Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

And now libraries know that Random House is planning to use real silver for that lining.

The problem with Random House’s plan is that libraries don’t have all that much silver to give them  in this era of shrinking budgets.

On February 2, Random House, the only one of the “Big 6” publishers to provide ebooks to libraries without restrictions, made an announcement that they would continue their generous policy, but that there would be a price hike to deal with some of the issues surrounding permanent access to ebooks.

Most libraries probably expected the price to rise somewhere in the neighborhood of 50%. Maybe double.

The hammer fell March 1. Hammer as in auction hammer. Or the hammer of doom.

Yesterday, Random House tripled the prices of their ebooks. You read that right. An ebook that cost a library $15 on Monday, costs $45 today. The libraries are reeling from the sticker shock.

But what will this mean?

Library budgets are not growing, they are flat or shrinking. Public libraries are creatures of local government, and tax revenues at the local government level are still sucky. Let’s be blunt here.

If the per-title price rises significantly, as it has just done. and the budget stays flat, what will happen? In most cases, libraries will buy fewer titles with the same dollars. Some will rearrange their budgets as much as they can, but very, very few will be able to triple their ebook budgets.

What gets purchased in this scenario? High-demand titles get purchased, so the hold queues get filled. Or at least stay tamed. John Grisham does not lose many library sales out of this.

What doesn’t get purchased? Mid-list authors and debut authors, because there is very little money left in the budget with which to take a chance. And the next John Grisham and Nora Roberts and James Patterson have to come from somewhere. Some of them will come from self-publication Cinderella stories like Amanda Hocking, but some will still come from the mid-list. If they get the chance.

Unlike V.C. Andrews, most authors do not write from beyond the grave. What are the publishers planning to do when the current crop of bestselling juggernauts decide to retire?  The number one way that readers decide to purchase a book is because they liked the author’s last book. The trick seems to be to get people to read an author the first time. And with the demise of more and more bricks-and-mortar bookstores, that trick is getting harder all the time.

But protecting their authors is not what this move is about. Revenue numbers from 2011 are starting to come in from the major publishers, and the picture that emerges is very interesting. Sales of print are down, digital is up and profitability is up. Think about it for a minute. Digital books have no inventory, no print costs, and very low distribution costs. Most of the infrastructure to produce them already exists. For the publisher, they are almost pure profit.

Profitability is in no way a bad thing. It’s required for a business to remain in business. But let’s not pretend. Random House is charging more for their ebooks to libraries because Random House believes:

that pricing to libraries must account for the higher value of this institutional model, which permits e-books to be repeatedly circulated without limitation. The library e-book and the lending privileges it allows enables many more readers to enjoy that copy than a typical consumer copy. Therefore, Random House believes it has greater value, and should be priced accordingly.

In other words, because they can.

The Fiction about Friction

Let’s talk about a concept that keeps coming up in the conversation about ebook lending in libraries. The publishers who are currently not participating in the library ebook market all seem to be worrying about the lack of “friction” in the library ebook lending transaction as far as the patrons are concerned.

What do they mean by “friction”?

With physical media, in other words, books and CDs and DVDs, patrons have to come to the library to borrow them and come back to the library to return them. According to the February 10 post in Publisher’s Lunch, forcing patrons to come into the library to borrow ebooks is also the appropriate model for ebook lending. The publishers say they are doing this for the libraries’ own good, to reinforce the concept of the library as destination. Research indicates that ebook users are already “power users” of library resources, regularly visiting their local libraries for programming and to borrow materials, as well as borrowing ebooks online, and doing all those activities in great gulps.

Back to that “friction” thing again. The publishers seem to be laboring under a set of misapprehensions about how “easy” it is to borrow an ebook from a library. Let’s look at that for a moment.

According to the recent report in American Libraries, when ALA President Molly Raphael met with the Big 6 publishers in New York recently, many of the executives from those publishers were laboring under the mistaken belief libraries loaned ebooks to anyone who happened to click through their websites. We all know that’s not the case.

