Library Leaders Call for Better Communication with Publishers Over Ebooks at Baker & Taylor Summit

The publishing and book retailing ecosystem is changing rapidly, but public libraries continue to offer substantial opportunities to promote authors and books, and it is vital that publishers recognize libraries as important partners, a panel of library leaders said to an audience of publishing executives during Baker & Taylor’s Publisher Summit 2019, held September 24 in White Plains, NY.

Baker & Taylor Publisher Summit 2019 logoThe publishing and book retailing ecosystem is changing rapidly, but public libraries continue to offer substantial opportunities to promote authors and books, and it is vital that publishers recognize libraries as important partners, a panel of library leaders said to an audience of publishing executives during Baker & Taylor’s Publisher Summit 2019, held September 24 in White Plains, NY.

“Let’s be careful that we don’t play checkers while Amazon plays chess,” said Patrick Losinski, CEO of Columbus Public Library, OH, responding to a question about ebook pricing and licensing terms. Amazon, he noted, is playing a “long game. They are interested in more exclusivity through Amazon Direct and others. That has a direct impact on you, and it has a direct impact on us, because that is not material [libraries] are able to purchase.”

Losinski was joined on the panel by Steve Potter, director of Mid-Continent Public Library (MCPL), MO; and Ramiro Salazar, director of San Antonio Public Library, TX. Britten Follett, executive VP of Follett School Solutions, moderated the one-hour discussion, which ranged from the importance of summer reading programs to the role libraries play in fostering civic engagement. The second half focused on the work that libraries already do to promote authors and facilitate discovery, which benefits both patrons and publishers.

Alluding to Macmillan’s two-month embargo on sales of ebooks to libraries, which is scheduled to begin November 1, Salazar called for improved communication, stating that “libraries need to understand where [publishers] are coming from, but I don’t think we have that understanding yet. And of course, [publishers] need to understand what public libraries will be facing—what’s causing this level of frustration, fear, and concern for the future if others follow in the footsteps of this publisher.”

Salazar added that some librarians are already discussing measures such as lobbying for legislation that would mandate more favorable ebook licensing terms for libraries. “It concerns me,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re at that level of discussion, because I think we could have averted this...by having a really frank conversation with the other party, and trying to find some common ground.”

Describing the current lack of clarity, Potter said, “I don’t know what [publishers] are interested in. I know you’re interested in making money. That’s very important…. But there could be things that are extremely important to you, that don’t make a significant difference to [libraries] in how we serve the public” that libraries could adjust in order to avoid an embargo situation.

He also briefly discussed the concept of “friction” during the library ebook checkout process—a factor referenced by Macmillan CEO John Sargent in his July memo announcing the embargo—and questioned whether the ease of use of library ebook apps had become a concern for publishers. He added that publishers may not be aware that these transactions are not as convenient as they appear, particularly for high-demand titles.

“Our average hold wait time is 18 days,” Potter said. “People do already wait” for content that is available for immediate download on consumer retail platforms.

Losinski added that when library users don’t want to wait for a hold, they often purchase and download the title elsewhere, illustrating one way in which the marketing and discovery services provided by libraries can benefit publishers. (This behavior is difficult to track directly, but the Panorama Project has been pulling together correlational evidence by tracking the consistently substantial improvement of an ebook title’s Kindle sales rank following a national library promotion such as OverDrive’s “Big Library Read,” for example.)

Panelists cited several additional examples of ways in which libraries have a positive impact on sales of both print and ebooks—beyond wholesale purchases.

“We are your boots on the ground,” Potter said, after describing MCPL’s annual three-day Romance GenreCon, which draws romance fans from throughout the Midwest, introducing many attendees to new authors and subgenres. Describing the power of reader recommendation, he explained how MCPL’s librarians were fans of Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, Sharp Objects, when it first published in 2006, and frequently suggested it to patrons who liked mysteries. When this is happening throughout a library system, it directly contributes to the growth of a new author’s local fan base.

And when the library hosts author events, the library purchases 50 copies of the author’s latest title from a local bookseller for promotion and circulation. That bookseller has told Potter that she, in turn, often sells between 50 to 75 additional copies to customers following these library events, he said.

Losinski pointed out that these types of events are generally free at public libraries, “and that’s unlike a community college or [many] nonprofits. And I think that’s a really key advantage. We’re saying to you: leverage that and take advantage of it.”

Each of the panelists called for improved dialog and possibly data sharing between publishers and libraries, contending that better partnerships will lead to positive outcomes for both parties.

“We need to make sure that we’re not setting ourselves up as adversaries across the table,” Potter said. “We need to be working together as collaborative partners…where it really, truly is a win-win situation.”

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Matt Enis

menis@mediasourceinc.com

@MatthewEnis

Matt Enis (matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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