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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

What's up with publishers not selling ebooks to libraries?

"As most people know who are following the tribulations of libraries trying to stock ebooks, four of the Big Six publishers are not making any ebooks available to libraries at all (except titles already sold in the past)," writes Mike Shatzkin this week. "Random House continues to supply all their titles to libraries as ebooks with only the 'one loan at a time per copy purchased' limitation, but they have just raised the prices of those books to libraries substantially. HarperCollins was widely vilified a year ago when they introduced a limitation of 26 loans per copy purchased, but this is apparently now more widely being seen as an acceptable limitation. (Random House pricing and the others’ total withdrawal from the market are making 26 loans look good!)

Shatzkin continues Thinking more about ebooks and libraries and what big publishers should do (The Shatzkin Files, 3-18-12): "If it were just as easy to get ebooks from libraries as it is from retailers, over time more and more customers would migrate to the libraries. But, the more I think about it, the less I accept the notion that total withdrawal from the library market is necessary to create a clear advantage for the retailer as a destination for ebook readers. In fact, it is possible that putting ebooks into libraries, in the right ways, could increase sales at retail. And the only way for publishers to find that out is to do some controlled experimentation in that marketplace. To my knowledge, that’s not taking place."

This Shatzkin File is interesting not only for what Shatzkin writes but also for the dialogue that follows, in the comments. For those of us who both buy many books and borrow many from libraries, this is an important issue for consumers, and I hope book publishers take him up on his proposal to experiment instead of fearfully shutting libraries out of the ebook market or making it difficult for them to participate. I particularly agree with one comment, which I hope it is okay to share here, in the interest of encouraging you to go to the Shatzkin post and posting your own comments:

Wrote TFQ: "Mike, why is the issue of having to take the print book back important? With print books, I could just keep them out and pay the fine for turning them in late. I don't get to keep the e-book after my borrowing period ends - I can't even renew it the way I can renew an e-book. If I don't finish it before the borrowing period ends, I have to go back on the waiting list for the book, and if I'm that interested in the book, I end up buying it rather than wait.

"I disagree with Eric Welch about readers being divided into buyers and borrowers. Most of my friends are heavy users of the library AND regular buyers of books. There are some books we want to own, without having to worry about taking them back or having to re-borrow them. For some books, being able to borrow from the library just isn't the same, regardless of whether we're talking print or e-book.

"I'd like to note also that I have bought WAY more books as a result of trying out new-to-me authors via e-book. Binge-reading an author via e-book is much easier to do than binge-reading in hard copy - when I find a new author via the library and there is a backlist, a lot more of those titles get purchased and find their way onto my Nook than ever found there way onto my bookshelves." (TFQ, in Comments, Thinking more about ebooks and libraries and what big publishers should do )

From an earlier Shatzkin Post (he's weighing the issues thoughtfully):

"Because libraries are, at most 5% of a general trade publisher’s business and far less of the ebook business, and because the market is changing so rapidly and because every retailer except Amazon can be said to be struggling to carve out a sustainable position in the global ebook marketplace, there are many legitimate reasons for the biggest publishers to take a wait-and-see attitude about libraries and ebooks, writes Shatzkin (Libraries and publishers don’t have symmetrical interest in a conversation , Shatzkin Files, 2-22-12). "That fear is not just about a 'lost sale'. It is also about a 'lost channel' of sales, or a pipe to the consumer that runs entirely through Amazon."

Dear Book Publishers: Consider how we authors feel about your decisions. A lot more authors are tempted to bypass publishers altogether these, because you have ignored their interests so steadily and because they see they can often earn more by self-publishing. Check with authors about how they feel about the library thing. And check with consumers (we are VERY big consumers of books). Without those two groups, publishing will really be in trouble. Many authors rue sales lost to libraries, but we also know that for many books and for many, many readers, without libraries their books wouldn't be read at all.
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