Religion publishers are finding a deep and ready market thanks to public libraries that stock their shelves with everything from inspirational fiction to Judaica, numerology to Christian living. The Library Bill of Rights states, “Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.”

That means open doors between religion publishers eager for exposure and sales and patrons eager for reading materials in their preferred genres. According to a 2009 study (reported in 2011) by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, visitation and circulation per capita have increased in public libraries over the past 10 years, with highest visits and circulation in suburban public libraries.

Public libraries had nearly 1.6 billion visits in 2009, an increase of 5.7% over the previous year. They circulated 2.41 billion materials that year, with individual circulation of 8.1, a 10-year increase of 26.1% since 2000.

Publishers Pursue a Growing Market

For publishers such as Rowman & Littlefield, whose core has long been academic libraries, this means a huge push into the public library market. “We’ve spent the last five years working hard at public libraries. It’s a stable market,” says Linda May, v-p of marketing for R&L, part of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, and a former librarian herself. “Now any book proposal that comes in must be graded by library advisers, who tell us how they think it would circulate in public libraries. Each imprint editor has a library advisory board.”

The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group includes the imprint Jason Aronson, focused on psychotherapy and the newly revived Aronson Judaica line, as well as Cowley Publications, its Protestant line, and Sheed & Ward, for Catholic-interest titles. Across the multi-imprint publishing company, religion accounts for 15%–20% of sales, with a third of that going to public libraries. “We’re trying to grow that because we’re relatively new to the public library market,” says May.

For David C. Cook, a nonprofit Christian publisher, this year’s Public Library Association conference held in March was a first. “We see the library market as extremely viable, and the PLA event was a way to talk directly to librarians,” says Ginia Hairston Croker, v-p of trade publishing. “We thought we’d test it out. The feedback was very positive, so this is something we’ll probably do again.” Other publishers, such as Abingdon and Baker Publishing Group, already participate in library conventions.

Fiction titles tend to get the most exposure through libraries, Croker says, “and we’re growing our fiction base anyway, so libraries seem like a natural way to go.” One of Cook’s most popular titles is Into the Free by Julie Cantrell (Feb.), a Southern novel with a strong faith element, but whose BISAC category is Southern Regional. Thanks to discount pricing on the digital version, libraries took note and purchased the book, prompting an uptick in sales, according to Michael Covington, director of digital content for Cook.

“We’re doing a good bit digitally with libraries,” he says. “We have digital distribution strategies where we make content available and use price as a promotional tool. We see a big uptick in library purchases when we offer discounts.”

How to Reach the Stacks

Publishers are focusing on a number of ways to reach the library market. Most tap into library distributors (see story, page 10) and those distributors’ initiatives in the library market, but publishers are acting on their own as well. Christian imprint WaterBrook Multnomah is part of parent Random House’s library marketing program, but also has its own efforts, including focused webcasts, ARC mailings to libraries, online ads in library-focused e-newsletters, and a list of librarians it targets with e-blasts.

Simon & Schuster, owner of the Christian imprint Howard Books, folds Howard’s titles into overall library initiatives (though Howard, like WaterBrook Multnomah, does some of its own marketing). Says Michelle Fadlalla, director of marketing for education and library at Simon & Schuster, “When we present our titles, whether at a Book Buzz or in-house librarian previews, we look at the entire adult list, which always includes selections from Howard. I consider things I really love, but also throw in something patrons will look for, such as a new Karen Kingsbury title or a new Frank Peretti.”

Simon & Schuster participates in Book Buzz—a variety of publishers present to librarians in select cities—three times a year. S&S also sends out themed e-mail newsletters to librarians that include Howard titles. Howard will participate in a June 27 Publishers Weekly webcast to highlight new fiction.

“We have something positive, uplifting, feel-good to present,” says Fadlalla. “It’s nice to be able to offer books that are inspiring and moving, that make you think twice about how you go about living your life. People respond well to Howard books.”