Libraries are responsible to their communities, and their resources are paid for by the taxes raised in those communities. We make our resources available to those who live or own property in the community. Many libraries make arrangements with their neighboring communities to reciprocally serve their patrons.

So it’s not quite as easy as the publishers think. But is it easy?

The so-called “friction” in borrowing an ebook from the library is different than the model the publishers are used to, but it is definitely there.

The hold queues for ebooks are very, very long. A recent article in the Washington Post showed hundreds of people waiting in line for some of the titles. The libraries in the D.C. metro area also have attempted to purchase copies to meet the demand, but the numbers are staggering. Placing a hold for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and seeing yourself listed as number 508 in the queue has to be a shock to anyone.

The second piece of grit that causes no end of friction is the general supply of ebooks. Period. When a person logs into their local library’s ebooks collection and wants to read something, anything, but just get a book, right now, can they? The answer generally is only if they understand the system and are willing to take something they may not be familiar with.

Patrons complain, with justification, that everything is out.  My LPOW has about 10,000 ebooks on OverDrive. However, if I check to see what a patron might check out, the first several screens all tell me to put myself on the waiting list. It is possible to search for only the titles currently available, but you have to know how to do that. And if you do know, you must search for EPUB, PDF, Open EPUB and Open PDF separately. There’s no option for just ebook. Out of those 10,000 ebooks, there are only 50 science fiction and fantasy titles in today. I did a quick scroll through, and a significant chunk of those are unfortunately mis-categorized. They’re really paranormal romance, which wouldn’t bother me, but would disappoint a lot of readers.

That’s not all the friction in this potential transaction.

Those of us who have been on the receiving end, know that dealing with end-users brings its own variety of friction. Whatever the client program is, whether it is OverDrive’s Media Console or the search program or the patron’s device or any other piece of the puzzle, there is a chain. Server to website to search to download to device to human. Any one of those parts can suffer a classic case of “failure to communicate” and when the chain breaks, the patron calls the library.

OverDrive’s Media Console isn’t quite as intuitive to use as the Kindle app, or the Nook app, or Bluefire. It’s pretty decent, and I frequently use it for EPUB format books, but there are a couple of things that get to me. For example, I can rename books in Bluefire and I can’t in OverDrive.

But the transaction to borrow an ebook in OverDrive far from frictionless. There’s no ability to search all of one type of format. So a patron can’t just search for “ebooks” or just search for “audiobooks”. The format limits are EPUB or PDF, and MP3 Audiobook or WMA Audiobook.

Once you find something you want to borrow, there’s the need for a library card number and a PIN, or personal identification number. Some libraries have made this easy by tying it to something the patron can’t forget, some don’t. But once past that hurdle, there’s the whole download business. If you’re reasonably savvy about your device, it is a piece of cake. With an iPhone or an iPad, there is, of course, an app for that.

Dealing with a side load through Adobe Digital Editions into a Classic Nook the first time is not for the faint of of heart, and not the night before you leave on vacation. Especially not if your flight is at “oh dark thirty”. Of those “power users” that LJ surveyed; 23% have given up on borrowing an ebook from the library because the process was “too complicated”.

If our sophisticated users have difficulty with the process, what about the new ereader users? A lot of people who are not tech-savvy got ereaders  because of the convenience factor and the content, but not the “gee-whiz” factor. How “frictionless” will they think the current ebook lending process is?

There is plenty of friction in the ebook borrowing transaction. The libraries are having enough issues ensuring that their interface with living, breathing patrons who use the library is as frictionless as possible.

What we don’t need is publishers telling us that library ebook lending needs more of this so-called “friction” than it already has. What we need is more ebooks in the library market.

Ebooks in Public Libraries: Whither, Which, How

The Digital Public Library of America discussion list has kicked into high gear again, in anticipation of an in-person meeting at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in mid-January, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.

The piece of the discussion that has caught my interest concerns the future availability of ebooks for public libraries to loan to patrons — and whether lending ebooks to patrons should be part of any public library future.

Statistics are showing double the ereader penetration in the US population from this time last year, not counting multi-function tablet (i.e. iPad) use. Libraries really don’t have the luxury to pretend this isn’t happening. The question remains what they can do about it.

