8 Weird Facts From the History of the Library

28 July 2015

From Flavorwire:

“The hallmark of public libraries — the printed book, bound by covers and centuries of page-turning — is being shoved aside by digital doppelgangers,” the Washington Post wrote this month. It’s true. And because of the recent incineration of hundreds of thousands of printed volumes across the Western world, libraries are of increasing interest to the “general intellect.”

As it happens, too, they are of interest to the specialized mind. Thankfully, the two intersect in The Meaning of the Library, an excellent collection of essays on the cultural history of the library in the Western world, edited by Alice Crawford and out this month from Princeton University Press. One of the many virtues of Crawford’s collection is that it situates the contemporary library’s precious present within a long history of upheaval and general weirdness. Below is a sampling, from the book, of that history.

. . . .

“The papyrus on which most ancient Greek and Latin books were recorded, as an organic material, was extremely vulnerable to rotting and wear and tear. Aristotle bequeathed his personal library to his student Theophrastus, but two generations later the collection of rolls ended up in the hands of some “ordinary people” of Scepsis in Asia Minor, who did not know how to store its precious contents.” — Edith Hall

. . . .

“The majority of books published during the Renaissance fell victim to more mundane dangers: rats and mice, birds and moths, worms or damp. Fire, neglect, and use all took their toll. But it does illustrate vividly the great gulf between the rhetoric of the humanistic book world, and the practical experience of those who sought to build a library. It might have been thought that the invention of printing in the fifteenth century, and the huge increase of the availability of books, would usher in a great new age of library building. In fact, the opposite was the case. Many of the great Renaissance collections were broken up, the victim of predators, politics, or neglect. In the sixteenth century the library… took a backwards step.” — Andrew Pettegree

. . . .

“Pirate publishers rarely attempted to produce a book that would look like the original. They churned out down-market editions, eliminating “typographical luxury” as they called it. They used relatively cheap fonts of type, eliminated ornaments and often illustrations, and frequently abridged the text. Because they paid no author’s fees and had access to inexpensive paper, they could undersell the privileged edition, even when they had to smuggle their works into France… Probably half the books sold in France during the twenty years before the Revolution — current literature of all kinds but not chapbooks, religious tracts or professional treatises — were pirated.” — Robert Darnton

Link to the rest at Flavorwire

With 10,699 books printed, Windsor library’s self-publishing machine is a hit

22 July 2015

From the Windsor Star:

Sue Perry likens her role at the Windsor Public Library to that of a midwife.

Perry runs the main library’s self-publishing Espresso Book Machine which has produced 10,699 books in three years and she hopes to be even busier delivering professionally-bound paperback books into the hands of local authors.

Windsor was the first public library in Canada to install such a machine in 2012 so it wasn’t clear how well it would be received. Three years later, the service isn’t a money-maker but its growing popularity and a proposed fee increase could help it break even.

Perry said it’s not about turning a profit but providing a service that, in this case, led to the birth of a writer’s group and gave people a way to publish their work even if they only want one book.

. . . .

The machine is growing in popularity. In its first half year, the machine pumped out 986 books. So far this year, it has printed more than 4,000 books.

There have been more than 248 individual titles produced, books in English, Arabic, Polish, Spanish and French, and authors from teenagers to writers in their 80s. Although people can make a copy of an out-of-print book, 98 per cent of the customers are self publishing, she said. There are children’s books, textbooks, memoirs, fiction novels, how-to manuals and genealogy books.

Link to the rest at The Windsor Star

E-book prices marked up too high at $85 per copy, libraries protest

23 June 2015

From CBC News:

Why aren’t there more e-books on your library’s virtual shelves? Libraries say it’s because big publishers are charging them up to $85 per copy — and they can’t afford it.

The Kindle edition of Lena Dunham’s bestselling memoir Not that Kind of Girl retails for $14.99 at But the book’s publisher, Random House, charges Canadian libraries $85 per copy of the e-book — five times more, according to the Canadian Library Association.

