Myth-busting: libraries and ebooks

Recently I submitted an article for the Independent Book Publishers Association in New York. As I've written elsewhere, librarians need to pay more attention to independent publishing. My article is coming out later this month, I believe, but I wanted to share part of it here.
Publishers and authors have a lot of misinformation about libraries. This might be a good time to bust the myths.

Myth # 1: Libraries just want to buy one copy, then give your book away to the world. The truth: No, we don't. We do want to increase access -- getting more books in more people's hands is part of the library's mission. But we understand and adhere to copyright. We pay for multiple copies in the ebook world, just as we do with print. At Douglas County Libraries, we have our own system to manage ebook checkouts. We apply Digital Rights Management through the industry standard Adobe Content Server, and we check out books to just one person at a time.

Myth # 2. Libraries steal sales from publishers. The truth: No, we don't. Last year, my community of 300,000 people checked out over 8.2 million items. They never would have bought that many copies for their individual use. On the other hand, Douglas County residents did buy a lot of books. We have thousands of "power patrons" (people who visit the library once a week or more). Research conducted by Bowker and Library Journal found that "For every two books they borrow, power patrons buy one. And, maybe most surprising, nearly two thirds of power patrons buy books that they had previously borrowed at the library." That study was based on 2,000 library patrons. Our own study of almost 4,000 Douglas County patrons found much the same thing: The more people use the library, the more books they buy. We don't steal sales; we boost them.

Myth # 3. It's too easy to borrow books from the library. The truth: I wish. There isn't a public library in the nation that can buy enough copies to satisfy public demand. Most popular titles have waiting lists. It's not uncommon for people to wait a minimum of 12 weeks for bestsellers, or even up to a year. Library budgets have taken a hit in recent years. We can't supply all titles to the world; we can barely keep up with our own communities. We're not trying to make things difficult for people, but we can't offer instant gratification, either. We can, however, form new partnerships that make it easier for patrons to buy books.

Partnerships -- finding common cause in the connecting of reader and writer -- is the way out of the current conflict between Big Six publishers and America's public libraries. How do we do that? One way is casting libraries as an alternative to Amazon. Just this week, my library put up a link on our website to Bilbary. Wanna buy an ebook? Buy it from our library website and you not only get the ebook, 50% of the sales comes right back to your library. Added value? You bet.

We'll do that for awhile, then take a look at the numbers. In the short run, it's a customer convenience, and maybe a money-maker. But in the long run, should we allow ourselves to be used to sell books that we can't buy ourselves? Really? Or maybe it makes a lot more sense to use the money we make from these arrangements to buy books from those independent publishers.


Anonymous said…
Well stated, Jamie. And for myth #3, libraries with funds will buy additional copies to meet the demand, often at a 1:3 or 1:5 ratio. That is, an additional copy is purchased for every 3 to 5 holds. Again, win-win.
Anonymous said…
Myth #4: Libraries are competing directly with retail sellers. Fact: No, we aren't. Customers of libraries will always come to us first. If we share some of our "power patrons" with booksellers while we regroup from tough times, we stand to gain new partnerships in the short-term and good will toward our "competitors" in the long-term. Research shows we benefit retailers. What we really need is to communicate our business model to publishers, who have nothing to fear but fear itself.
I just featured this post on my blog :-)
Andy W said…
According to the code of the Mythbusters, if you can't replicate the myth you are required to use a powerful explosive to blow it up. I think that should apply in this case as well.
Jamie said…
Excellent point, Andy. Does anyone have an embedded video I can attach here?
Andy W said…
I think you did that with this post, Jamie. :D

Popular posts from this blog

Uncle Bobby's Wedding

Are libraries neutral?

Evaluating the director