In announcing the publisher’s two-month embargo on new release e-books in libraries, Macmillan CEO John Sargent introduced a murky new metric for evaluating the library e-book business: revenue per "read.” As numerous observers have pointed out, that's problematic for a number of reasons. But fundamentally, Macmillan's focus on library “reads,” librarians and indie authors say, discounts the greater asset libraries deliver: not reads, but readers.
Today I grabbed coffee with BiblioBoard's Mitchell Davis and indie author Ran Walker, winner of the 2019 National Indie Author of the Year Award (selected by judges from Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, IngramSpark, St. Martin's Press, and Writer's Digest). The author of some 16 books, Walker, a former lawyer who teaches creative writing at Hampton University in Virginia, told PW why he views libraries as integral to his success as a writer, not as a threat to his sales.
"I've had a lot of great experiences with libraries and I see the benefit for authors, and especially self-published writers," he says. "You want readers. And librarians are the main curators of literature. I think you do yourself a disservice to ignore libraries." Walker says he's followed recent developments in the library e-book market, and doesn't quite understand Macmillan's decision to keep new release e-books out of libraries, especially for debut and mid-list authors. "It doesn't even make sense," he says. "Let's pay some respect to libraries."
Meanwhile, through Biblioboard and the Indie Authors Project (IAP), Davis has been working to make a curated selection of the best indie writers available through libraries in new and creative ways. Working with OverDrive, the inaugural IAP e-book collection, released last summer, featured 50 select titles available through libraries via a simultaneous use, royalty-paying e-book collection. And the results have been impressive, with the collection clocking more than 200,000 circulations.
Stef Morrill, director of the Wisconsin Library Consortium (WiLS) said the collection did especially well with Wisconsin readers. Morrill told PW that WiLS had 19,312 total circulations of the 50 independent author titles in the Indie Author Project Collection in the seven months of 2018 they were available via WiLS's OverDrive collection, an average of 386 circulations per title.
“If we translate that to a one copy/one user model, with each copy circulating two times per month, which is high, we would need approximately 25 copies per title to meet this demand, 1,250 copies total,” she says. “That's a lot of copies.”
Morrill said the IAP collection's success has helped open her eyes to the wealth of good authors now working outside the traditional publishing channels. And while Morrill says that WiLS will always look to offer patrons access to the most in-demand e-books from the major publishers, she conceded that the level of reader satisfaction with the IAP collection, along with strong circulation numbers, and the chance for the library to better optimize how its collection budget is spent, means that indie authors (like Ran Walker) eager to partner with libraries could soon earn a larger cut of the library e-book market.
"It's very interesting to consider: what is really so different about this indie content? And, what does it mean to be published these days, especially with Amazon now publishing so many books," Morrill said. "The market is changing and it is changing fast, and the decisions being made by the major publishers in the e-book market are going to force libraries into some decisions. As a statewide consortium, we spend over one million dollars a year on OverDrive content. And we're going to be having discussions through the fall about what we want to support with that money."
Local media continues to pick up on the Macmillan embargo and the changes in the library e-book market. Via the Dayton Daily News, Tim Kambitsch, Executive Director of the Dayton Metro Library, suggested that libraries need to better engage with publishers, suggesting that Macmillan's recent changes were "a good illustration of them acting in a vacuum.”
Kambitsch is also quoted in a report on Dayton's WDTN-2 news. Speaking of a vacuum: "2 NEWS emailed Macmillan Publishing on Monday requesting comment or an interview, but as of the publication of this article, had not heard back. Kambitsch said several top state and national library associations have also tried contacting Macmillan, and haven’t heard back."
Cincinnati Public Radio warns that "Library Wait Times For E-Books, E-Audiobooks Are About To Get Longer" in its report.
In Arizona, KOLD-13 reports that publishers "are making e-books harder to get." According to one Pima County librarian, "we may have to buy less e-books and more physical copies, or we may have to let the holds increase." A note on the Pima County library web site urges patrons to get involved.
And in Michigan, Valerie Meyerson, director of the Petoskey District Library, penned an editorial in the local News-Review. "The publishing industry now has almost an adversarial relationship with public libraries," she writes.
As PW reports, The Association of American Publishers filed suit against Amazon's Audible division today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking to enjoin Audible from moving ahead with a feature, called Captions, which would scroll computer-generated text with digital audiobooks. Though the feature hasn't yet been rolled out in the market, AAP is asking for a judge to enjoin Amazon from the unauthorized display of text. All the Big Five publishers have signed on to the suit, as have Scholastic and Chronicle. “We are extremely disappointed by Audible’s deliberate disregard of authors, publishers, and copyright law,” AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante said in a statement. “In what can only be described as an effort to seek commercial advantage from literary works that it did not create and does not own, Audible is willfully pushing a product that is unauthorized, interferes and competes with established markets, and is vulnerable to grammatical and spelling inaccuracies—it is a disservice to everyone affected, including readers.”
The Verge, meanwhile, points out that "the case has a strong analog to a former Amazon publishing controversy a decade ago, when the company tried to launch a text-to-speech feature for its Kindle platform that would effectively do what Amazon Captions does today, but in reverse." Except, of course, that program never actually launched, and no suit was ever filed.
And, also from The New York Times, a group of four prominent antitrust experts explore what action against the tech industry might look like.
On the open access front, via InfoDocket, Springer Nature has announced a major deal with Projekt DEAL, a consortium of more than 700 publicly and privately funded academic and research organizations in Germany, which will mean "substantially enhanced access to Springer Nature content for almost all of the German research landscape."
Ah, the digital age: As libraries gear up for the 2020 census, Wired offers a cautionary essay on what could lie ahead. "When the census arrives, so will cyber scams: phishing emails from bad actors claiming to be bureau representatives, text messages with malicious links, and harassing phone calls demanding private information," the article notes, adding that among the most widespread scams "may be ransomware at public libraries," which could temporarily halt internet access and cripple the census, which for the first time will have an online component. "Twenty percent of Americans—about 66 million people—don’t have home internet access, which is exactly why the [Census Bureau] encourages going to public libraries to fill out the 2020 Census," where libraries will offer "internet-connected desktops and designated census kiosks.” Unfortunately, the article points out, "cyberattacks on libraries continue to wreak havoc across the United States." Russia, if you're listening...
Make of this what you will: Town & Country has a piece on Gwyneth Paltrow's "personal book curator."
Editor's Note: The Week in Libraries will be off next Friday, though PW Preview for Librarians will be delivered as scheduled.