August 23, 2014

Q&A: Random House VP Skip Dye on Ebooks in Libraries

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On Wednesday, October 17, Library Journal and School Library Journal will host “The Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond,” our 3rd annual ebook summit. This online, all-day program will explore how libraries are navigating the transition from print to digital and integrating “e” into collections, catalogs and classrooms.

Publisher Random House is a gold sponsor of the event, and LJ asked Skip Dye, vice president, director of library and academic marketing and sales, to discuss the publisher’s views on ebooks in libraries.

LJ:  Why is the library market important to your overall strategy of connecting readers and authors?

Dye:  Discovery: this word has been used again and again, but it is truly at the core of why we feel libraries and, in particular, librarians are key to our continued success and growth. They are influencers. They place books in the hands of readers. Librarians connect readers to authors in a personal and direct manner. They curate their inventory to reflect the needs and interests of their community. Librarians continue to play a vital role with first time authors, series and book groups. Libraries are community gathering places hosting events—from story-time to author talks. The shelves of libraries are browsed and explored by readers. All of these factors augment discovery.

I have visited many librarians and libraries over the past 18 months. Their passion for books and their patrons was as I expected: steadfast, articulate and driven. What things that did surprise me? The days of rows and rows of spine-out books with white cataloging labels were gone. Instead, there were face-out displays, top-shelf features, thematic and new release tables, staff-picks, and end-caps: all featuring books to their customers. What was also surprising to me was their local electronic outreach to the community they served. From e-newsletters to podcasts, their connection to their customer is a critical part of their success in the community.

Random House has always been committed to the library marketplace, but from these visits and observations, we see a unique opportunity to put authors and their books in the hands of readers. We interchange the word “librarian” with “bookseller”; and, “library” for “bookstore.”

What things have you changed or done differently based upon your visits and your talks?

Last year, I started visiting libraries as part of a listening tour. I wanted to ask questions and understand the challenges facing library systems and how we can help theses influencers influence. After this initial tour, we decided to create a Library Advisory Board made up of librarians from large systems and small systems, collection development specialists and technical service librarians.  From them we continue to learn a great deal about how our books are used and what we can do to better help them connect authors and readers.

Utilizing our Books on Tape and our Independent Bookstore Field Reps, we have are now increasing face-to-face time with title presentations, regional publicity updates and marketing resources like book POP displays and Advanced Reader’s copies. Also, Edelweiss has been a key tool that we are using to keep librarians up-to-date on our new releases and to distribute e-Galleys of forthcoming releases.

The LJ Library Patron Survey has been very helpful to us in re-tooling some of our outreach to be patron-based, not only librarian-based. The survey highlighted and clarified for us something that we have believed to be true, that book consumers patronize libraries as frequently as they do a bookstore. Making patrons aware of titles that are available at their library has been a focus for us. We have been doing patron-based Facebook and Google advertising to make patrons aware of titles available from their local library. Much more regional than national based, we have seen increases in circulation for all formats. Again, our goal is to drive more consumer to the physical library space.

Can you explain the rationale for your recent increase in ebook prices for libraries and talk a little about the adjustments that you have made since the initial announcement?

In March of this year, we raised our ebook prices for public and school library use. We feel that there is a value in setting these new e-prices based upon unrestricted and perpetual availability of our complete frontlist and backlist of Random House, Inc. titles under a model of one-copy, one user. All our titles continue to be available to libraries day and date with the release of the retail consumer edition. The pricing to libraries must account for the higher value of this institutional model, which permits ebooks to be repeatedly circulated without limitation. This is different than personal use. The library ebook lending privileges it enables many more readers to enjoy that copy than a typical consumer copy. The increased library e-pricing reflects the value placed on perpetuity of lending, simultaneity of availability for our titles and ownership which we believe to be higher value than consumer pricing models

We are constantly experimenting, evaluating, and adjusting different price points for our ebooks for the library/school-use market. With the lack of clear and far less definitive, encompassing circulation data, we are manually gathering information about how books are been used. We have used this intermittent data from libraries regarding their patrons’ borrowing patterns, and this information has reflected in our lowering prices on some titles and doing pricing promotions. My hope is that we will get regular and automated circulation information that over time will better enable us to establish mutually workable pricing levels that will best serve the overall ebook ecosystem.

 

With a full day of programming, including tracks designed specifically for public, academic and school libraries, professionals from administrative to administrators will find a wealth of new information, innovative ideas and best practices to put to use in their own libraries at The Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond. Register at www.thedigitalshift.com/events/ebooks-and-beyond/

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Comments

  1. As an avid purchaser of e-books, as well as a digital (and print) library patron, I can see some justification for Random House’s position. Remember that they are, at least, making their titles available to libraries which is more than you can say for Macmillan and Simon & Schuster. In order to read newer Penguin titles, I need to have a second e-reader which accommodates e-pub. Random House allows Kindle checkouts of new books. I went down my digital library wish list the other day and discovered that the books were almost all Random House and ended up with a new appreciation of this publisher.

  2. Really? For decades Library print copies of Random House or any other of the big six’s titles have “circulated repeatedly without limitation… enabling many more readers to enjoy that copy than a typical consumer copy…The increased library e-pricing reflects the value placed on perpetuity of lending, simultaneity of availability for our titles and ownership which we believe to be higher value than consumer pricing models.”

    Libraries often receive discounts of 40% or more on print titles which circulate perpetually. So why are publishers charging 200% to 400% more for e-books? Basic capitalism otherwise known as “GREED!”

    • Don’t those Library print titles that circulate perpetually in Libraries deteriorate and fall apart after say 15 to 20 physical reads? It would seem Libraries would need to consistently reorder popular Library Print books after a period? An eBook however, is forever.

  3. Having been in public libraries for over 30 years, you’d be surprised how long those print copies last. Many circulate dozens of times before they reach their demise. Libraries also send perpetually popular books to the bindery and, before that is needed, mend them in-house repeatedly.

  4. Ed Kieczykowski says:

    The assumption that Mr. Dye makes is that libraries want access to most e-books in perpetuity; which is not the case for most public libraries. While we purchase single copies of a number of titles- we also want multiple copies of popular titles for a brief period of time. if I had to guess – we will trurn over (discard) at least 50% of our collection within 10 years, so we do not need a price for eternal access for a number of titles. Libraries also purchase second and third tier- or lesser popular titles- knowing they won’t circulate as often as poplular titles, but they add to the breadth of our collection and may be of interest to a small percent of our users. These we will continue to purchase- but probably not in e-book format. How many books published today in print or electronic format will be of interest or relevant in 10 or even 5 years? So can we have a non-everlasting price?

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