they don't like it and want to change the game.

Michael McClung said...

Well, Anonymous, you certainly didn't disappoint!

Let me give a general summary of your contribution to this discussion first, and then set about the specific mocking.

General Summary: Concern Troll

Point-by-point mockery:

The discussion was about marketing ebooks to libraries.

That's the general discussion. Our particular little squabble centers around literacy. How soon you forget.

Can't disagree with any of that but it wasn't really what we were talking about. We're discussing "Ebooks in Libraries: They Still Don't Get It!" Please see above. In case you forgot. Again.

That's good to know. I've yet to meat someone who thought otherwise. Usually I let typos slide, but since you're so worried about them, I thought I'd better point out that 'meating' someone is probably illegal, and definitely unfriendly.

If that means libraries need good books, I agree.

It means libraries need good phonics and reading instruction books.

But good spelling will trump bad spelling any day. Ask Dan "Potatoe" Quayle.

The snark is strong with this one.

"In short, intimating that poor grammar or spelling in a book will push a reader (even a young reader once they are reading independently for their age level) down the road to illiteracy is baseless."

I didn't say it would. I did intimate that it might. Witness, the Mighty Splitter of Hairs!

You'll only find out whether it is baseless or not when libraries start issuing badly spelled books and the effects of the policy can be tested. Um, no. I'm telling you it's baseless because I already know it is. But if you want to do study, go for it.

But, as I intimated, I'd rather not take the risk. Your concern is touching. Or rather it would be, if it were sincere.

And if you are telling me that you don't care if the books you use to teach with are badly spelled, then remind me never to employ you.

Two things here: First, you couldn't afford me anyway. Second, don't (intentionally) confuse instruction material with self-published fiction, mmmkay?

"there are much scarier, much more real threats out there than some poorly edited, self-published book."

Ah you tease! Let's hear them.

You really *weren't* paying attention, were you?

Please feel free to comment away. I'll cede the ground to you from here on out. I've got a busy week.

J.E. Mullany said...

Anonymous Librarian X said...

@J.E. Mullaney. That IS the current library model. One person can have a copy of the book out at one time until they return it. (just like a regular printed book).
(...)
Publishers had no problems agreeing to the "one copy per person at a time" model but now they don't like it and want to change the game.
***

I agree - and I think the current library model makes sense, minus any profit-generating ideas such as limiting the number of lendings and the ridiculous overpricing to libraries.

In short, common sense would dictate a simple solution, except for the industry desperately trying to maintain revenue streams that simply no longer apply.

And I'm one of the authors who told Joe K. that I'd happily join in on his proposed plan for library sales. I have no ties or loyalty to legacy publishers.

Kannan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kannan said...

Thank you Librarian X for wonderfully stating the problem. I would be more than happy to offer my book "Nirvana: Absolute Freedom" for e-book lending through libraries at the same reasonable terms mentioned by Joe.

Anonymous said...

Michael Mocker McClung said:

"I've got a busy week."

A mocker's work is never done. So many quips so little time.



MJ Ware said...

If we allow libraries to make unlimited copies, then the IT cost is very low. All the library really has to pay for is the bandwidth, which is very minimal for text (and cheap to begin with).

With a bit of HTML5 and your kindle e-mail address, it is simple to make an app that bypasses the Kindle (or Apple) store and allows books to be sent to a Kindle almost exactly like buying them from Amazon.

There's no reason one library couldn't serve an entire state. This might not happen, but you can bet libraries would consolidate (there are only 3,000 counties in the US).

Eventually it would be simpler to download the book than to buy it (no need to enter a credit card number). Just give the library your kindle e-mail address and download all the books you want.
Heck, since the library can just make more copies, why even require readers to return them?

Unlimited copies is a nice idea, but I'm afraid Lee is right in the long run it's just not viable for authors or publishers.

Becca Mills said...

Don't think I'm going along with this idea, Joe. I think there are two central reasons piracy hasn't proven to be much of a threat: it's a little more trouble to deal with torrent files, and it Feels Wrong to many people. Library ebook lending removes both those limitations.

I'm not really seeing the problem with treating ebooks like paper books when it comes to libraries. That's how Amazon's lending library works. I mean, why not?

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Very exciting post and idea. I'd be happy to network on and contribute to hiring a full-time person to organize this. It's a great job for someone and I'm sure the right person is just an e mail away.

Anonymous said...

I feel for LX, but I don't feel that traditional publishers are doing the wrong thing. They are the only one's who have numbers that can really tell them if they are making any sort of decent return on e-book library sales. I, personally, think that it makes sense to focus on selling paper books (to keep that going and as a way to keep paper books going strong). It is better to wait until e-books are so firmly entrenched that paper books are solidly in decline that it becomes necessary.

Of course, most indie publishers and small presses would disagree, but question: Why do you care? Think about that. Beyond just considering that it's sort of unfair and 'not nice' to act the way they are (clue: Business is not always what we want or think it should be), does this actually affect us or matter? I have my books going to libraries through Smashwords. I'm very happy about that. My self interest by far trumps whatever minor interest I might have in this situation. In fact, I am actually pleased that the Big 6 is playing poker with libraries. They are making it much easier for me to sell to libraries. For that I am grateful - emotionally, I welcome their decision (and also think it is good for them at the same time on an analytical level.)

What I am saying, in summary is two things: 1) You can get emotionally involved and get excited and maybe even do something that may or may not be useful to your own needs; 2) It's just not that bigger deal: Meaning, there are two parties this effects - Publishers (and those published by them) and libraries.

Let me ask you this: If the library is not spending their annual book budget on Big 6 e-books for various reasons, who are the ones they will spend money on? You got it - YOU. Say thanks to the Big 6 for their help.

@ Joe...

I think I get that you and other traditionally published authors don't like this, but from an indie perspective (meaning the part of you that is purely an indie author), do you really care? (Apart from wanting to get your books into libraries in as plentiful numbers - perhaps what I want to know is if the overall issue Publishers VS Libraries is of interest to you, beyond your personal goals, or is it more that you want to see indies, especially yourself, in libraries as much as possible?)

Anonymous said...

Additionally, couldn't all the seemingly stupid behavior be just delaying tactics. The publishers are coming from a place of power. Why not make ridiculous demands and mess with the libraries negotiation teams head? Worst comes to worse the libraries might actually agree and then the publishers will just up the ante some more to the point where the libraries have to back down. Sometimes what looks to be 'very stupid behavior' is actually just smart behavior cloaked under the wool of stupidity.

Simply: Make demands the libraries can't meet, but keep the negotiations going. After things are in a position that you want them to be then offer a fair deal. If human nature is anything to go by the fair deal will be snapped up (probably it would be offered in such a way as to make it look like the publisher relented against a powerful attack.) It's just a game...

Anonymous said...

I work in a large public library. This post is the best thing I've read that adequately describes the current situation with publishers restrictions on e-books. Thank you Librarian X for so eloquently stating what I've been feeling.
I think the publishing industry is going to be in the same sad shape as the recording industry if they don't wise up quickly to 21st Century business models.

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Karla Telega said...

I'd be very interested in connecting with x, or participate in any listing of ebooks to libraries. I live in Berkeley County, South Carolina, and have already donated 6 copies of my award winning cozy mystery to our local library system. I'd love to make the electronic version available as well.
Karla Telega
tartcoookies@gmail.com

Gwendolyn Ray said...

I really want my ebooks in libraries. I wouldn't put a limit on how many lends.

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