The State of EAF - An Update for Authors

The State of EAF - An Update for Authors

This post is copied from an email newsletter sent to approved Author/Publisher accounts on eBooksAreForever.com. After receiving feedback, we believed it was best to post for all to see.


Over the past few days and weeks, a number of you have asked about various aspects of the progress that EAF is making. A lot of that information has been dispersed through individual conversations, blog posts (here and here), and tweets. However, I wanted to bring all of it under one roof and give you a full update on where we’re at, what the upcoming weeks have in store, and what our ultimate goals are.

This email will be a bit long, but I want to make sure we are covering all of your concerns. If you have a question that isn’t listed here, you can always respond directly to this email, or, feel free to reach out to me at august@ebooksareforever.com.

Why haven’t there been very many orders?

The first thing I want to convey is that we’re still in a beta testing period. A large portion of our time is spent speaking directly with libraries and their developers to deliver them a completely unique experience when we launch in the coming weeks.

The reason for this is we want to give libraries a service that is functional, intuitive, and enjoyable to use. But the technology needed to allow a vast majority (I’d estimate 99%+) of libraries to purchase your ebooks in a sustainable way simply doesn’t exist yet. So we’re creating it.

That being said, each “test” order placed by a library during the beta is treated as a real order when it comes to royalties. On June 19th, we had one of our beta partners - Califa Library Group - test the service and they ordered every single book that had been approved to that point. So it’s likely you’ve already had a small sale.

My account doesn’t show any sales; why can’t I see them?

This is an issue pertaining to the current design of the Payments page within your account and something we’ll be updating shortly. Currently, the Payments page defaults to showing sales from the last 30 days. To see a larger sales period, you’ll need to change the dates within the date-picker at the top right of the table.

Based upon your feedback, we’ll be changing the payments page to show the most recent sales, regardless of when they took place. Further filtering will be added soon.

How many libraries are you working with?

This is a bit difficult to answer, but the estimate I can give you that most accurately reflects the current number is about 10-20. The reason for this is:

  1. One of our main partners, the Califa Library Group, is actually a state-level consortium. They purchase titles and allow members - of which they have about 200 member libraries in California - to access that shared collection. But this also means that holds are common and this isn’t ideal to ensure that each individual library has access to all of your ebooks.
  2. In the coming days, we’ll be launching a pilot with a national library association that will start with 5 libraries and quickly expand. They have hundreds of members, and our goal is to be able to access all of them by the end of the year.
  3. The yearly budgets of other individual partners is being set, and they won’t purchase any materials from any vendors until that is finished.

Although this is a bit vague, due to the pilot program, this number will be increasing rapidly.

There are over 100,000 libraries in the US and Canada. That’s our longterm goal. To make your ebooks available at every single place where books are loaned to patrons. In order to do that, we have to invent a way for all of them to be able to integrate with us. Those libraries need to see what they can buy before they start buying. Which is why we’re building our collection concurrently with building the infrastructure needed to sell the collection.

Why does this seem to be taking so long?

It goes back to the point above about how the technology needed to solve this problem (getting indies into libraries) simply didn’t exist. Some may argue that Overdrive & Smashwords allows indies into libraries - technically that’s true - but it doesn’t actually solve any of the library’s needs. Plus, most of you aren’t on Smashwords for a number of reasons.

If you look at the home page of eBooksAreForever.com, you’ll see that the current splash header is “eBook Acquisitions Made Easy” instead of something specific to getting indies into libraries. The reason for that is simple: when we started talking to libraries 12 months ago, their indie acquisition process looked like this:

  1. First, they had to have the ability to self-host the ebook files they were trying to purchase. Immediately, this eliminates 99% of the market.
  2. If they had that technology in place, they had to reach out to publishers or authors directly, negotiate pricing, negotiate access rights and DRM, sign contracts, setup the publisher/author as a vendor (sometimes this meant having them register with the county or state), and go through a number of other hurdles just to be able to purchase ebooks.
  3. Then, “purchasing” required the publisher to submit large spreadsheets of metadata (some publishers didn’t even have this), which the library had to convert into usable files within their setups. After that, they had to setup FTP accounts on both ends for the publisher to send over all of the files and the library had to manually check (or create unique scripts each time) them against the metadata files to make sure nothing was missing.

