How libraries can help publishers with discovery and distribution

Why are we making the publisher-library relationship so complicated?

Why can’t the publisher-to-library sales model simply be the same as it is for every other ebook channel? The only difference is the library can only lend the ebook out to one patron at a time, just like the print version. Set a discount schedule off the publisher’s digital list price and call it a day. Some libraries might want to order one copy while others might want ten. Again, same as the print world.

Publishers are apparently afraid of lost sales. Why is this any more an issue in the ebook world than in the print book world? It’s really an opportunity for discovery and, more importantly, distribution.

This piece was partially inspired by a report I read from the ALA. The document is called Ebook Business Models and a PDF can be found here. After reading this six page report I kept wondering why we’re making this so complicated. As it says on page two:

Libraries should have an option to effectively own the ebooks they purchase, including the right to transfer them to another delivery platform and to continue to lend them indefinitely.

Yes! No limits. And please, publishers, don’t force patrons to actually visit the library to check out an ebook. That’s ridiculous. Don’t delay the availability date for the library either. They should have access to their ebooks when they’re available everywhere else. In short, let’s start treating libraries like valued partners and stop worrying about them causing lost sales or cannibalization.

My friends who try to borrow ebooks from the local library seem to have one common complaint: The wait list is ridiculously long. Why not turn this problem into a benefit? Turn the library site into an ebook sales platform as well. If the wait list is too long let’s make a special offer to encourage the patron to buy that ebook through the library. As the ALA report notes, “library users are also heavy book buyers.” Let’s work with libraries to give them deeper discounts for these sales so they can compete with the traditional retailers and sometimes even beat them on price.

Libraries have always been a wonderful place for discovery. Ironically our industry is mired in the challenge of discovery, especially as more and more ebooks are published and self-published. Let’s find a way to leverage the rich history of library discovery in the ebook world. And let’s also think creatively like my local library is doing with this incubator service. What a terrific, clever use of library space!

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