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


How to Add Your eBooks

How to Add Your eBooks

Adding eBooks to the eBooksAreForever curated collection is simple.

Step 1

Register for an author/publisher account. After completing the short sign-up form, we will review your books and back catalog, and promptly approve or deny your application.

During this current beta period of eBooksAreForever, we will need to actively control everything from the number of authors and number of libraries participating, to the diversity of titles in each genre. What this means is your application may be denied now, but could be approved 30 days (or even 3 days) later.

Step 2

After your account has been approved, you will receive an email informing you to begin uploading your books. Login to your account, and start adding titles under the “My Books” tab. We’ve included a few features that make adding books fast and simple.

Much in the same way that we need to control author accounts on a case-by-case basis, we are also currently approving titles individually. Most titles from approved authors will be automatically approved. However, we reserve the right to keep an uploaded title as “Pending” or mark it “Denied” for a number of reasons during this beta period.

Step 3

We’ll take care of the rest, while you start collecting royalties and increasing your fan base to library patrons all over the country.

If you have any other questions about the upload process, the best place to find answers is in the Account section of the Author Support Thread.