It wasn’t uncommon for this to take weeks. Some publishers just gave up in the middle of the process.

Now, here’s how this works on EAF:

  1. A library visits the Shop page, clicks the banner at the top to “Add Collection” to their cart, fills in their billing information and assigns a PO number (this is automated on all purchases after the first time).
  2. They submit payment by company credit card, or by direct deposit.
  3. We compile their order on the fly and provide a link within the order page to download all of the files.

All of the metadata is converted to library compliant ONIX 3.0 on the fly. All of the book file names and cover images are matched for easy injection. The library simply needs to drop all of the files onto their system and import the ONIX metadata file.

When the Califa Library Group placed an order for 1,122 ebooks, the entire order process took about 5 minutes. We’ve done test orders that took less than 60 seconds. So EAF has taken a process that took 4 weeks and reduced it to about 4 clicks.

And once the patron apps are available on iOS and Android, the process will be even easier because there will be no ONIX file - or any files for that matter - to deal with. Everything will automatically show up within the apps AND within the library’s ILS.

Can authors start contacting libraries about EAF yet?

We love that so many of you want to get out there and tell libraries about eBooksAreForever and indie authors in general. It’s great to hear. And, by all means, please don’t hesitate to bring us up if you’re talking to libraries.

However, the 99% of libraries we referenced above won’t be able to act yet, regardless of how much you make us sound amazing.

Because of that, we are advising authors to remain in a holding pattern for a while longer, until we launch.

When will you fully “launch”? What will that look like?

The plan is for it to look like a bonanza of awesomeness.

We launch when the apps are available for patrons. The day those apps are downloadable on the app stores, then we’ll immediately gain access to the other 99% of libraries that we don’t have access to now. Our app development is almost complete and we’ll begin user testing soon.

We’re already working on a number of really exciting programs that we’ll release to you around the time the apps are set to launch. Essentially, we want to make it extremely easy for you to reach out to libraries and have them purchase your ebooks.

If Step 1 was making the acquisition process easy for libraries, then Step 2 is making it easy for authors and libraries to speak the same language, and Step 3 is connecting library readers with your work. There’s an opportunity to build a thriving indie library marketplace, and we want to help make that happen.

Our goal is to get your ebooks into every library in the US and Canada, then quickly start working on the UK, Ireland, and Australia, as well as other international markets.

I’ll update you more on these programs in the coming days and week.

Again, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know.


Thanks for being a part of this with us.

August Wainwright
Cofounder


P.S. - The best way to stay updated on any urgent news, updates, or system status reports, is to follow EAF on Twitter. It’s the first place we’ll alert when changes are made.


A Primer on Library Perceptions for Indie Authors

A Primer on Library Perceptions for Indie Authors

EAF is getting closer to official launch later this year, and we wanted to take an opportunity to weigh-in on a few of the more important aspects of the relationship between indie authors and libraries.


Something we’ve continuously attempted to convey during our beta period is that the consumer marketplace and library marketplace are two entirely different entities, and as such, need to be approached from different strategic angles.

This article discusses a few of those details, and is meant to be a first step towards building a knowledge base that both indie authors/publishers and libraries can reference in pursuit of a long-term, sustainable relationship.

Budgets and Economics

Library budgets are shrinking.

This is a reality that all libraries deal with, and a trend which will continue moving forward.

For the past two years, the annual American Library Association (ALA) meeting has had multiple panels that seem to end with the same, ongoing sentiment:

Librarians are not satisfied with the status quo, and are pushing for more experimentation and better options.

Nor should they be satisfied. During a time where they’re forced to deal with shrinking budgets, libraries are routinely required to pay markups of 3X, 10X, even 20X+ over what consumers pay to purchase the book outright. And in most of these situations, the severely marked-up price only allows them to lease titles for a limited time.

When you force libraries to pay huge platform fees, lock them into proprietary systems, charge them enormous markups on popular titles, and then require them to re-license, or lose access to, those titles on an annual basis, it’s easy to see why so many librarians are disenfranchised with their current options.1

This directly from a recent American Libraries Magazine supplement on Digital Futures:

A major concern is for perpetual access to all titles. Librarians have expressed the desire to be able to move content from one aggregator to another if a change of vendors is made. [Additionally] Pricing of ebooks continues to be a concern, as many are offered to libraries at rates multiple times that of the price for consumers. It is clear that no single model will meet all libraries’ needs, and a call for options has been heard. The options might include such terms as a perpetual access copy of a title at one price, with additional copies at a reduced price…

This is indeed a key concern and brings us back to the economics of modern libraries and their collection budgets.

