May 19, 2024

Califa Lands $325,000 in Funding for Ebook Ownership Project; Deal Close With Smashwords


The San Mateo-based Califa Group, which is the largest library network in California, has made major strides in its project to create an ebook ownership model along the same lines as the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado.

  • Califa has substantially increased its funding for the project from an initial $30,000 to $325,000, and Contra Costa County Library is going to be the pilot library for the project;
  • The consortium, which represents 220 multi-type library systems, is on the verge of striking a deal with Smashwords for outright ownership of its top-selling titles, which will also include a self-publishing option for patrons;
  • It has partnered with the Kansas State Library, which has joined the consortium and is going to provide funding for the project, and discussions are ongoing with other state library agencies; and
  • Boopsie will provide mobile apps for the platform.

“My head is spinning a bit and I’m getting an appreciation of the complexity this involves, but everyone is very excited about it,” said Heather Teysko, Califa’s director of innovation and development.

Mark Coker, of Smashwords

Under the deal with Smashwords, a four-year-old rapidly rising self-publishing platform which recently reported annual revenues of $12 million, Califa will be able to purchase about 10,000 of the company’s top titles for about $3 a title. Califa will house the files on an Adobe Content Server that it purchased for $10,000 (with an annual maintenance fee of $1,500) and which the Quipu Group is configuring.

“Smashwords is so great and so forward thinking,” Teysko said. “They can move nimbly and we want to have something we can test and move forward with.” To that end, Contra Costa County Library has agreed to be a pilot library in the fall.

“The folks at Califa are putting a professional quality, aggregating service together and applying DRM,” said Mark Coker, the CEO of Smashwords. “They want to own the book and lend it out one at a time and we’re very supportive of that.”

Coker said large publishers who are resistant to library ebook lending and ownership “are out of touch with the future,” and he said the initiative was very exciting and had the potential to become much bigger.

 “Other publishers think libraries are cannibalistic, but our folks are much more progressive,” Coker said. “This project further expands the availability and accessibility of our books; it helps our authors and publishers to connect with readers, and libraries are real important to that mission.”

Teysko said she met with about 50 publishers at the recent BookExpo America held in New York City.

“Lots of publishers at BEA were interested in selling content,” Teysko said. “Only four people laughed at me and about 30 were quite happy to work with us and said ‘let’s figure it out,’” she said, although she did not want to release any names yet except for Dzanc Books.

Smashwords, which recently signed deals with Baker&Taylor and 3M and is negotiating with other ebook platform providers, has about 45,000 authors and publishers. Coker surveyed 150 of them recently and 82 percent said they believe the library will help them sell more books. Twenty-four percent said they would give the book free to the library as a show of support, and 32 percent said they would sell to the library at a price below retail.

“The big New York publishers are treating libraries like second-class citizens, so I see this as a real exciting opportunity for indie authors to move in and serve the needs of libraries,” Coker said.

In addition to allowing Califa to own the ebooks, Smashwords is collaborating with Califa to allow its patrons to self-publish. A patron will be able to use the Califa interface, being built with VuFind, to upload their manuscripts to Smashwords, which then will make the books available to its retail partners (such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Sony). But Smashwords will also notify Califa that a patron has uploaded a title and see if Califa wishes to purchase the title for its collection.

“It’s great, the whole idea of having libraries becoming community publishing partners,” Teysko said. “We always knew we wanted to have a self-publishing arm as part of this.”

Coker was equally excited about this angle.

“This is a chance for local patrons to publish into the library, and authors who are hungry to promote books would love to see their books in the local library and share their knowledge with the local community,” he said. “This is an opportunity to promote a culture not just of reading but of authorship.”

Teysko said that Smashwords, for example, could inform Contra Costa of local authors, and the library could then invite the authors to come to the library to discuss their work or to offer tips on how to self publish to members of the community.

Mary Minow, the found of, will serve as Califa’s legal counsel for vetting purposes on the content.

The agreement with Contra Costa came about when Cathy Sanford, the deputy county librarian, and Teysko realized that they wanted to collaborate on the platform, and when Sanford told Teysko that Contra Costa was applying for a grant from the Bay Area Library and Information Network (BALIS) they decided to apply jointly.

“So we actually applied with Contra Costa for the BALIS grant and we got $100,000 from them, which is going to go into development of the platform,” Teysko said. Califa also had its grant from the state library augmented to $200,000.

In addition, Jo Budler, the state librarian in Kansas, got interested and has agreed to provide $25,000 in funding to help pay for infrastructure and content, and residents of Kansas will be able to borrow books from the platform.

“We talked with Kansas and other state agencies and Kansas was happy to be the first on board with it. They are going to have a seat on the advisory board we are forming,” Teysko said.

Budler said she was very interested in pursing the lending model being developed by Califa and Douglas County.

“I feel strongly that leaders in the library community have to start thinking on a larger scale — not just local, not just statewide, not even regionally, but rather nationally.  By partnering with Califa on this project — actually starting a multi-state collaborative — we are taking a step in that direction,” she said.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.


  1. This is so awesome!

  2. This is so fantastic. Can’t wait to be one small part of it.

    Ben Campbell

  3. This is great!

    Sadly, I’m not in the top 10,000 on Smashwords, so my stuff won’t get there. But the opportunity this gives other indie authors is fantastic. And don’t forget the readers. They benefit the most!

  4. I think that is amazing for authors and readers.

  5. Andrea Ritter says:

    My utmost desire has always been to have my WWII novel SUNFLOWER OF THE THIRD REICH
    listed in libraries. This work is not only of great interest to history students and lovers of Germany and the German language, but it also educates about World War II in Europe and how ordinary German citizens lived under the Nazi era, until the US Army marches in as victors in 1945. Yearly history pages are inserted to give the readers a greater oversight.
    Thank you Mark Coker for your continued effort to expand your company smashwords for the best.