Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: Making Library Ebook Access Personal at the Panorama Project

Last month, the Panorama Project announced that Guy LeCharles Gonzalez would be taking over as Project Lead. The initiative aims to quantify the impact that libraries have on the publishing ecosystem—specifically the digital publishing ecosystem—and Gonzalez brings a new perspective to the project shaped by his 25 year career in the library and publishing fields.

Guy LeCharles GonzalezLast month, the Panorama Project announced that Guy LeCharles Gonzalez would be taking over as Project Lead. The initiative aims to quantify the impact that libraries have on the publishing ecosystem—specifically the digital publishing ecosystem. Gonzalez brings a new perspective to the project shaped by his 25-year career in the library and publishing fields, including roles as founding director of programming and business development for Digital Book World; publisher and marketing director for Writer’s Digest; and director, content strategy and audience development for Library Journal and School Library Journal, where he worked on our Patron Profiles series, the SELF-e indie author initiative, and The Digital Shift online conference. LJ recently had a chance to catch up with Gonzalez and discuss the project and the current state of library ebooks.

Library Journal: For readers who aren’t familiar, what is the Panorama Project, and what is its mission?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: The Panorama Project is a cross-industry research initiative currently led by me (as of July) and an advisory council [that] includes members from Penguin Random House, Sourcebooks, Open Road Media, the American Library Association, Audio Publishers Association, Cuyahoga County Public Library, NISO, Rakuten OverDrive, and Ingram Content Group. Its initial funding is being provided by Rakuten OverDrive, but it’s an open membership initiative and we’re hoping to encourage more publishers, independent booksellers, authors, agents, and allied associations and vendors to collaborate with us and help measure the real impact libraries have on developing readers, driving book discovery, and generating book sales in their local communities and beyond.

Our primary goal is to drive fact-based conversations about public libraries’ impact through a combination of data-informed research projects and shining a spotlight on specific examples of that impact. I’m hoping to make library access a “personal” issue for authors and consumers, in particular.

You've had a long career in the publishing field. What are a few aspects of your background that will be helpful in your new role?

I think my varied background gives me a unique perspective on the challenges facing publishers AND libraries. Not only have I worked on the publishing side for many years, I was the founding director of programming and business development for Digital Book World and helped bring libraries into the ebook conversation back in 2010–11 when the focus was solely on Amazon and Apple. Subsequently, I spent four and a half years as the director, content strategy and audience development for Library Journal and School Library Journal, giving me invaluable insights into the library world. Plus, I was the publisher and marketing director for Writer’s Digest, working with authors and agents in a variety of ways, and happen to be a published author myself. That range and depth of experience helps me understand where publishers’ and libraries’ missions overlap and, sometimes, appear to be in conflict.

A few weeks ago, Macmillan CEO John Sargent released a memo outlining the publisher's new ebook terms for libraries, including a two-month embargo for new titles. He said that Macmillan was concerned that libraries were "cannibalizing" ebook sales. Is this a widespread concern/viewpoint among publishers?

There’s a broad spectrum of opinions amongst publishers about the role public libraries play—ranging from recognizing them as a critical resource for discovery and engagement (and, ultimately, sales) to Sargent’s view that they unequivocally cannibalize sales. Across the industry, some are certainly closer to him and will be watching Macmillan’s embargo very closely, while many others value libraries as unparalleled influencers and remain committed to offering fair and reasonable access to their full lists.

Librarians generally describe libraries as playing a more symbiotic role in the publishing field. What are some of the things that the Panorama Project research has discovered regarding the positive impact that libraries have?

The Panorama Project is building on prior research over the years that has consistently shown library patrons are also active buyers—from Patron Profiles and Pew Research to LJ’s own recent Generational Reading Survey. In our first year, we analyzed the impact of Cuyahoga County Public Library's Author Events, which drove sales of 11,389 books across 93 hosted events in 2018, in partnership with local booksellers. There’s also the Community Reading Event Impact Study, which researched and analyzed the impact of a public library–sponsored digital book club campaign on first-time author Jennifer McGaha’s Flat Broke with Two Goats, in partnership with OverDrive and Sourcebooks. That study showed +818 percent growth in ebook sales and +201 percent growth in print sales during the library-centric campaign. Moving forward, we’re working on a few new research initiatives and are actively looking for publishers and booksellers willing to participate in capturing and analyzing the data for as comprehensive a view as possible.

How is information generated by the Panorama Project used?

One of my primary goals is to accelerate our advocacy and outreach initiatives; not simply conducting research but actively pushing it out to various stakeholders through multiple channels in multiple formats. We’ll continue to produce white papers and present our findings at industry conferences, but I also want the Project to become a source for information, resources, and most importantly, a platform to spotlight the individual stories that clearly illustrate libraries’ impact on the big picture. One thing I’m particularly excited about is taking our Directory of Readers’ Advisory Activities and developing a series of free webinars to help publishers and authors better understand the unheralded work librarians across the country do to handsell individual titles to patrons—not based on their subjective tastes but tailored specifically to their communities and/or individual patrons’ preferences. Librarians are the original influencers and it’s past time they’re credited as such.

What are some of the things that the Panorama Project will be researching going forward?

We have a few interesting projects in the early stages that I can’t announce yet until we’ve locked in some key partners, particularly on the data side, but we’ll definitely be doing another Community Reading Event Impact Study soon—possibly with a digital-only title this time for a slightly different perspective. And I’d love to partner with Macmillan to analyze the impact of their embargo, if they decide to stick with it. Deciding to window your entire front list based on a small, niche test sample is a bold strategic move, and whether they’re ultimately proven right or wrong, being able to say so with some level of transparency would be the best possible outcome.

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