For at least a generation, libraries have focused their collection development efforts on the Big Six (now Big Five) publishers. But that domination of library purchases and circulation may be about to change.
Back in August 2014, Publishers Weekly’s Betty Kelly Sargent cited some “Surprising Self-Publishing Stats,” based on the third quarterly Author Earnings Report, which is itself based on the 7,000 top-selling digital genre titles on Amazon’s category best sellers lists.
According to Sargent, “The Big Five traditional publishers now account for only 16% of the ebooks on Amazon’s bestseller lists. Self-published books now represent 31% of ebook sales on Amazon’s Kindle store.”
Amazon, of course, isn’t the whole market. But it bears watching as an early indicator of market direction. How, then, should libraries begin to reposition themselves to respond to this growing trend? Perhaps by starting with what we know best: our own communities.
The creative capital
Los Angeles is a particularly fruitful community for such a focus. According to John Szabo, city librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), “L.A. is the creative capital of the world,” awash with writers of fiction, nonfiction, and, of course, screenplays and TV scripts. Mayor Eric Garcetti recently appointed a poet laureate for Los Angeles, Luis Rodriguez.
The library’s foundation has long funded the appearance of major authors—among them Vince Gilligan, creator of the immensely popular Breaking Bad TV series. He, like others, was peppered with questions from aspiring authors.
Building such relationships with creative people not only helps with programming and fundraising, Szabo says, it is “a way for Angelenos to tell their stories.” LAPL has done this before with “Shades of LA,” in which it used its photo collection of more than 3.4 million images to begin to highlight the ethnic diversity of the city.
Where self-publishing fits
Says Szabo, “Public libraries are always being approached by aspiring writers. We have long received inquiries about self-publishing and how to get self-published works in a library’s collection. But now, self-publishing is taking off—and is clearly viewed in a different way by librarians than it was even a few years ago. We want to continue to be a fantastic resource for writers.”
One way LAPL does that is its “LAPL Writes” web page. Here, authors can find precompiled booklists on general writing advice, screenplay writing, editing, and publishing generally; online resources including classes, databases, and suggested web links; events of interest; and now, SELF-e—a way to submit self-published works directly to the library, coproduced by library ebook platform BiblioBoard and Library Journal. LAPL is one of five beta testers for SELF-e, along with San Diego County Public Library, Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Public Library, the Arizona State Library (through Reading Arizona), and the State of Massachusetts (through the Massachusetts eBook Project).
While stressing that LAPL is still in the initial stages of reaching out to local authors, Szabo says its participation makes “complete strategic sense.”
SELF-e was one of the features at LAPL’s Indie Author Day, held January 17. The event featured various speakers: Szabo, LJ’s Ian Singer; BiblioBoard’s Mitchell Davis; Angela Bole, executive director, the Independent Book Publishers Association; and author Maggie Marr (Hollywood Girls Club). There were an estimated 200 deeply interested attendees, along with some terrific T-shirts. My favorite was, “I’ve got 99 problems, but a book ain’t one.” About the event, Szabo says, “We are thrilled by the great success of the Indie Author Day and launch of the SELF-e platform at the Los Angeles Public Library. Writers and aspiring writers from across the city participated and actively engaged in the sessions. The popularity of the event demonstrates the important role that libraries play in creating content and cultivating writers.”
A place for Making
Where, I asked him, would he place SELF-e in the pantheon of library priorities? “It’s a big priority,” he says. “It’s not a difficult service role to argue for. Libraries are a place of readers, empowerment, a place where dreams happen, a place where we help tell stories and make information and stories accessible. Increasingly, we help make these materials available in a platform far beyond our buildings. We are and will continue to be a place for content creation, not just for individuals writing a book but all kinds—Maker spaces, digitizing personal/organizational content. It’s a huge role for libraries.” LAPL makes itself available as a shooting location, too.
What’s the result? Szabo says, “I want to see our authors not just all over California but circulating from Pascagoula, MS, to Keokuk, IA.”
And that could happen.