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Libraries: For the Poor and the Cheap

Last time I mentioned that publishers fear libraries. Today I’m going to show why they shouldn’t.

One of the reigning arguments against ebooks in libraries is that they don’t provide enough “friction” for readers. If library patrons can just log on and check out an ebook from the library, no one will buy one!

It’s bad logic, since the Stieg Larrson novels are available as library ebooks and they seem to have sold pretty well, but who cares about logic when you’re trying to sell books.

The argument is also true for print books. If print books are available from libraries, no one will buy them! Except of course they do.

I suppose the publisher’s argument, such as it is, is that if the books weren’t available in libraries, then people would buy them instead. That seems a dubious suggestion to me, because libraries are the place to get books that you don’t think are worth buying.

Libraries are for cheap people. As an example, take a look at Libraries are great places for savers. The “Discount Diva” of Buffalo, NY writes about how much cheap people can find at libraries.

As a penny pincher, I also appreciate all the money libraries have saved me over the years on books, CDs, newspapers, magazines and DVDs. They have spoiled me with access to databases I never could have afforded myself and created all kinds of programming that has enriched my life….

So how much more incredible is it now that my library magically beams free books directly to my e-reader? It’s like an episode of “Star Trek.”

She then goes on to talk about how great it would be to lend kitchen gadgets and have a “kitchen librarian” there to explain their use. I was surprised she didn’t want libraries to loan cars, with drivers to chauffeur people around.

And libraries let the whole community be cheap. Supposedly, a “recent report released by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library shows that every $1 of funding received by our public library system returns a minimum of $6.70 in services.”

Studies like this make libraries look attractive to taxpayers, but are anathema to publishers.

Fearful publishers see that and think “for every $1 a library system is funded, we lose $5.70!”

And it gets worse!

The first comment is from someone who clearly has never heard of the RIAA or the random cavity searches the RIAA would like to perform on everyone in America. On this comment, he not only leaves his full name and city, but also a link to his website:

I can’t understand why people don’t use the library. It’s right there, it’s free, and they have tons and tons of great stuff. When i first got an ipod my first stops were to the local library to fill it for FREE.

Oh, goodness, what is there to say. It’s not often someone tries to advertise their services and confess to copyright infringement simultaneously.

This article and its comments are guaranteed to anger and terrify both book and music publishers. No friction? Free stuff? Oh, no, we’re doooooooomed!

Publishes must really think that if they couldn’t get some novel or song at a library for free, then people would actually pay for them. However, that ignores the fact that libraries are for the cheap and the poor, neither of whom is going to be spending money on frivolities.

For a lot of people, if they can’t get it cheap or free, they just won’t get it. For some people, it’s that they don’t have any money. The Discount Diva profiles the thinking of the cheap middle class, those who have some money, but don’t want to part with what they have. Just watch people haggle over library fines to see how cheap they are.

Libraries are helping both of them, and providing them with free stuff, but it’s free stuff that wouldn’t have been bought.

That’s why publishers have to understand before they lose their irrational fear of libraries. Libraries aren’t for pirates. They’re for the poor and the cheap, and there’s no more money to be made from either of them.

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Comments

  1. me says:

    Or for the voracious readers. There are plenty of patrons who buy plenty of books. They also read 4-8 books per month. Can you imagine buying 5 hardcovers a month at $25 a pop? “Sorry kids, there will be no family vacation this year. I have to take that $1,500 this year to feed my reading habit.”

  2. teetop says:

    This is a weak effort, AL. The Discount Diva doesn’t deserve your scorn nearly so much as your previous targets, and you don’t really have anything else to offer here.

  3. Nicole says:

    Though wreathed in snark, AL has a point. The patrons willing to wait on our hold lists for an eBook weren’t ever going to buy that eBook in the first place. Why mourn for a nonexistent sale?

  4. Reader! says:

    …and check out this other publisher, who pats herself on the back for being “futurist” for wanting you to throw away the paper books in your children’s collections:

    http://okazu.blogspot.com/2012/06/future-of-digital-manga-fairytale.html

    “…The future is the cry of children being born right now, ‘A book? Oh, you mean those paper things Dad keeps in his study. I don’t know why he even keeps them, we have /madeupformatname/ now.’ (Much the same as younger folks today look at their parents’ LP collections.)…”

    http://okazu.blogspot.com/2012/01/yuri-network-news-january-28-2012.html

    the comments thread here boiled down to

    publisher: “I’m so forward-thinking I think paper books have to go away!!!”
    reader: “I don’t want them to go away until everyone has access to digital books”
    publisher: “you’re so status-quo and conservative!!!”

