Too many Kind Readers have sent this link in for me not to comment on it. The headline says it all: “Rhode Island’s tattooed librarian calendar defies stereotypes.” Of course it doesn’t. There’s now nothing more stereotypical than the tattooed librarian trying to defy stereotypes.
There was one odd quote from the organizer, who said she “organized the calendar in part because she wanted people to know libraries are evolving and aren’t just places to get books.” Are they also now places to get tattoos? That’s what I want to see, tattoo parlors inside libraries. Now that would be defying stereotypes.
But the story that most caught my eye in the past week is about the study from Bowker on the rapid growth of self-publishing. There were 391,000 self-published books last year, up 60% from the year before. Most of the new books published are now self-published, if I’m interpreting the information correctly. That’s a lot of books.
The press release explores the rationale for self-publishers:
Those who intend to self-publish most often plan to bring fiction to market, followed by inspirational or spiritual works, books for children and biographies. The majority cite finding a traditional publisher as an obstacle. They also feel challenged by marketing – a hurdle that becomes bigger with increasing numbers of books in the market.
It’s not surprising that finding a publisher is an obstacle. Finding a publisher is supposed to be an obstacle. Publishers are supposed to stand between the public and awful novels and “inspirational” works. The stuff that gets published through traditional means is usually bad enough.
I’d love to see more about the motivations of most of these self-publishers. I’m not talking about the people deliberately publishing for niche audiences. What drives someone to self-publish a novel, for example?
Is it to make money? Because from what I’ve read most self-published books don’t sell much, so if that’s the goal it’s not a realistic one.
Is it just to be published? To see your name on the cover of a published book? I could see that, but does self-publishing count? I could just post my bad novel on Blogger and be a published novelist, with about the same amount of cachet I’d have by self-publishing it.
Is it because they know the world truly needs their inspired words? It’s a pity then that so few people in the world are getting the advantage of their inspiration.
The sad thing is that there are most likely unsung geniuses out there self-publishing, people whose work is great, but with little chance wary mainstream publishers would publish it. Those people are lost in the crowd.
What does all this mean for libraries, though? I read a mention on a blog post somewhere about some of the self-publishing companies trying to sell books to libraries. Do libraries buy many of those books?
That’s actually a question we can answer. A quick search of WorldCat revealed that libraries do indeed buy some. Smashwords was one of the publishers mentioned, and a keyword search reveals that at least 96 libraries have bought Always on My Mind, the most popular Smashwords book for libraries.
The next most popular is available through 52 libraries, then 36, 31, 26, 22, 14, 14, 11, 11, and 11. Those are the top 10. After that it drops off very quickly, and the vast majority of the books are available in 1 or 2 libraries.
Createspace fares quite a bit better, but they’ve got that Amazon juggernaut behind them. The Library Journal has reviewed a few Createspace publications, but none from Smashwords that I can find, so maybe it’s the power of LJ at work. Still, it’s not that great.
But with almost 400,000 self-published books a year, the amount bought or preserved by libraries is going to be negligible. In the future, it will be like the vast majority of these books never existed.
Or maybe that’s true now. If an ebook is published in the wilderness and nobody reads it, does it still count as a book?