What librarians are asking for is so obviously fair, that it’s baffling they have to ask for it in the first place. They want fair pricing and options that don’t force them into choosing between bad licensing terms or no ebooks at all, and they’d like to permanently own the titles they buy.

Indie authors and small publishers would love to step in to fill that gap. We are in a digital age, and there is no reason why a purchased ebook shouldn’t be available forever if both parties (author/publisher & library) are treated fairly.

Perpetual access to ebooks is exactly what we offer at EAF. We already give libraries the ability to purchase additional copies of popular titles as the library sees fit, and we’ll soon follow with unlimited use models. The combination of both perpetual and unlimited access is our ultimate goal, so we’re working hard to find ways to fairly compensate authors while also meeting the needs of libraries and their patrons.

However, the budgets of these libraries can vary wildly. So in thinking of solutions that work in a perfect scenario where libraries have the funds to spend on ebook acquisitions, we’re also looking at various ways in which libraries could potentially gain access to indie titles, regardless of their budget size.

Features like community level collections come to mind, where for greatly reduced prices, individual libraries can gain access to the ebooks written by authors that are part of their immediate city/county/community.

To further extend library budgets, we never require setup fees. With the launch of our patron apps and ILS-integration API, we will soon give libraries the ability to bypass the need for any additional solutions to access purchased titles. Essentially, any title purchased from eBooksAreForever will come built-in with no platform fees, no need for tech-heavy self hosting solutions, no lease or subscription fees, and no expiration dates.

We’re also striving to give librarians access to constantly updated data showing what their patrons are requesting and reading, allowing them to pay for what they need and use, not for what they don’t.

One size doesn’t fit all, so EAF is making different options available for libraries that best suit their needs, while always making sure authors are fairly compensated.

We will be sending emails directly to authors and publishers in the coming days and weeks about our progress in this area and what we see as potentially viable options.

Library Interest and Marketing

Librarians have told us that they are slightly overwhelmed with the idea of having to discuss ebook acquisition with indie authors. We’ve heard stories about how libraries will set up booths at conferences and trade shows, and a vast majority of the people who seek them out are indie authors wanting to get their books into the library.

A few even admitted their response eventually defaulted to “Add your books to Smashwords, and we can look for them through Overdrive”, when in reality, the likelihood of that process ever playing out is very small.

This is eye-opening for many different reasons.

First, because it demonstrates the true amount of work required for librarians to interact with indie authors at scale.

Think about it like this:

If a librarian is asked about a popular title by a few patrons, he/she may attempt to source the book. Let’s assume the book was published by a small independent press. Within a few back-and-forth conversations, the librarian will not only be able to inquire about the desired book, but will also gain insight and easy access to all of the other books available from that small publisher.

This effect is amplified the larger the publisher is. If they target a publisher with thousands of titles, a relatively small amount of effort could result in many new books for their patrons.

However, when looked at in reference to indie authors - all of which act as individual publishers - each of these interactions is completely separate of all others.

This presents a HUGE hurdle for libraries.

Second, multiple librarians have said they are more than a bit dismayed that they are approached so many times with the same common pitch by indie authors. This pitch, from what we’ve been told, amounts to “You should add my books to your library.” or “Patrons would love my books.”, and nothing much else.

No marketing materials. No thought-out plan. Not even a summary or description of their titles or series.

This obviously doesn’t represent libraries’ interactions with ALL indie authors, but indie authors need to have a tight presentation to be taken seriously by libraries, as well as an easy route into those libraries, just as libraries need an easy way to attain wanted titles for their catalogs. Reducing friction as much as possible should be a priority.

Right now, we’re working closely with acquisition librarians to create this framework, and we’re working to make the process simple for both parties.

Third, let’s take a deeper look into that canned response:

Add your books to Smashwords, and we can look for them through Overdrive

It’s important to understand, although the librarians we’ve talked to hate having to give this answer because they know it most likely won’t come to fruition, they’ve still provided a path that could be utilized.

