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The New Year for Ebooks

Ahh, 2014 has finally arrived. A lot of people got really excited when it began, so they must know something I don’t about how exciting the year is going to be.

They’re certainly excited over at Digital Book World, which published at least two posts at the end of last year about libraries and ebooks in 2014. They have predictions and everything.

Unsurprisingly, the director of the Office of Information Technology Policy for the American Library Association (ALAOITPLOL) is “optimistic about libraries and ebooks for 2014.” He probably has to professionally optimistic, so I’m not sure that should count.

A VP for an independent ebook publishing platform has “a vision of the future that brings bookstores to every town and invigorates libraries.” You can probably guess what that vision is. “In this vision, libraries of the future are our local bookstores. I see a future where libraries let people borrow digital books—or buy them.” Lordy.

What should we make of all this optimism and vision?

If the goal is merely to make ebooks available through public libraries, then 2014 might indeed be the turning point, the year the publishers finally realized they could make libraries pay through the nose for unnecessarily stunted technology.

The Big 5 publishers will all be “selling” ebooks to libraries for extravagant prices while seriously restricting access to the content to one user at a time. What publisher wouldn’t want that deal?

Looking at it objectively, what librarian could seriously approve of that deal?

Oh well, at least libraries can become bookstores. You see, bookstores have been disappearing from communities. But libraries can replace them…somehow.

Libraries already have plenty of print books, so the key is making libraries a hub for selling ebooks, says the VP of an ebook publisher. Huh?

Can’t we just buy ebooks online? Isn’t that kind of the point? Avid readers with eclectic tastes were never satisfied with most independent bookstores anyway, unless we’re talking stores like the Strand Bookstore or something. We go online because it’s easy to find books, so why would we go to libraries for that?

Because, supposedly, “human interaction and the advice of knowing readers are vital to vibrant reading communities.” I guess.

I sort of figure that lots of readers have more in their reading list than they’ll ever get to, so they don’t need knowing readers. Everyone else can probably rely on the recommendations from Amazon or Goodreads.

A bigger question is would librarians want to become booksellers. Isn’t that the sort of job that people earn library degrees to stop doing?

On the other hand, loaning and selling independent ebooks might be the best future if libraries ever decide to stop throwing good money after bad “buying” ebooks from the Big 5.



  1. Aren’t libraries already in the business of selling ebooks? I seem to recall OverDrive having a big fancy “Buy this on Amazon” link on all of their listings complete with their Amazon affiliate ID helpfully inserted into the URL. Talk about screwing libraries from both ends of the barrel.

    • Libraries can opt in or out of this. If you have a link then the library gets some of the proceeds.

  2. Garry M Graves says:

    Here’s a prediction you missed apparently.
    “…Libraries will have the opportunity to buy ebooks at a fair price, with fair usage, directly from authors. Namely me and those who join me via a new company I’m starting. I’ll be making an announcement soon, but in short, I want to give libraries everything the Big 5 are denying them, and I want all authors who control their rights to enroll in a new, innovate, and extremely generous way for everyone–including libraries–to profit from ebooks…” Joe Konrath, See his blog at

  3. “On the other hand, loaning and selling independent ebooks might be the best future if libraries ever decide to stop throwing good money after bad “buying” ebooks from the Big 5.”


  4. Wendi Sotis says:

    Many Indies make their books free for libraries on Smashwords.

  5. deb smith says:

    I love libraries. As an author (30 years, making a living at genre fiction), as an avid reader, and as a small press publisher. I don’t want libraries to go away. But why have my kind (publishers) been demonized as greedy for trying to protect the ability to fund our business–the income we and our authors depend upon if we are to continue to produce books? Trust me, we WANT our books to be in libraries, and we struggle to get them into libraries. We understand that librarians are the curators who keep the barbarian hoards of uncultured scribblers away from the teeming masses, etc. But in turning away from small presses and independent authors over the years, the library world has secluded itself from a broad base that loves it dearly, while hitching its star to Corporate Booksellers. There is no easy solution here. But once again I hear the cri de coeur of the system that can’t figure out if it’s for Everyone or Just the Elite. “Give us your books and make it cheap! No, not those books. Just the ones we deem acceptable.”

    • In the golden age of libraries there was an effort for actual comprehensive collection development shared across certain ACRL research libraries for selected subjects. Trust me, if the money were there would be many would love this dream realized. Can someone help me with the name of this initiative? It’s killing me that I cannot recall the name. Here is a wonderful bibliography for those looking to understand collection development
      I am not certain there was a critical time period in which libraries turned away from small publishers, bibliometrics would certainly bear this out. Like anything marketing to libraries is about understanding the clientele, and working with the established workflow. Networking with jobbers, meeting people in collection development etc. If one is not working with the established ways of book buying that is indeed a problem. Maybe not insurmountable, but not a way to endear oneself to the audience. Kind of like trying to pay a pizza delivery person with Bitcoin.

    • Hi Deb. While librarians may not like the decisions big publishers have made about selling ebooks to libraries, it’s probably overstated to consider our response to be demonization. We’re just upset that this situation hurts our ability to do our job. As a publisher, you know best how to run your business. We understand that. Few of us would characterize the profit-seeking motive of businesses as “greed.” We know that businesses try to make money – as much as possible. With regards to ebooks, publishers have shown no hesitancy to sacrifice the interests of libraries to their own interests. You can’t really blame us for being unhappy when some big publishers would not sell us their books at any price and others would do so only at what appear to be inflated prices. If we receive a 45% discount on a $40 book, it costs us $22. You can’t expect us to be thrilled to pay $120 for the same title in a digital edition, can you? That is after publishers have reduced their costs related to printing, binding, and shipping expenses to zero. Most libraries I know love purchasing books from small publishers. I certainly do. When it appears that we are saying we want “just the ones we deem acceptable,” we are saying, “we want the books that our patrons want.” It should surprise nobody that most of our patrons want books that are popular, that are on best seller lists. Most of those are produced by big publishers. Libraries produce reading. Big publishers produce most of the popular books, which produce more reading than unpopular books.

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