Despite the premium, only one borrower can access each copy of the book at a time.

. . . .

“We’re very concerned about what this means for mandate of the public library in providing universal access to a diverse collection in a range of formats … we need to be able to provide customers with access to e-content in the same way that we’ve always provided access to other forms of content in books and DVDS and CDs et cetera.”

That’s a big concern because demand for e-books among library users is soaring.

With print books, libraries have traditionally paid less than retail price for copies. With e-books, it’s the opposite.

Link to the rest at CBC News and thanks to Simon for the tip.

“Free” Ebooks Don’t Help Poor Kids

4 May 2015

From BookRiot:

One of the duties I had at the last library for which I worked was helping to get patrons onto computers. For adults, this wasn’t generally a problem: they either presented a library card to me or pulled out some form of photo identification (which ranged from your standard driver’s license or passport to less traditional booking papers following a jail stay).

For teenagers and children, however, it was a different story. In order to get onto a computer to do work, they had to have either their library cards or a photo ID. A school ID would work, as would a driver’s license.

Anyone who has worked with teens or kids knows what this means. Many kids never had the opportunity to get onto the computers and internet, despite needing to do homework or research. Because they didn’t bring their IDs or simply didn’t have one — being that they’re maybe 12 or 13 and don’t HAVE identification like that — they were denied access to something they needed in order to complete assignments for school. Most of these kids, the ones who came to the desk begging me to break policy, were there because they have no internet access at home.

. . . .

The kids most harmed by these policies, which tend to be common in public libraries, are those who are the poorest and most needing of access. And kids who did bring their ID to do work still had barriers through which to plow: computer access is time-restricted in most libraries, as there are an inadequate number of stations to allow for the number of people who need to use them.

Some statistics before going further: in households where the family income is $30,000 or less in the United States, only 54% have access to broadband at home. For those who make under $20,000 a year (which is the rough poverty line for families of three), 1/3 – 33% – do not go online at all.

. . . .

So why is it that, despite these numbers, the publishing industry takes on initiatives meant to reach poor kids and improve their literacy in ways that show a clear lack of understanding about the real problems these kids face? How come publishers and politicians choose to ignore those who work with children and teenagers struggling with access — to books, to reading, to technology, to a host of literacies, including digital?

Recently, Simon & Schuster announced a change in a literacy program they’ve been offering since 2003. “Cheer on Reading,” which put physical books inside cereal boxes, shifted from a print focus to digital one. Now, when kids open up a box of Cheerios, rather than getting a book to read, they’re given a code to access a digital version of a book which they can download (via proprietary software, no less). While this initiative saves the publisher on the cost of printing and distributing a physical book, it in no way allows poorer kids — those who are most in need and most likely to benefit from this kind of access — access to them.

Link to the rest at BookRiot and thanks to Felix for the tip.

The Case For Libraries

5 April 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

Publishers are running out of space. Not in their headquarters, some of which are larger and more imposing than ever, but in retail. The number of booksellers has been dwindling since the demise of Borders, and the largest book retailer today is Amazon, which has no physical space at all.

So the question is, where can publishers showcase new books? If only there were a space dedicated primarily to reading that hundreds of millions of Americans visit annually. If only there existed a trusted space, free of the revenue pressure that necessitates displaying lightly pornographic books of debatable quality. If only there were a space largely inhabited by active readers, where publishers could showcase new authors or shine new light on talented mid-listers.

That space exists in the 16,000 public library branches in America. They’re trusted and willing, and they welcome your attention. But libraries receive surprisingly little coordinated help from publishers beyond lip service—in fact, they’re still in the middle of a very public dispute with publishers about the high prices and restrictive access libraries must contend with to lend e-books to their patrons.

The tension between libraries and publishers seems odd in a market where physical space for displaying books is quickly disappearing. How did we get here? And could libraries actually represent a much better opportunity for publishers than they are given credit for?

. . . .