The other question is, what do libraries provide? The “Big 6” publishers are increasingly skittish about providing ebooks for public libraries to lend.

  • Only Random House just plain lets libraries buy their ebooks to lend to patrons.
  • Harper Collins sells to libraries, and every time the copy has been checked out 26 times, the library has to buy it again.
  • Which puts Harper Collins ahead of Penguin and Hachette, who have both stopped selling ebooks to libraries.
  • And even further ahead of Simon and Schuster and Macmillan, who have never sold ebooks to libraries.

But back to the DPLA, which has been discussing the future of ebook publishing as it relates to libraries. There’s been a particular thread about commercial fiction and public library patrons.

The assumption that keeps niggling at me is that all the current trends will continue, and that the only changes we will see will be for the worse from the perspective of the library as institution.

My interpretation of the trendline being predicted is that the publishers will continue their unfortunate circling of their wagons, and that the lending rights that libraries have traditionally enjoyed with physical materials will disappear in the electronic age as publishers attempt to preserve their profit margins. Brilliance Audio’s scheduled January 31, 2012 withdrawal from the library download market is another step in this trend, as is the support of many, many publishers in the library marketplace for SOPA.

Publishers are worrying about their profits because those profits are based on a physical distribution model, and the physical distribution model is collapsing. And the publishers are becoming less optimistic about digital being their savior than they used to be, at least according to recent reports out of Digital Book World. So they are hanging on to every penny they can. Publishers have always feared that books borrowed from libraries have represented sales lost. But with physical books, sales to libraries were impossible to prevent.

With ebooks (and e-audiobooks) publishers don’t have to sell to libraries. So some of them are increasingly choosing not to — especially the big ones who believe that their authors don’t need libraries to help them develop a following.

But there are a lot of authors who do want their books, especially their ebooks, in libraries. I was interviewed by author Lindsay Buroker for an article on her blog about how self-published authors could get their books into their local libraries.

Self-published authors and authors who are published by small independent publishers are searching eagerly for ways to get their books into libraries. Increasingly those books are exclusively ebooks. Many of those authors would even be willing to donate a copy to their local public library (maybe not every public library, mind you, but the one in their own hometown) just to get readers.

In the print world, they used to be able to donate actual books. But in the digital world, what’s the mechanism? They don’t want to donate rights, they want to donate a couple of copies, and quite likely DRM-free copies at that, but how can they do it?

And for anyone who doesn’t think there is money in self-published authors, remember that Amazon has offered special incentives for self-published authors to make their work exclusively available through the Kindle Selects Program for 90-day periods.

This a a world that is changing faster than the “Big 6” can keep up with, which is why they are circling those wagons.

So, in this corner, we have the big publishers who either haven’t entered the library market or are sounding a retreat.

And in this corner, we have a lot of independent publishers and self-published authors who would love to enter the library space and are hungry for readers–readers that libraries know how to provide.

Libraries need  the equivalent of Smashwords for libraries. This may turn out to be something like what OverDrive will be when the big publishers have dropped out of the library market, with the addition of a method for self-published authors to donate copies or for libraries to buy copies of their work and lend it.

From a library institutional perspective, the library would miss the big blockbuster books. But we may not be able to keep those no matter what we do.  What we would get is a lot of popular content of the type that public library patrons read, popular genre fiction of all types. It would even cost less for the library than the current model. It might even be possible to have enough material so that people would have to wait forever for an ebook.

Yes, it would be different from how public libraries do ebooks now. But the future is going to be different. The question is, can we work toward making it different in a way we can have some control over? Can we have a future with a chance at a win-win?

Brilliance Audio, Amazon, and the Great Un-downloading

On January 4, OverDrive sent an email to all of its libraries with a bombshell announcement, (quoted here from Infodocket)

“Effective January 31, 2012, as instructed by the publisher, BrillianceAudio will suspend the availability of all download audiobook titles for library purchase across all vendors. This change does not affect any titles currently in your library’s catalog. You will not, however, be able to add any additional copies.”