Librarians want indie authors to be represented in their collections. Over 50% of the bestselling ebooks are by independent authors, and patrons want access to these titles. Libraries want local authors highlighted in community collections. They want to help new writers reach new readers. And they want indie authors to be fairly compensated for the work they’ve produced.

If another service works better for you to find your way into libraries, or has terms that work for you, then you should be encouraged to attempt that option. I’m confident librarians would say the same.

But, to this point, the potential solutions in place have not made the librarian’s job easier, thus increasing the time and efforts required by librarians to seek out great independent content.

From both a marketing and interest standpoint, this has to change before indies can easily find their way into libraries and garner the attention of patrons.

Discoverability and Royalties

Discoverability is a common buzzword right now. Every conversation pertaining to indies and their success (or lack thereof) will contain discoverability as a major point of interest.

Many of the authors we’ve spoken with rightly look at libraries and their patrons as an opportunity to extend readership into new areas. Additionally, some have noted that they’d be willing to forego royalties because what they’re most concerned with is discoverability.

However, foregoing royalties in an attempt to gain traction with libraries misses a large portion of what the goal of librarians truly is.

Part of the job of librarians is to assess their specific patrons’ needs. What works at a large metro library, may not work at a smaller rural library. What’s popular and read often at a suburban public library will often be very different from that of a local community college or large university.

These individual needs are what drive librarians to speak of the need for multiple solutions.

But in all the time we’ve spent talking with librarians, not one has ever implied that libraries wish they could offer their patrons great content without having to pay for it; or that being able to do so would solve any of the acquisition problems they face. Every single librarian we’ve talked to about licensing, pricing, and discoverability has shared the same mindset: “Authors deserve fair pay for the work they’ve produced”. In our interactions, this sentiment appears universal.

Furthermore, the librarians we’ve worked with are not only HUGE fans of indie authors, but massive advocates for sustainable writing careers.

The long-term answer to the indie author’s discoverability problem is not FREE; not in the consumer marketplace2, and not in the library marketplace. If the ebook is produced professionally, has compelling cover art, is well edited, and patrons choose to read it, then the author deserves to be compensated. Librarians certainly agree with this.

Discoverability and royalties are not, and should not be, tied directly to each other.

If indies experience the discoverability challenge and aren’t in libraries, and then suddenly, 200,000 indie titles are made available for purchase by librarians, how does this solve your discoverability problem? If anything, you now have two discoverability problems: getting the librarian to purchase your book and getting patrons to read it.

This is the main reason why we’ve created EAF as a collection of curated indie ebooks and chose to market it to libraries as such. By listening to libraries and delivering exactly what they’re asking for, we believe we’re solving both of the library discoverability issues with one large feature.

When libraries trust that the titles within eBooksAreForever represent a desirable collection of indie content, then we’ve removed the largest barrier to discoverability in libraries: getting the librarian to purchase your books. And this has been borne out in all of our testing, where most libraries choose to purchase everything at once, and then return later to purchase everything new.

Additionally, once your titles are purchased, we will help market and advertise to those patrons, where the library has a vested interest in helping readers find great new content.

We understand that finding readers is difficult. And it’s our belief that, through a mutually beneficial relationship with libraries, we can help bring new readers to your books.

That’s why we’re working on ways to allow ALL authors access to eBooksAreForever. It’s why we’re considering different solutions for different challenges at various types of libraries.

We hope this article - one of a larger series that will soon take shape - has helped to paint a more complete picture of what libraries experience in reference to acquiring indie ebook content.

We’d love to hear your feedback, comments, or questions.


1 These issues are also responsible for the growing movement where libraries build self-hosted solutions to reclaim the process from the for-profit vendors, but long term viability is still out of reach for most libraries. BACK

2 This is not meant to reduce the validity or viability of advance copies, giveaways, or permafree as strategies in the consumer marketplace. All have their place if used within a larger overall author/publisher strategy. BACK


The Beautiful SciFi of Clarkesworld

The Beautiful SciFi of Clarkesworld

Clarkesworld has been published monthly since late 2006, and each issue contains interviews, thought-provoking articles and at least three pieces of original fiction.