  5. Anonymouse says:

    “Just watch people haggle over library fines to see how cheap they are.”

    So very true…

  6. LibraryGuy says:

    The publishers are forgetting that the all-important “word of mouth” advertising usually begins with libraries. Hell, Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins never would’ve gotten as big as they are without library patrons talking her up.
    Library patrons may not buy the books, but they influence the ones who do.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Library loans can lead to sales. I’ve purchased a number of books, mainly craft, after first taking them out as a library loan.

  8. Nerdy Librarian says:

    I agree that bookstores are mourning non existent sales and instead of thinking of libraries in terms of lost sales, they should think of them in terms of a guarantee of some sales.
    Also, if I find a library book particularly enjoyable or useful, I will go buy it and add it to my collection – and I’ll tell others about it, and be more likely to buy the author’s next book outright.

  9. Development Arrested says:

    “…The future is the cry of children being born right now, ‘A book? Oh, you mean those paper things Dad keeps in his study. I don’t know why he even keeps them, we have /madeupformatname/ now.’ (Much the same as younger folks today look at their parents’ LP collections.)…”

    So basically what this person is saying is that books will only be used by hipsters? “Those ebooks just don’t have the same warm pops and crackles as vintage books.” “Hey, let’s all go to the Goodwill and see if we can find any vintage books… man, all they have here are Nora Roberts and James Pattersons.”

  10. Development Arrested says:

    Sorry for the double post, just thought of something else.

    “Though wreathed in snark, AL has a point. The patrons willing to wait on our hold lists for an eBook weren’t ever going to buy that eBook in the first place. Why mourn for a nonexistent sale?”

    What they should be thinking is how can we turn this non-sell into a sell. In my mind, an e-book will never be what a real book is worth. They could try lowering the prices of ebooks for a while. At least until they completely sales of paperbacks. Then they jack the price back up.

  11. elena schneider says:

    Not sure where that futurist is getting her ideas. I remember when ‘microfilm’ was the future…yea…
    Good luck in this day and age finding a cheap machine that will view/print those formats many ‘future thinking’ libraries bought into. Think the same may be for e-books and PDF files. The futurist are not thinking farther than the current formats.

  12. @Reader! – I hope you’ll go back and actually read the post all the way through. Because what you said I said is exactly the opposite of what I actually said. ^_^ I explicitly say that no one is asking you to throw anything away.

    (This article was specifically addressing an audience that is already using digital content – but only when it’s stolen as scans and does not want to pay for it, but then will not buy a book unless it is in print. This is the current manga reading audience, and it’s a real problem for manga publishers. )

    I’m a librarian, and I donate hundreds of books to my local library – mostly graphic novels, because the budget for those have been cut and I want young people reading.

    I love books and I will continue to read, purchase and publish books for sometime. I wish you had actually read the post, rather than synposized it so incorrectly. I love books, and I love Libraries. Digital is already happening and Libraries are right on the forefront of the whole thing – exactly where they should be.

    I have never suggested anyone destroy a book and I frequently suggest people donate unwanted books to their library.

    Cheers,

    Erica Friedman
    Proud to be a Master of Library Service

  13. Jaclyn C says:

    I think Library Guy and Nerdy Librarian made two excellent points:

    1 Library patrons may not buy the books, but they influence the ones who do.

    2 Also, if I find a library book particularly enjoyable or useful, I will go buy it and add it to my collection – and I’ll tell others about it,

  14. Mildred says:

    I will try out craft books from the library and purchase the ones that appeal to me. Libraries have been producing educated poor since they were created and I am glad they were. My elementary school teachers taught me two very valuable things–how to use a dictionary and how to use a library. I am grateful to say those things got me through college from a very poor family. My parents were very smart people but very poor and books were not on the shopping list.

  15. Abbi says:

    Almost all of the books I have purchased, I at some point read first at the library. I read voraciously and quickly, and have no desire to spend $200 a month on new books. Books nowadays are too expensive, unless you are at the library book sale and filling a big bag for $5. :)