Compared to the Harper Collins 26 checkout limit or the Penguin/Kindle “will they/won’t they” drama, the Brilliance withdrawal notice has generated only a few ripples in the pond. The tree fell in the forest, and there were surprisingly few people around to hear it.

And the voices that have spoken up have cried out against OverDrive. Before we “shoot the messenger”, let’s take a look at the message again.

The loss of Brilliance audiobook downloads is bad news for OverDrive. They license a lot of Brilliance audiobooks, and some are definitely going to be missed from library collections. J.D. Robb, Nora Roberts, Nevada Barr, Tom Clancy, Robert Crais, W.E.B. Griffin, Dean Koontz, Jayne Ann Krentz, the list goes on. These are all authors where my LPOW had long hold queues on OverDrive and licensed multiple copies, up to our maximum. And we bought physical audiobooks, and print books, and ebooks if available and every other format imaginable. OverDrive is going to miss their slices of that revenue pie. This Brilliance withdrawal is not in their interest.

So who benefits? Amazon owns Brilliance Audio. Amazon also owns Audible, which sells downloadable audio direct to consumers. (Full disclosure: Reading Reality is both an Amazon Affiliate and an Audible Affiliate)

Amazon has a track record of cutting out intermediaries wherever they can. They are offering self-published authors terrific deals in order to get agents out of the picture. They have become a traditional publisher as well, with several imprints under their banner ranging from romance (Montlake Romance) to mystery (Thomas & Mercer) to science fiction (47North) to international (AmazonCrossing).

This holiday season, Amazon tried to directly cut out local bookstores (not that they haven’t been doing an indirect job of that all along) by encouraging customers to take the Amazon “price check” app into their local bookstore and then compare the local price to the Amazon price for a $5 discount off the Amazon price. Ecosalon called this out as one of their “Most Offensive Ad Campaigns of 2011

Last but not least in the list of Amazon’s effort to remove obstacles between themselves and the direct consumer, there’s the Kindle Lending Library. Which attempts to eliminate libraries. Amazon Prime members can borrow one book per month, as long as they buy everything else.

So, if Amazon owns Brilliance, which makes audiobooks, and Amazon owns Audible, which sells downloadable audiobooks, who would be responsible for the decision to stop letting OverDrive and all other library vendors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, 3M) license Brilliance downloadable audiobooks to the library market?



What can we do about it?

Attacking OverDrive will not help.  Amazon is a 900 lb. gorilla, if not bigger. There are very, very few entities that have been able to successfully negotiate with Amazon and come away winners. The one time I can think of is when the publishers managed to break Amazon’s lock on Kindle book pricing by withholding content. But the publishers had something that Amazon wanted, bestselling author content.

What do we have that Amazon wants? Can we use our image of “mom and apple pie” and how much we do for the public good to make Amazon see reason?

The Brilliance audio download tree fell in the forest. It’s up to libraries to make Amazon hear our message.



March of the Penguins

This story may sound slightly familiar. Penguin Books has decided to opt out of the Library ebook market. The company is citing “security concerns“, much in the same way that Harper Collins cited the “need to protect their authors” when they imposed the 26-circulation cap on library ebook lending back in February 2011.

The same rules are applying in both cases, Harper Collins picked a date, and any item purchased before that date had unlimited loans–anything after that date was subject to the “Rule of 26”. Penguin is doing the same thing: anything purchased before a specific date, the libraries get to keep (without Kindle lending options). Anything after that date, well there is no after. Any library who has a lot of fans of Penguin authors is going to have a lot of unhappy patrons.

Although most of the focus is on OverDrive, because that’s the way most public libraries get their ebook content and deliver it to patrons, a Penguin statement refers to all library lending, not just OverDrive — and not just the Kindle Lending Library, either.

Random House is now the librarian’s best friend in the ebook marketplace. They are the only one of the “Big 6” publishers that provides new titles and doesn’t cap lending. Hachette Group still allows unfettered access, but they hang on to their new ebooks for a while before libraries get access. That still makes them way friendlier than everyone else in this increasingly cold marketplace.