The books have been recognized with a World Fantasy Award, three Hugo Awards, and a British Fantasy Award. Their fiction has been nominated for or won the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, BSFA, Sturgeon, Locus, Shirley Jackson, Ditmar, Aurora, Aurealis, WSFA Small Press and Stoker Awards.

Here’s a portion of one of our favorites - the short story “Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard, a winner and nominee of various awards, including the Nebula Award, Hugo Award, Locus Award, and Theodore Sturgeon Award:

In the morning, you’re no longer quite sure who you are.

You stand in front of the mirror—it shifts and trembles, reflecting only what you want to see—eyes that feel too wide, skin that feels too pale, an odd, distant smell wafting from the compartment’s ambient system that is neither incense nor garlic, but something else, something elusive that you once knew.

You’re dressed, already—not on your skin, but outside, where it matters, your avatar sporting blue and black and gold, the stylish clothes of a well-traveled, well-connected woman. For a moment, as you turn away from the mirror, the glass shimmers out of focus; and another woman in a dull silk gown stares back at you: smaller, squatter and in every way diminished—a stranger, a distant memory that has ceased to have any meaning.

*

Quy was on the docks, watching the spaceships arrive. She could, of course, have been anywhere on Longevity Station, and requested the feed from the network to be patched to her router-and watched, superimposed on her field of vision, the slow dance of ships slipping into their pod cradles like births watched in reverse. But there was something about standing on the spaceport’s concourse-a feeling of closeness that she just couldn’t replicate by standing in Golden Carp Gardens or Azure Dragon Temple. Because here-here, separated by only a few measures of sheet metal from the cradle pods, she could feel herself teetering on the edge of the vacuum, submerged in cold and breathing in neither air nor oxygen. She could almost imagine herself rootless, finally returned to the source of everything.

Most ships those days were Galactic-you’d have thought Longevity’s ex-masters would have been unhappy about the station’s independence, but now that the war was over Longevity was a tidy source of profit. The ships came; and disgorged a steady stream of tourists-their eyes too round and straight, their jaws too square; their faces an unhealthy shade of pink, like undercooked meat left too long in the sun. They walked with the easy confidence of people with immersers: pausing to admire the suggested highlights for a second or so before moving on to the transport station, where they haggled in schoolbook Rong for a ride to their recommended hotels-a sickeningly familiar ballet Quy had been seeing most of her life, a unison of foreigners descending on the station like a plague of centipedes or leeches.

Here’s a quick review from io9 calling “Immersion” one of the coolest pieces of fiction they’ve read. The level of quality in these pages is outstanding.

Clarkesworld also consistently contains some of the most beautiful sci-fi and fantasy based artwork you’ll find. With designs from Serj Iulian, Julie Dillon, Matt Dixon and others, we love looking over the art as much as reading the stellar material.

Believe us when we say, fans of sci-fi will absolutely enjoy these ebooks.


Great SciFi and Fantasy from Lightspeed, Or How We Added George RR Martin to the Collection

Great SciFi and Fantasy from Lightspeed, Or How We Added George RR Martin to the Collection

We just landed George R.R. Martin, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, and Orson Scott Card!

No, we didn’t add Game of Thrones, or Ender’s Game, or American Gods. But thanks to Lightspeed and its editor John Joseph Adams, we can now say we have amazing short stories, novellas, and interviews from all these timeless SciFi and Fantasy authors.

In our promise to deliver libraries the best ebooks from indie authors and publishers, we are proud to be adding such incredible content that pays homage to classic SciFi collections. If you have a patron looking to dive deep into new SciFi or Fantasy worlds, then Lightspeed is a great place to have them start. Whether it’s to read classic reprints from the likes of George R.R. Martin, or discover new and emerging authors, they’re sure to find something they love in these pages.

And we have every Lightspeed ever produced, with a new edition uploaded each month, all available to purchase on a Forever License - meaning you never have to re-buy or re-license the ebooks you purchase. Your library effectively owns them forever.

In addition to great reprints from some of the biggest names in SciFi and Fantasy, Lightspeed is also filled with original content, like the outstandingly named “The Cross-Time Accountants Fail To Kill Hitler Because Chuck Berry Does The Twist” from author C.C. Finlay, along with numerous Hugo Award Winners and Nominees.