In the beginning, publishers and libraries were interdependent. When modern publishing houses emerged from printers in the late 19th century, public libraries in the U.S. and U.K. were often the first and only guaranteed customer for a title.

Even as late as 1950, libraries were indispensable customers for publishers. The entire output of the domestic publishing industry in that year was 11,000 titles, and the average branch of a public library purchased 14,000 titles annually. The most reliable market for many books was the 11,135 library branches operating then.

Things are different today. Publishers produced nearly half a million new ISBNs in 2013 (with self-publishers included, that total nearly doubles), though increasingly cash-strapped libraries are purchasing fewer titles. According to industry stats, the library market now represents just over 1.3% of publishers’ trade sales.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Kat for the tip.

Ebooks for Libraries

27 March 2015
From Joe Konrath:


  • I want to help authors get their ebooks into libraries.
  • I want to help libraries acquire indie ebooks.
  • To do this, I started a business called EAF –
  • I want to sell your ebooks to libraries.

What’s going on with libraries and ebooks?

There are 120,000 libraries in the US. These libraries, and their patrons, are eager for popular ebooks. Many libraries have a budget they must spend, or they risk having that budget cut.

Currently, libraries have no allies in the ebook market. They aren’t happy with the restrictions and costs of the current leader in supplying libraries with ebook content, Overdrive. Through Overdrive, many publishers charge high prices for ebooks, some higher than $80 a title. They also require yearly license renewals, and may force libraries to re-buy licenses after a certain arbitrary number of borrows.

Just one example of the perils of this approach for America’s libraries is that a library must pay for extensions of time-limited licenses of old ebooks and purchases of licenses for new ones. All kinds of sustainability and predictability issues aris

. . . .

Some indies are on Overdrive and 3M. I’ve been on Overdrive for a few years. My last quarterly check was about $60, and I have a large catalog. This is small money, not just for me, but for any writer. And I was fortunate enough to have been invited into Overdrive. Many authors are not.

The vast majority of libraries don’t have access to many of the ebooks that readers are seeking. The latest report showed that 33% of all ebooks sold on Amazon are from indie authors. Libraries are missing out on 1/3 of available titles, because they have no way easy way to acquire them.

Just as important, these are quality titles. People are reading, enjoying, and recommending them. Indie authors are hooking readers, and selling as well as the major publishing houses, but there isn’t a way for libraries to offer them to their patrons.

. . . .

For the past year, my business partner, August Wainwright, and I have been talking to acquisitions librarians across the country, and they crave an alternative to the status quo. These libraries are looking to buy thousands of ebooks at once in order to best serve their patrons and community.

Their main wish is to be treated fairly – which means they want to own the ebooks they purchase, acquire good content at a reasonable price, and have access to as many copies as they need.

Our solution? Give libraries what they’re asking for, and in a way that gives libraries the sustainable purchasing model they deserve. We’re striving to offer a large, curated collection of popular ebooks that libraries can easily purchase with just one click.

. . . .

EbooksAreForever distributes to libraries at $7.99 for full length novels, and $3.99-$4.99 for shorter works. We’re offering 70% royalties to the author, and the library will have the ability to purchase more copies as needed.

The way this works is that if a library wants to allow 3 patrons to borrow your ebook at any given time, they’d need to have purchased 3 “copies”. Most libraries adhere to a strict hold ratio (usually around 3:1) in order to present patrons with the best user experience possible. Our hope is that by making ebooks both affordable and sustainable, then libraries in response will automatically purchase more copies.

So, if you have a catalog of 10 ebooks that we then distribute to 1000 libraries, you’ve just earned $56,000 in royalties from making your books available to the library marketplace if they each buy one copy. If your titles are popular, they’ll buy more copies and you’ll earn more.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to Sabrina for the tip.

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

UPDATE: PG put this post together and scheduled it to appear a couple of days ago. He couldn’t figure out why so many people kept sending him tips about Joe’s plan. Then he checked and discovered that WordPress had failed to publish this at the proper time.