The irony in this news comes from the survey released last month from Library Journal‘s Patron Profiles. According to the survey data, library users are a publisher’s best customers. Not just because the libraries themselves provide a steady market, but because people who check out books from the library buy more books. And the data says this is just as true for ebooks as it is for print books. This is one of those things that librarians always knew, but it is excellent to see it backed up with statistics.

So, instead of library borrowing cutting into sales, what really happens is that library usage allows readers to find authors they really like. When they find an author they like, they go out and buy more books from that author, whether they are print books or ebooks. Penguin Books has just cut themselves out of that channel for introducing readers to their authors.

Penguin Book Group is the publisher of the Complete Idiot’s Guides. How appropriate.


Amazon and the library redux

Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of commentary in the library world about Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library.

Most of the the library and ebook pundits go over the nitty-gritty details of the Kindle Lending Library, compare the extremely restrictive terms of Amazon’s initial foray into lending services with the vast array of library offerings, and pronounce that libraries have nothing to worry about.

ReadWriteWeb warns its readers “not to get too excited” about the prospect of rushing out to join Amazon Prime and tearing up their library cards.

My personal favorite is the post at Agnostic, Maybe that The Amazon Lending Library is NOT the Library Apocalypse. For one thing, the library apocalypse is more likely going to come as a result of shrinking budgets than anything else.

But to stretch the apocalypse metaphor further, is Amazon helping to feed the Four Horsemen’s horses? That strikes this particular pundit as a much more likely scenario.

The particulars of the Amazon deal as currently stated are very restrictive.  However, many patrons think that library policies are very restrictive. I’m not saying that they are, I am saying that everything is a matter of perspective. How many patrons have we lost for life over arguments about 15 cent or 25 cent overdue fines?

Amazon will change the structure of the deal as soon as it decides it is beneficial for them to do so. I would be willing to bet that the one book per month limit is the first thing to go. One book at a time, like Netflix, will make more sense to most users. But Amazon had to start somewhere, and they can afford to think about the very long term. Their point is to sell Kindles and to get more Prime Members. (And now, to win the probable court case.)

What members of the general public have to say is quite informative. Amazon has a lot of mindshare and the lending program has generated a lot of interest. Lending books for no additional charge used to be one service that libraries offered that was not available on the net. It was a counter to the argument that “why do we need libraries, everything is on the net now?”

The Amazon Lending Library publicity means that people know there are other alternatives on the net for borrowing books. Just because that alternative is not available to everyone now, doesn’t mean that it can’t be expanded later. And people who are making the argument to cut library funding will NOT dive into that detail. The sound bite will be enough.

Libraries do lend ebooks, and thanks to services like OverDrive and Project Gutenberg, a library’s collection can be larger and more diverse than Amazon’s, especially since OverDrive was more careful about actually securing rights instead of just assuming it could do whatever it felt like.

But commenters on the Amazon kerfuffle make the point over and over that if a user wants anything popular from the library, they have to get on a long wait list. No one likes that. What Amazon is offering, limited as it appears to a librarian, is available to any qualified user who wants it, right now. The whole point of ebooks is that a reader can have what they want, when and where they want it.

Over on Librarian by Day, a lot of statistics are used to make the case Why Amazon’s Lending Library is Not a Threat to Public Libraries. The problem is that these kind of statistics don’t move people. Sound bites and stories move people. Every statistic is absolutely correct, and it all sounds like “preaching to the choir”. Anyone who is already convinced that libraries are necessary will be swayed by these facts. Anyone who wants to believe that we can all be replaced by an electronic device, or who just loves bright, shiny toys, or who is simply willing to be convinced because they want to lower their taxes, is going to follow the marketing, and Amazon does great marketing.

We can expect that Amazon will learn from the rollout of its lending program, make changes, and improve it, making it more attractive to its users.  But as was asked over at the E-Content blog at American Libraries, “Can we learn from it?

Amazon presents a challenge to libraries, not because this particular service is better than what libraries currently offer, but just because they generate a huge amount of press and they used the word “library” in their announcement. But what will we as librarians make of this challenge?

