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Why e-books, e-audiobooks could be harder to snag at your local library

1 July 2019

From The Canadian Broadcasting Network:

You might call her an ideal library-goer: Andrea Querido visits her local branch weekly — even blogs for it — and describes libraries as “a place of community and connection.”

And when Querido’s son was born five years ago, the communications professional fell in love with a new section of the stacks: e-books, which along with e-audiobooks, make up the fastest growing area of borrowing for many libraries today.

“You’d have those late nights and you could be on your phone or your iPod, reading, while he’s feeding or you’re changing a diaper,” recalled Querido, an avid reader and book club member who lives in Brampton, Ont.

But as any library patron could tell you, there can be lengthy waits for e-book and e-audiobook titles — especially for A-list authors. Take, for instance, Oprah Winfrey’s latest self-help title, The Path Made Clear, published in March.

“I think for the audiobook, it’s 135 days to wait. And then the e-book is something like 35 days,” said Querido. “If you’re willing to wait, it’s great. But if you want to get your hands on that, it’s kind of a long time to wait for the book everyone’s talking about.”

That kind of wait could get even longer now, as libraries call out multinational publishers for high prices, restrictive terms and exclusivity windows that they say make it tougher to get e-content into the hands of eager customers.

. . . .

In the last three years, for example, use of e-audiobooks at six of Canada’s largest public libraries grew by 82 per cent, the council said.

But what isn’t widely known is that publishers charge libraries a significantly higher price for digital books than print versions — both of which are loaned out to customers on a one-to-one basis. For example, one physical copy of Linwood Barclay’s 2018 thriller A Noise Downstairs costs a Canadian library $19.20, while a single digital copy costs $65.

. . . .

Multinational book publishers are changing how they provide digital content to libraries: rather than selling e-books and e-audiobooks for perpetual use, they are adopting a business model whereby libraries must repurchase digital content after a set period.

Hachette Book Group is the latest publisher to make this switch, announcing in mid-June that its perpetual ownership model for digital content would be replaced by a metered system where libraries must repurchase e-books every two years. The change, which goes into effect as of July 1, will be accompanied by a price decrease (up to 25 per cent) for a “vast majority” of titles, the company said.

“With the changing digital marketplace, we feel that this business model better supports our entire publishing, library and bookselling ecosystem and unifies our lending terms for e-books and digital audiobooks to make access to our catalog consistent,” Hachette Book Group said in a statement.

. . . .

Penguin Random House, which moved from perpetual access to a two-year metered model in October 2018, said its decision came “in large part in response to conversations and data provided by its partners.”

. . . .

Exclusivity is another thorn in the side of library systems. Macmillan’s sci-fi division, Tor Books, and Blackwood Publishing are among those testing out embargo windows — holding back new and in-demand digital content from libraries for weeks or months, with some claiming library e-lending has had an “adverse impact” on retail sales.

. . . .

“It took a long time for all the multinationals to get on the board with public libraries. It took a long time before they all agreed to start loaning [digital content] to public libraries,” said Sharon Day, director of branch services and collections at the Edmonton Public Library and chair of the CULC’s e-content working group.

After “a period of relative calm,” she said, libraries are now seeing a slide backward in their relationship with multinational publishers.

. . . .

While the CULC says it recognizes libraries can’t pay publishers the same low price point as individual consumers, they are calling attention to what they view as inflated costs for digital content and expressing alarm over the budding trend of restricted access — all of which limits what libraries can offer their patrons.

“We need to be at the place where our customers are, to be providing customers with content the way they want to use it,” Day said.

. . . .

And while convenience is a key reason many have become fans of e-books and e-audiobooks, for others it’s simply a necessity.

Senior citizens, someone at home recovering from surgery, those with mobility challenges, people who are blind or visually impaired, those on fixed or low incomes — there are many different segments of the population that rely on their local libraries for information and entertainment, said Querido.

“I don’t want to say second-class citizens, but when you’re talking about seniors and those who can’t afford it … you’re making that distinction.”

Link to the rest at The Canadian Broadcasting Network and thanks to Desmond for the tip.

PG says a significant number of library patrons are intensive readers and provide book recommendations to their friends. He understands some face-to-face book clubs will not select a book for discussion that is unavailable in local libraries.

PG has no illusions about being typical of any meaningfully-sized subset of readers (other than, perhaps those who are institutionalized), but he seldom feels a need to read a new bestselling book (fiction or nonfiction) right away. He suspects the “event book” that is a “must-read” beloved by major publishers may be reaching a smaller and smaller subset of readers with each passing year.

