In re: ebooks and libraries

In every "we no longer need libraries" article/editorial/letter to the editor/cave drawing in the papers recently, one of the reasons cited is that everyone will get everything on their Kindle/Nook/Cloud etc. It's ridiculous, of course, but that hardly matters when so many of the general public believe it to be true. "The Book", in its paper form, is still a pretty strong content delivery device. The million copy ebook club is still a pretty elite group, is it not? And until device costs come down (yes, MORE), and ease of access goes up, it'll stay that way. There are people who got devices for Christmas/Birthday/Mother's or Father's Day/Graduation who still have them sitting in the box because they have no idea what to do with them when they're unpacked. We have patrons calling us, not just with Overdrive questions (which is what we offer) but also with device questions....and not just how to use their device with Overdrive.

The question isn't whether or not people still need libraries. That has never been the question no matter how much people insist on asking it. Libraries have always loaned things that individuals have the option of buying for themselves. Ebooks are no different in that regard. Publishing companies have been having a grand time making up doomsday scenarios about libraries, including often repeating the lie about one copy/one MILLION simultaneous checkouts. Yet there are some publishing companies who, while they profess to be in the business of making a profit, refuse to even sell ebooks to libraries. Hey, I'm not a business person, but I always believed that a sale is a sale is a sale. If I have a product for you, and you have money for me, that was a win-win situation. Apparently, that is no longer the case. But while libraries complain about those companies, I actually don't see how we are the ones losing in that proposition. We've had Overdrive audio since 2006 and ebooks since 2009, and circ hasn't done anything but increase since we launched the collection.

Without including content from companies who would rather not have our money.

Would we buy books from those companies who refuse to sell to us? Of course we would. But, instead, we buy other titles from other publishing companies. And those titles circulate at an alarming rate. Jan-June stats just came out earlier this week and our "web branch" (read: digital collection) is up 132% over the same time period in 2010. 132%. It's hard to say how much better those stats would be if we could buy titles from Simon & Schuster, Macmillan (and if we chose to add Harpercollins titles post #hcod) but the stats look pretty damn good anyway. Patrons are finding new favorites, often from smaller indie publishers, to check out. New authors are moving from "I'll try that" list to the "auto buy" list.

Yes, I still get questions and requests from people who many want to us to buy an author published by one of those companies. Patrons then get an explanation as to why we can't buy that particular title. I don't know if they then choose to buy that title for themselves. That title was always available for them to purchase, even as they were asking the library to buy it for the collection. What I do know is that company/author did not get a sale from me. If the patron chose not to buy it either, then they missed out on two sales. That is a very strange way of making a profit.

What the newspaper letter writers (and the publishing companies) are missing is that availability isn't the same thing as access. Yes, you can buy a book reading device, and you can buy lots of books to put on that device. That doesn't mean it is accessible to everyone. Libraries are about accessibility. It isn't free, of course. A community pools its money (thank you, property taxes) and shares the fruits of that resource. The biggest sin I can think of, as a collection development librarian, is not spending every thin dime I get in my budget. So if you're not selling me your product, or only at terms that are laughable, then someone else will get my cold hard cash until the coffers are dry for the year. Even with many items unavailable for library purchase, I never get anywhere near buying every single title in publication. But of the titles that are accessible to my patrons, they are checking them out. In droves. The more people check out, the more money we devote to the service. In 2007 we spent, roughly, 50k. In 2011, our budgeted amount was 250k with an addition 250k added in, giving patrons more access to more available titles.

So, thank you to all the companies, big and small, who have gotten on this ebook ride with libraries. We are glad to help our patrons digitally meet your authors, either through ebook or downloadable audio. To libraries: we need to be better at getting the word out (to the public and the publishers) that not only are libraries not fading, we're actually growing both in content provided and patrons served.


FuzzyLogic said…
Agree with BooksNyarn, a really great post.

Much of what's written is about how to keep content safe, and how not to be like the music companies. But the publishsers really don't like to talk price, what they pay authors per ebook sale, or the reality that they're still selling more paper books in total than ebooks. And they certainly don't want to put them on a common, standard.

I have been wondering how they could be selling so many readers and ebooks in this market, when the readers still are in three digits. Still wondering.
I love your understatement..."That is a very strange way of making a profit."

In recent months, I have become my library's self-appointed "ebook maven" as we struggle to help our patrons with using their ipads and nooks. So I've learned a lot, very quickly. I've learned that our ebook circulation, too, has more than doubled since December 2010. I've learned the reason why we can't buy "The Greater Journey" is because some stinkin' publishers won't license their econtent to libraries. And I've learned that libraries are poised to play a huge role in this reading revolution, if only we can find a way to advocate for our institutions, our profession, and our patrons.

I used to gripe about Harper Collins and their 26-check-out rule...but hey, at least they're selling to us!

And now I've found your blog. This makes me very happy! I'm eager to see what else I can read here.

-Melissa the Book Maven, Tome Reader, and Information Mistress
robin said…
Thanks for the comments! Melissa, I would caution a little against the "at least they sell to us" idea. It's true, yes, but how much better is it if they sell to us but at crazy prices or with crazy restrictions? That's kind of a six of one, half dozen of the other.

Just a thought.
Anonymous said…
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But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images.
Maybe you could space it out better?

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