Amazon wants to be your library

We’ve all read the news by now. Amazon has gone into the library business. And as the Baltimore Sun described it on November 3, this is bad news for libraries.

Amazon’s announcement on November 3 of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library is a masterpiece of marketing. But the service it offers, at the price point that Amazon is willing to provide it, is a direct shot across the bow of every public library in America.

Any Amazon Prime customer is automatically a subscriber to the new service. There is just one catch. The service only works if you have an actual Kindle! No Kindle app users need apply.

But an Amazon Prime subscription only costs $79 per year, and includes pretty much the same video streaming as Netflix, in addition to 2-day shipping on everything in the Amazon marketplace. For people who do a lot of their shopping through Amazon, this is a great deal. I’m not currently one of those people, but the Netflix to Amazon comparison may make it worthwhile on that cost alone. I can’t say we’re not thinking about it.

The current cost of the lowest price Kindle is $79. That’s a one time cost. Has anyone noticed that three of the very prominently displayed titles in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library are The Hunger Games Trilogy? This can’t be a coincidence. The Hunger Games ebooks are not available to libraries through OverDrive. They are available as audio through OverDrive, but not as ebooks. Scholastic does have a deal with Amazon to lend through their lending program, but not through public libraries.

Currently, the “Big Six” publishers do not participate in Amazon’s lending library. That’s Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Hachette. But then, two of those six, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, don’t participate in the library lending space, and HarperCollins’ participation brings up the number 26 and a whole lot of curse words.

But the lending library program is merely another string in Amazon’s bow. Let’s look at what it is again. Any Kindle owner who is already part of Prime Services can borrow one book per month for 30 days, no overdue fees and no hold queues. No muss, no fuss, no additional charges, on a platform they are already familiar with.

What Amazon gets out of this transaction is data, which is also what they get out of allowing Kindle users to borrow OverDrive ebooks from the libraries. They get more data about what people are reading on their Kindles, and they get the opportunity to sell them more Kindle books targeted to them based on that data. Amazon wins big on this.

But I have to contrast the Amazon service with a recent experience at a local library. I decided to finally read the second book in an older mystery series, the Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd. I listened to Test of Will on a car trip, liked it, and wanted to find Wings of Fire. The library didn’t have it, I don’t want to own it, so I tried interlibrary loan. ILL costs $2. The ebook only costs $7.99. I almost bought it, but I still don’t have a need to own it, and organizing my ebooks is getting to be a chore. I wasn’t worried about how long it would take for the book to arrive, so the month it took to get here was no big deal.

I have three weeks to read it. Not a serious problem for me, I’m used to shorter deadlines, but a nuisance. On the other hand, there’s a 20 cent per day fee if it’s overdue. Since I know the ebook cost $7.99, I’m starting to wonder why I didn’t just buy it, except I’ve already paid $2. And there’s a bookmark in the book to let me know that if I lose or damage the book I’ll automatically be charged $50 until my library settles up with the library that actually owns the book. Since the copy I have is the hardcover, that wouldn’t be $50, but it would be more than $7.99. Obviously, I need to keep the cats away from the book.

I understand about cost recovery. I’ve made all those arguments myself. And multiple times, at that. But I still won’t do another ILL for a book that’s available for under $10 as an ebook. Why? Because the experience is all negative from my perspective. I place the request, and I wait. The book comes in, and I have to figure out when the branch it’s at is open, which is a big issue here. I pay for the ILL, and then I get served with a series of warnings, because the presumption is that I will do something wrong. Those warning labels are attached to the book, just in case I forget them. Then I have to return the book, or I will have to pay again.

The Amazon experience is neutral or positive, and this is true for any ebook purchase from Barnes and Noble and Google and Apple as well. The book is there or it isn’t. Amazon has the special case of the lending library. So someone can borrow it or they can’t. If it’s available for purchase, and I’m willing to pay, I buy it. It automatically downloads to my device, which is already set up from my previous purchases. I’m done. No further charges, no need to go anywhere, no warnings, no fines, no delays. And some potentially helpful suggestions about other books I might like. I’m free to browse further or ignore them and dive into my new book.