Rakuten to Buy OverDrive

20 March 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

In a move to strengthen its global presence in the digital marketplace, Japan’s Rakuten, Inc., has agreed to acquire OverDrive for $410 million in cash. The deal is expected to close in April.

OverDrive founder and CEO Steve Potash will stay and continue to direct OverDrive operations. OverDrive will retain its brand name while operating under Rakuten USA, the U.S. division of Rakuten Inc.

Based in Cleveland, OverDrive was one of the first companies to get deeply involved in supplying digital content to libraries, first with audio and then e-books. Its digital distribution platform now has more than 2.5 million titles and OverDrive has relationships with 5,000 publishers and 30,000 libraries, schools, and retailers.

. . . .

 Rakuten has revenues of $22.8 billion and is one of the world’s largest Internet service companies operating in three main areas: digital content, e-commerce, and finance. In addition to acquiring Kobo, Rakuten has continued to grow its digital contents businesses, adding video streaming service in 2012 and global TV and video site Viki in 2013.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Fringe Factor: Small Presses and Self-Publishing

18 March 2015

From School Library Journal:

Beth Revis, author of the New York Times bestselling YA “Across the Universe” series (Penguin), joined a wave of established authors when she decided to self-publish her most recent book, The Body Electric.

“I wrote a book. I loved this book, I felt that it said exactly what I wanted it to say, but it didn’t fit in the current market,” says Revis, who produced The Body Electric in ebook and paperback format. “Twenty years ago—maybe even 10—I would have let it die a quiet death. But with self-publishing and my own career on the rise, I was able to get this book out into the world.”

Revis’s path illustrates an ongoing diversification and disintermediation in the publishing landscape, as more authors take advantage of self-publishing options or sign up with small presses. E-publishing has enabled individuals to easily and inexpensively self-publish ebooks, yielding a vast amount of titles.

Bolstered by technology, self-published writers, novice or seasoned, are carrying on a tradition of DIY self-expression outside of traditional publishing that has also given rise to blogs, fan fiction, and earlier, zines. This movement dovetails with libraries’ embrace of participatory maker culture: In addition to being readers, young library patrons are makers, writers, and doers, flocking to events like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) hosted by libraries.

. . . .

Quality and content matter most to librarians, not who the publisher is, says Parrott. Though librarians tend to be “publisher agnostic,” small presses must do extra legwork to get noticed.

“Getting into a library if you’re not with a big publisher is a little bit tougher,” says Miral Sattar, CEO and founder of Bibliocrunch, an author services marketplace. “If you’re with a small press, you have to submit your book similar to the way a [self-published] author would”—with additional effort and, often, a personal approach.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal and thanks to Bailey for the tip.

Weapons of Mass Instruction – A Bookmobile Tank

9 March 2015

Weapons of Mass Instruction: A 1979 Ford Falcon Converted in a Tank Armored with 900 Free Books from Colossal on Vimeo.

OverDrive Blames Kindle eBook Problem on Technical Snafu

27 February 2015

From Ink, Bits & Pixels:

If you’ve been checking ebooks out of your library over the past month, you may have noticed a certain problem with OverDrive. Numerous library patrons have been complaining on Amazon’s forums and elsewhere that new titles which libraries are adding to their catalogs are no longer available to read on the Kindle.

. . . .

OverDrive is having an issue with their system. It affects titles published since the beginning of the year, and it is impacting publishers both big (Macmillan, Harlequin, HarperCollins) and small (Overlook Press, Sourcebooks, and more).

. . . .

To start, It’s safe to assume that this is not an action taken by the major publishers; this issue is also hitting smaller independent publishers.

. . . .

So what’s going on here?

At this point I really don’t know, but in the absence of any new info my working hypothesis is that this really is a technical snafu. It’s a wide-ranging and very embarrassing technical snafu, but I have no evidence at this time to disprove that claim.

. . . .

Some newly published titles are getting through OverDrive to the Kindle platform, including Big 5 titles.

Link to the rest at Ink, Bits & Pixels

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