That would be me.
I’m going to toss that out there with this by way of explanation. I never went to Library School. Now, while I wait for the murmurs and under-the-breath mutterings of incompetency to die down, I’ll say this: in the State of Alaska, the towns and cities that aren’t quite small enough to be villages but aren’t quite big enough to be “large cities,” have their libraries classified, by the Alaska State Library, as “Middle Kingdom Libraries.” Now, when I first heard that, I beamed, “Does that come with a sword? Because, that would be all sorts of AWESOME if it came with a sword.”
“No,” Aja replied.
“Oh, well, then,” I continued, “may I put it on my business card instead?”
“Yes,” was the answer.
Between you and me, I’d much rather have the sword so I could come over all “Conan The Librarian” if the mood struck: I will SHUSH your BUTT.
Well, not really…
And, as in uffish thought she stood,
Macmillan, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
In defense of smaller libraries, I shall be raising my vorpal sword and taking a whack at a manxome foe who, after years of dealing with libraries, still does not quite understand what it is that libraries do for publishers. Macmillan, to add insult to injury before the ALA Mid-Winter Conference in Seattle, came out with an announcement that they were going to make “more backlist titles available as ebooks to libraries,” but with added restrictions and caveats. Their rule is 52 circulations or two years, whichever comes first.
Dear Macmillan: What’re you, nuts? I mean, 52 circulations is laughable because I don’t think you realize how much your books in many libraries are NOT in demand.
As library-specific ebooks, well, the lending gets difficult if the books are dedicated on a library-owned Kindle, Nook, or iPad, and smaller libraries do not have the wherewithal to keep databases of ebooks for download. That’s pretty much what services like Overdrive do for consortiums of state libraries. If I did have the wherewithal to keep a stable of ebooks available for patron download, guess what? 52? It might take eight or nine years to hit that number in a small, rural library. When I purchase a physical book, I look for titles that will garner six to ten circulations. In a town of 1,400, that’s a rave for a book. If you, as a publisher, are looking to cut me off after two measly years of ebook ownership where the book will maybe garner eight to ten circs, guess what? You’re doing me a disservice, and if I were the author, I would be in your office asking if your meds are current. If you told me your meds were “just fine,” I would be publishing elsewhere because it’s pretty clear you don’t give a rip about your authors who are trying desperately to build a readership. Taking books out of the hands of the public in general and librarians in particular is bad policy and here’s why…
In a typical library in a typical small town patrons come in, check out books, and go out. When they come back after a particularly good read, they want to know about similar authors. Where do they get that information? Well, it comes from the library staff. Do you like Baldacci? Here, read some Flynn. Do you like Cornwell? Wow–you should check out Dietrich. Are you understanding this yet? Librarians sell books. And we do sell books–not just the idea of books. Let me let you in on a little secret. No, really, come closer. Ready? If a patron finds an author at the library who is a particularly good fit, guess what that patron will do? BUY THE BOOKS — ALL OF THEM. I know, I know, it’s all so shocking and unbelievable, but, there you go. If you want to take books out of the hands of librarians, well, then we can’t recommend them, patrons can’t want more (and most times, it’s not in our budgets to give patrons everything they want, so they end up BUYING BOOKS!), and your sales slip. In librarians, publishers have honest PR people who have unique relationships with individuals in their communities, who are trusted and respected, who are not seen as slick market-manipulators, and who can SELL BOOKS. It costs publishers nothing for this kind of service, but time and again, they kick and punch at libraries like we’re the anti-Christ come to tear their kingdoms down.
And before anyone gets the idea that, oh, poor publishers are only getting $9.95 for an ebook that will never wear out (don’t get me started on shoddy physical book production these days) and libraries are just mean because they don’t want a level playing field … I’d crawl over broken glass on my tongue for that price. Library ebooks run anywhere from $40 to $159 depending on the publisher and title. Shocked? I was–and so was every other librarian in the Overdrive training a few months ago. Actually, “aghast” is a better word. There was complete and utter silence as we let the numbers sink in. $159 for one book. In a library with a materials budget of less than $10,000.00, $159 for one ebook is more than significant. The idea that you’re just renting that ebook for 2 years elevates it as a concept piece to the level of stupidity. Well, maybe “stupidity” isn’t the correct word, but it’s an increasingly dubious expenditure of public funds. What am I — Congress? Ten ebooks would have the potential to eat up 16% of my overall budget. That’s not good fiscal policy for a small library in a community with diverse tastes.
This is not the place where I raise the sword and bellow out some “St. Crispin’s Day!” speech followed by a cry for corporate anarchy. Far from it. I want authors to make money (I actually want authors to make more money than publishers). I look at other materials the library purchases–namely DVDs. Did you know libraries pay for public performance rights for their DVDs? Every year I pay dues to the Motion Picture Association for the ability to lend and screen movies at the library. Maybe that’s what’s missing in ebooks. Maybe it shouldn’t be a “we’re-going-to-gouge-you-and-make-this-whole-deal-unpalatable-and-beyond-your-means” thing. Maybe it should be a pay to play type of thing. I pay what I pay for movies, and then pay the dues to MPA. While everyone may not be perfectly happy, at least no one is going to summarily confiscate every DVD or VHS in the library. What’s scary about ebooks is that there’s a bit of control on the devices that goes beyond having a physical copy. What’s to stop a publisher or Amazon or Baker-Taylor from just deleting a book from the collection? You may call it paranoia, but Amazon has done it before. It’s why many people don’t “trust” ebooks–libraries included.
Bottom line: Cut it out. Stupid is as stupid does, and limiting access to purchased materials for libraries is as stupid as it gets. I don’t think publishers actually hang out in libraries. That’s a shame. They should. They’d quickly see that librarians are some of their best advocates. And they don’t even have to pay us for it.