From Lightspeed’s editor and bestselling anthologist John Joseph Adams:

Every month Lightspeed brings you a mix of originals and reprints, and features a variety of authors—from the bestsellers and award-winners you already know to the best new voices you haven’t heard of yet.

In its pages, you will find science fiction: from near-future, sociological soft SF, to far-future, star-spanning hard SF—and fantasy: from epic fantasy, sword-and-sorcery, and contemporary urban tales, to magical realism, science-fantasy, and folktales. No subject is off-limits, and we encourage our writers to take chances with their fiction and push the envelope.

When you read Lightspeed, it is our hope that you’ll see where science fiction and fantasy comes from, where it is now, and where it’s going.


We’re proud to be adding such great content to our curated collection

If you have input on other titles you’d like to see added, let us know in the comment section. More updates coming soon.


Will Public Libraries Exist in 50 Years?

Will Public Libraries Exist in 50 Years?

Will public libraries exist in the next half-century?

To begin to answer that, let’s think about a similar question: “Will people still be watching TV in 50 years?” That answer seems quite simple:

Yes. And no.

For me, the idea of “watching TV” conjures up distinct images, one of which consists of sitting on the couch, bored to tears, while flipping through hundreds of unwanted channels. Not that I didn’t enjoy some shows, but I rarely got what I perceived to be “my money’s worth” — or better yet, what I really wanted.

Now, the idea of TV is changing. “Programmed television shows” are evolving into “video content.” We’re no longer completely required to pay for channels and shows we’ll never watch. Choices abound.

If you specifically asked, “Will we still be viewing scripted video on screens in 50 years?” My answer would be Yes. Will the experience look anything like its long-dead-cousin? No. And the most likely reason for that is, again:

CHOICE.

In much the same way as the thinking about television, whether or not libraries are relevant, or even exist, in the future will likely come down to how they deal with consumer choice.

The Changing Needs of Communities

During grade school, many of my projects followed a parallel track that looked something like this:

  1. Receive a riveting assignment - for instance, a book report on Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe or a report on the Cape Verde Islands (I specifically remember both of these).
  2. Immediately forget the assignment until the last possible minute.
  3. Run to the library the day before the due date and grab as many books as I could to complete the assignment.

When my father installed our first dial-up connection and I learned what “AOL” meant, needing to run to the library the day before was immediately replaced with waiting to log on the night before.

Until the Internet entered my life, I was entirely limited in my options. Either my family had a book or an encyclopedia that I could use - which was highly unlikely - or I went to the library. That was it.

Things are much different now. People are bombarded with such a plethora of choices that many are spending a substantial amount of their free time on choosing what to choose.

In an original article by David Rothman of LibraryCity.org, he highlights views from publishing pundit Mike Shatzkin who says that libraries make no sense in the future and from Forbes contributor Tim Worstall who thinks that we’d be better off closing libraries and buying everyone Kindle Unlimited subscriptions. But what both viewpoints are directly referring to, and what they fail to properly highlight, is the context of the “book” when it comes to the future of libraries.

How much merit would we put in someone today, if their opinion just a few years ago was to close libraries and give everyone a stipend for Border’s bookstore? Seems ridiculous. And, although I hardly believe Border’s = Amazon, the comparison is just.

Libraries, in my sole opinion, are meant to be community repositories of lasting information and ongoing learning. And as the needs and choices of communities shift and evolve, so too must the way libraries operate. But the goal of the library should remain the same, regardless of how they achieve it.

“But the Internet is an infinite repository of all things. Who needs libraries?”

The key is in the word community.

The continental United States is a vast body of land. At the macro level, the needs of those in Alexandria, VA, might be similar to those in San Antonio, TX, but at the individual level, the people and the communities could vary wildly. Demographics will differ. So will incomes, education levels and job prospects. And each of these differences calls for someone who is familiar with, and can operate within, the community they serve. If this can’t happen, then libraries will never thrive.

In the very near future, libraries can and should explore becoming the community hub for things such as entrepreneurial learning, computer science education, 3D printing, the “Maker Movement,” crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, among many others. Some libraries are already doing this. Librarians have always been highly skilled at pointing people in the right direction when it comes to their educational needs. Their role doesn’t need to be diminished, but expanded upon with no reason for libraries to give up their traditional roles as distributors and promoters of content. People will always have choices on where to learn new information, but if the path of least resistance is through their local library, that choice becomes easier.