As long as PG is on a rant, he believes that a great many consumers (including consumers of books) don’t like the feeling of being manipulated to part with their money by large corporations with distant headquarters. For Big Publishing, goosing the sales numbers for the current quarter without understanding the larger consequences of such tactics over a longer term is all too typical.

All of this incents more and more avid readers to look at the work of indie authors. As mentioned, these avid readers also tend to be enthusiastic influencers of other readers.

Audiobooks, Ebooks, Libraries

17 Comments to “Why e-books, e-audiobooks could be harder to snag at your local library”

  1. I’m a voracious reader as well as a writer and I know I hate being separated from higher and higher amounts of money to buy popular authors. I stopped buying mass market paperbacks when books that used to be $4 suddenly jumped to $8. I was in love with e-books from the start as they were affordable and didn’t fill my house, and then suddenly the big corps made them cost more than hardcovers. Indie authors made reading affordable again and opened my eyes to a wide world of talent that the big publishers ignore.
    I rarely read ‘popular’ books now because they’re just too expensive. Greed is going to kill the big publishers, not lack of desire on the part of readers.
    I try to price my books at reasonable levels. I use Draft2Digital to reach multiple markets including libraries and when they suggest a much higher price for libraries, I balk and keep it reasonable. I WANT people to be able to read my book, not gouge the cash strapped library system.

  2. As a voracious reader that switched to eBooks almost exclusively about 10 years ago, pricing policies of the major publishers have driven me to become strongly interested in independents. Each time I see an article reporting another decline in eBook sales by the majors, I wonder if they’ve considered their own ridiculous pricing strategies as major causation. In common cases, they’re priced above paperbacks even more than a year after hardcover release.

  3. Exclusivity is another thorn in the side of library systems. Macmillan’s sci-fi division, Tor Books, and Blackwood Publishing are among those testing out embargo windows — holding back new and in-demand digital content from libraries for weeks or months, with some claiming library e-lending has had an “adverse impact” on retail sales.

    Maybe they should stop selling hardcovers to libraries on release, too, if that is their attitude? IIRC most libraries won’t order any book they can’t get through Baker & Taylor so they’d only have to throttle distribution there to keep it off of shelves until the “adverse impact” has worn off.

  4. I realize I probably plug Baen way too much, but out of all of the publishing houses they’re probably the ones who “get” the eBook thing the best.
    Their e-editions never cost more than whatever the most recent deadtree format costs, and they do monthly bundles of six or seven books for less than twenty bucks apiece. Sometimes you get some duds in there, but it’s just about always worth it. (And if it weren’t for Simon and Schuster, their prices would be even lower.)

    • And Baen also offers a number of ebooks for free. Jim Baen let Eric Flint experiment with offering Mother of Demons in ebook for free. Sales of the work rose. Baen extended the practice to other books.

      (You can read the story here. It is a tediously long post. To get to the meat, search for ‘September of 1997,’ and start reading there. Warning: The tables are difficult to read but worth the effort.)

  5. I asked our acquisitions librarian, who happens to be enthusiastic about self-publishing, what a self-publisher should do to get their books into libraries. Getting self-published eBooks into libraries is relatively hard because you have to sell through one of the library eBook platforms: OverDrive, Axis360, 3M, others. Most libraries only use one of these platforms. They simply don’t have the budget to do anything else. OverDrive is the largest.

    Paper books are easier because they fit into the normal library distribution channels better. Spark is perhaps the easiest, B&T is good, Amazon works. Our library buys paper from Amazon directly quite often. Their prices are close, but the distributors cater to libraries with special services that reduces the overall cost of putting a book into circulation.

    The most important factor is getting an acquisition librarian to notice an independent author. Acquisitions librarians are usually voracious readers, but they purchase far more books than they could ever read. They rely on book reviewing services. Booklist is probably the most important. A starred review in Booklist guarantees library sales. Booklist solicits submissions from self-published authors, but they also have requirements that you should look at.

    Also, if you really want your local library to circulate your book, go talk to them, email them. Most librarians I know are delighted to put local authors on their shelves. Our acquisitions librarian occasionally gives talks to local writers groups where she offers tips like “Put the title and author on the spine. Number the pages. Run spellcheck.” She says she often has to reject books she would acquire, but won’t because they won’t be presentable on the shelves, and she can’t waste her precious budget on uncirculatable books.

