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A Primer on Library Perceptions for Indie Authors

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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