This may be even more important in lower income areas. Smartphones are nearly ubiquitous, but for creating certain kinds of content, they are no substitute for desktops. Libraries can fill that gap. And, for some, libraries may be the only opportunity to gain access to and interact with sophisticated multimedia and other “enhanced” technologies that will become more and more relevant in the coming years.

Here in San Antonio, where eBooksAreForever is based, the biotech/biomed industry is large and growing quickly. A community center that aims to highlight areas like this to high-school and college aged members could serve to both produce educated local community members in technical fields and increase the growth rate of local industries, providing a perpetual win-win for the area.

But ongoing learning is only half of the equation. The other is being a repository for lasting information. Unfortunately, this is the area I believe requires the biggest shift in thought if libraries are going to have a long and healthy future.

Digital Licensing Harms Library Budgets

It seems to me there’s one GIANT flaw in the current iteration of digital libraries: Publishers enjoy far too much control over content and, especially at the top, have done little to help ensure that libraries can afford ebooks and digital versions.

So many of the issues that we face in the tech world are based on the fact that we try to apply physical rules to digital objects; libraries aren’t immune to this problem. When publishers were faced with the advent of ebooks, instead of trying to come up with viable models that worked, they applied the same structures that they used for print. Some say they deliberately crimped libraries. Often that meant loans to one patron at a time, just like a physical book. But it gets worse when you consider the absurdly high prices, time-limited licenses, “digital decay,” holds and other limits on simultaneous users.

Just one example of the perils of this approach for America’s libraries is that a library must pay for extension of time-limited licenses of old ebooks and purchases of licenses for new ones. All kinds of sustainability and predictability issues arise. And that’s true even if the budget remains the same, rather than declining, as many have in recent years. It will be harder than ever for libraries to grow their collection, whether the licenses are time-limited or come with limits on the number of times a library can loan a book.

Now consider a better alternative. If libraries could purchase ebooks at a fair price, “own” those ebooks - with no recurring licenses. Ebook acquisitions would be far, far more sustainable.

In the same article by David Rothman, he brings up that books still seem to be the major draw of at least his own local library. Potentially, the same could be true for a majority of libraries. I wonder what percentage of those people surveyed would consider an ebook to be a “book” in the sense of circulation.

This seems important because most patrons don’t realize that popular new releases from major publishers in digital ebooks usually cost the library a disproportionately large amount, relative to the same book in physical form. And yet, a lot of the librarians I’ve talked to stress that they only want to spend their budget on titles patrons want. (Which I wouldn’t argue against - as a rule, libraries probably shouldn’t purchase content their patrons don’t want.)

But when you take away the benefit to the library in cost, and the ebooks are on a yearly license, and the patrons still have to wait in long hold lines for the digital version, it’s hard to imagine** why libraries spend such a large amount on these new titles.

The cost seems to greatly outweigh the benefit to both the patron and the library. The library would be better served to stock up on more competitively priced ebooks, and then buy a few physical copies of popular new releases, as this is usually cheaper than purchasing new releases in digital format.

(**The obvious argument here is that bestsellers are staples for libraries in both digital and print, and local taxpayers favoring popular ebooks may not appreciate having to mess with print if it’s against their desires. It’s an argument that can’t be ignored, and shows that the problem must be attacked from multiple angles.)

Where libraries and patrons alike can instantly benefit is from the power in the almighty mid-list. We should all want to see more small-press books and literary fiction in general in libraries, along with first-rate nonfiction that may not be popular despite its merits. The idea of libraries working to nudge patrons from bestsellers to other, often-better books, is an appealing one.

Efforts need to continue to bolster the power of the non-extreme-bestsellers - something we believe in and which we’re actively engaged in here at eBooksAreForever - as these mid-list titles could serve as an excellent base to a sustainable ebook catalog.

But similar attention will eventually have to be focused on those small groups at the top.

Ultimately, if libraries are to survive and thrive well into the future, we’ll need multiple solutions working in harmony.


What are your thoughts? What are some of the other things libraries could be doing to help with community changes and budgetary constraints? Leave a comment to let us know what you think.


Thanks to David Rothman for his valued insight. Read more from him at LibraryCity.org.