    • I decided to check out how to get Booklist to review one of my books. I think submission of the “galleys” 15 weeks pre-publication is a no-go for indies. That’s almost 4 months of not publishing your novel for the chance of it getting a review which might lead to a library purchase.

    • Anonymouse Librarian

      Good tips, but I’ll add that it is now really easy to get into OverDrive, all you have to do is distribute through Kobo, Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, or eBookPartnership. All those distribute directly to OverDrive, and iirc some of them distribute to Axis360 and Hoopla as well. I think you can use IngramSpark to distribute to Baker & Taylor as well, which is the biggest print distributor in the library market.

      Also, as someone who is frequently trying to catalog self-published books (mostly non-fiction) and get them into the library system, I highly recommend somewhere in the book including the year you published the book (at least a copyright statement) and whatever name you want to publish under (a press name you established, your name if you want that, something) and if you release a second edition, to include an edition statement and the publication date of the new edition. It also really helps to have some kind of book description on the book, or an introduction that can give me an idea of what the subject is so I can include that. Without those things it’s really hard for a library patron to find the book, even if it does get on the shelves.

  6. Some time ago Joe Konrath designed a great system to overcome this problem. (At least for his books.)

    Not sure if he still promotes it.

    Dan

    • I pushed our acquisitions and management to check out Konrath’s system, but no go. A second eBook platform is a budget buster, and he didn’t have enough offerings to replace OverDrive. The cost of his system as a second platform was too high, not because the platform itself was expensive, but integrating the platform into our system, marketing the platform to our customers, teaching them how to use it, and dealing with the user confusion was too much. I imagine we were not alone in this conclusion.

      I wish it were different.

  7. Terrence OBrien

    That kind of wait could get even longer now, as libraries call out multinational publishers for high prices, restrictive terms and exclusivity windows that they say make it tougher to get e-content into the hands of eager customers.

    Eager customers can click the Amazon Buy button.

  8. I’ve pretty much given up on reserving popular ebooks at the library. Not only are the wait times horrendous, once I get the book, it generally shows up while I’m in the middle of reading something else. I’m tired of having to stop reading that book to start the new one because there are no renewals (there are probably a dozen or a hundred more people waiting behind me). There’s a hard and fast 3 week checkout on ebooks.

    So, yes, I’m looking at more indie books. I even finally signed up for KU because I wanted to read some Perry Mason mysteries. The ebooks are $5.99, which is on the high side, especially for books that were published so long ago. Most of them are KU, and so “free.” All I have to do is read two of them a month to save money by subscribing.

  9. Major publishers weren’t able to ban self-published books entirely from Overdrive, but they did manage to get Overdrive to create a ghetto of sorts. I requested my local library carry one of my books and was told it wasn’t available through Overdrive. I sent them the link. They had no idea that self-published ebooks are in a different place in Overdrive. This is vital information if you want your library to carry your books.

    • Anonymouse Librarian

      Yep, and that is the fault of a deal that Smashwords negotiated with Overdrive back in (I think) 2014 or 2015. I don’t have the access to be able to check anymore, so I don’t know if Draft2Digital or PublishDrive are in the separate section, and I would really hope Kobo-distributed books aren’t since they’re owned by the same company, but I know ebooks via eBookPartnership at one point were in the main section of the Overdrive catalog (because I checked back when the Smashwords deal went through).

      Unfortunately, Overdrive also didn’t really publicize the deal with Smashwords, so a lot of librarians didn’t hear about it. For reference, I heard about it via The Digital Reader, not OverDrive, and I was at the time the account manager for my library’s OverDrive account…. and even then I still had trouble finding that separate section in order to order books, and I was specifically looking for it.

      • I published through Kobo with no intermediary distributor, and my books are still listed in the ghetto.

        • Anonymouse Librarian

          Oh, darn, that sucks, I’m sorry you are having to deal with that. I was hoping they would realize what a bad idea it was after the Smashwords deal, but I guess not. Unfortunately I don’t know if any librarians besides me pushed back about it, since I don’t know of any others who knew about it.

          It might be worth checking if you are distributing via Hoopla, that is a service where library patrons have access to the whole catalog and libraries pay a fee every time a title is checked out (instead of licensing individual titles). That way you can promote it directly to readers and encourage them to check if their local library has access to that platform to get your book, and you don’t have to teach individual libraries how to find your books to buy them.

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