October 23, 2014

Panelists Say Libraries are Perfect Ebook Partner for Publishers | IDPF Digital Book Conference

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Libraries are a key sales channel for booksellers, and could be very valuable customers to publishers that are willing to sell or license ebooks to them, agreed a group of panelists during the June 4 “Libraries and Ebooks” session at the International Digital Publishing Forum 2012 digital book conference, co-located with BookExpo America at New York’s Jacob K. Javits Center.

“The library market needs to be engaged,” LJ group publisher Ian Singer told an audience of publishing executives. “It has money to spend. It has patrons who are committed to using their library—both online and physically—to find more content.”

Singer was joined by George Coe, president of Baker & Taylor’s Library & Education division, and Erica Lazzaro, general counsel for Overdrive.

Even as demand for ebooks continues to grow, many major publishers have remained reluctant to work with libraries, fearing that making it easier for readers to borrow ebooks might also make it harder for publishing houses to sell them to consumers. This view is shortsighted for two reasons, panelists noted.

First, with 16,698 public buildings serving 169 million users, and expenditures of almost $1 billion last year on books alone, the importance of U.S. libraries as customers of the publishing industry can’t be overlooked, Singer said.

Second, library patrons are book buyers as well, and often use the library to learn about new authors or explore new genres. Citing data from LJ’s most recent Patron Profiles study, Singer noted that the average library patron buys nine books per year, that 36 percent of patrons already read across multiple print and electronic formats, and that 82 percent say they use the library to discover new authors. As such, libraries can be powerful marketing partners for publishers.

Patron Profiles also indicated that there is a major untapped market for ebooks in libraries, he continued. In 2011 public libraries carried an average of 4,000 ebooks, but 85 percent of ebook patrons polled said that they wanted more ebooks at their library.

Lazzaro followed Singer’s presentation by addressing what has emerged as a common misunderstanding among publishers—that libraries make ebooks and other electronic content available for free to anyone, anywhere.

“Libraries pay for this content,” she said. “Yes, it’s maybe free to the end-user, the patron. But the libraries are paying, eventually, the publishers for access to this material. So it’s not free, unfettered access…This is a viable channel.”

She went on to explain a variety of licensing and purchasing arrangements, such as the one title, one user ebook model that essentially mimics the way libraries check out print books. When one user has the ebook checked out, it is unavailable to other patrons until it is “returned” to the library.

“If the library buys multiple copies, then more than one patron can check it out at a time,” she said.

Coe later pointed out that this often results in a situation where the most popular titles end up with long waiting lists. So, patrons often end up exploring a publisher’s back catalog.

“They can’t get it, because it’s on hold, so they’re going to look for alternative materials,” he said. “That’s another way to promote your copies, retrospectively. While [patrons] are waiting for the most current bestseller, they can look at authors, they can look at genres that they normally don’t read, because, as we’ve all said, [library users] are power buyers.”

He added that some ebook distribution platforms, including B&T’s Axis 360, now also offer library patrons the option to buy an ebook, if he or she is unwilling to wait to borrow a specific title.

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Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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