Zondervan, owned by HarperCollins, has its own active library marketing plan. Alicia Mey, senior marketing director for trade fiction, has been the point person for trade marketing to libraries for the past two years. “It took us a while to get up to speed on what was the [best] way to reach libraries, but we did a fair amount of research and fact-gathering and now we have a program in place,” says Mey.

One strategy is prioritizing and attending annual conventions such as the American Library Association and its subset, the Public Library Association, setting up displays within the larger HarperCollins booth.

“We know librarians are important gatekeepers, and we want to make sure we have interactions with them to showcase new stuff, but we also want to ask them personally about what is important to them and what their patrons want,” says Mey.

Mey found that librarians want authors to visit their libraries, but with budget cuts don’t have the resources. Zondervan is happy to include library stops in author tours, or send posters or promotional materials when a popular author’s new book releases.

Another Zondervan effort focuses on advertising in key publications such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, School Library Journal, and the Horn Book. Baker Publishing Group includes library distributor catalogues in its ad budget and also advertises in trade publications.

A number of publishers, including Zondervan, use e-mail newsletters to reach librarians. “We make sure to include news specifically for librarians, including information about where we’ll be at conventions, new book listings, and reviews of our books,” says Mey. “If a book gets a positive review, it’s a no-brainer for librarians to order it. We try to make it easy for librarians to purchase our books. We want to help them sift through all the information to find us.”

Rowman & Littlefield also employs conventions, key advertising, a full e-marketing program including e-blasts, and a redesigned, user-friendly Web site.

“We attend all major library shows, and send marketing and editorial people to sessions,” says May of Roman & Littlefield. “We have also developed relationships with librarians and keep track of what they’re doing. Our editorial and marketing people are required to interact as much as possible with librarians, and to spend time in local libraries.”

Zondervan also includes personal interaction in its strategy, making a point of having Zondervan personnel visit libraries locally to discover their problems and needs.

Confronting the Challenges

Still, publishers have their struggles in reaching the library market. Librarians are busy and overworked, and must find any particular publisher’s titles among the thousands published each year that match patron needs. Nathan Henrion, national sales manager for ABA and digital for Baker Publishing Group, says: “One of the more difficult aspects of the library market is that decision making for collection development at many libraries is very decentralized. Figuring out how to get your titles in front of the right people is the key to a successful library program.” Baker, according to Henrion, focuses on introducing new authors to the library market, which is “usually more supportive of new authors than many retail environments.”

As publishers use a variety of tools, from conventions to ads, e-mail to personal interaction, several have also found NetGalley to be a viable tool. “We have seen a large number of libraries acquire our review copies through,” says Mark Yeh, director of sales for Abingdon Press, whose sales to libraries are 5%–10% of total sales.

Simon & Schuster’s Howard, Rowman & Littlefield, and David C. Cook also use the service, “which has now become our traditional way to reach libraries,” says Croker of Cook. “It’s an excellent source because libraries are using it. NetGalley has probably given us much greater exposure to trade and library markets.”

For all publishers, the library market and how to reach it is a moving target. Some librarians want print catalogues, others only digital versions. Libraries change personnel and reassign roles, which makes maintaining contact lists difficult. Budget cuts force libraries to make difficult purchasing choices, including whether to buy hard copies of books along with digital versions.

“Our methods are constantly evolving, but the strategy remains consistent: to ensure our titles have an opportunity to be included in a library’s collection,” says Henrion. “Learning how libraries create their lists, and what methods of title discovery work best for them, is a skill we are constantly attempting to improve.”

Zondervan, too, is on the move when it comes to reaching librarians. The publisher has begun participating in webcasts because “we love the idea of utilizing technology to reach more librarians who might not have the budget to attend a conference,” says Mey.

For David C. Cook, the library market presents rich ground they’re just learning to cultivate. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to work with librarians. We’re not ashamed to say we’re learning, but we’re committed to it. It’s a real opportunity both for us and the libraries and patrons,” says Covington.

Many publishers think they’ve just scratched the surface with public libraries. “It’s a great market and I feel strongly that public libraries ought to be part of every publisher’s marketing plans,” says Rowman & Littlefield’s May.