Libraries need to be different and good and positive about it. Always. All the time. Whenever we face the public. Are we? If we’re not, Amazon has the potential to do to us what they helped do to Borders.

A billion wicked thoughts about ebooks and libraries

On October 12 I attended the second annual virtual conference about ebooks and libraries, sponsored by Library Journal and School Library Journal. The title of the conference was Ebooks: the New Normal, and I wondered, is it really?

The conference itself was really cool. This is a conference about ebooks, after all. It should be a virtual conference. Requiring a physical conference to talk about a virtual product would be either ironic or contradictory. The sessions were great! At the same time, as one of the attendees pointed out on Twitter, it’s hard to sit down for drinks together afterwards to rehash the conference. Putting it another way, hash tags just don’t taste as good as a glass of wine with new friends after the conference is over.

But back to that thought about whether ebooks are the new normal, or not. Ebooks are definitely a permanent part of the library landscape. Ian Singer of Media Source quoted adoption rate statistics that ebooks are in over 90% of academic libraries and over 80% of public libraries. But “in” and “integrated” are two different things. A lot of academic library ebook collections are mostly for research. And a lot of public library ebook collections are just getting started.

What about those “billion wicked thoughts”? One of the speakers in the afternoon Pecha Kucha session was Ogi Ogas, author of A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire. His advice to libraries regarding ebooks is that we need to not just stock a lot of ebook romances, but that we need to get involved in archiving fanfiction. Wow! Why? Because men like pictures and women like stories, meaning romance fiction. His research follows the publishing trends, and the library ebook circulation trends, that romance sells, and romance circulates. Ebook romances of all stripes and types are the hottest circulating genre of ebooks, and romance authors are the hottest circulating authors except for the big name bestsellers like Patterson and Roberts. Except, hey wait a minute, Nora Roberts is a romance author.

Robin Bradford, Fiction Collection Development Specialist at the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, said something similar in her earlier presentation. She said that purchasing for the ebook collection isn’t like buying for the print collection. She showed the top 20 ebooks from IMCPL, and there they were, hot romance authors in the top 20. Lauren Dane had 4 books in the top 20. (Go Lauren, she’s really good!) Robin’s point in general was that the ebook audience may be different from the print audience and we have to purchase what will circulate. Another one of her comments that was clearly a big takeaway based on the Twitter chat was that the ebook users want the authors’ backlist if it’s available. And it increasingly is thanks to publishers like Open Road Media.

But about that whole normal thing? One of the issues that’s part of the old normal, and an even bigger part of the new normal, is budget limitations. Ebooks may not take up any room, and genre fiction can be less expensive than hardcover books, but library budgets have shrunk. We can reallocate money from some other places, like periodicals, and standing orders, and reference books. But databases also cost more, and that expense isn’t going away.

Libraries do a lot of their collection development from reviews. Not for the upcoming bestsellers, the sure things, but authors and titles they don’t know and have never heard of, they do. When a library is looking at an ebook collection, as Robin Bradford and other speakers pointed out, the library shouldn’t be duplicating its print collection. There are a lot of titles from publishers such as Carina and Dreamspinner and Samhain that are ebook-only, and many are written by new or relatively unknown authors. In other words, if these were print, collection development would look for reviews. Even when the individual titles cost less than $5, the money does add up. There are reviews out there, if a librarian is willing to go hunting through the blogosphere, but that takes a lot of time. Or it’s a labor of love.  Library Journal has been reviewing ebook-only titles in their Xpress Reviews online since July 2011 (full disclosure: I am one of their reviewers), but libraries need more resources in order to integrate ebook ordering into collection development. We need the equivalent of AudioFile or VOYA for ebook only titles, except online, of course!  When that exists, ebooks will  truly be the new normal in libraries.

Who’s with me on this?

Hearts and daggers and spaceships

Scanning the fiction shelves of your local public library, there are a lot of books with labels on the spines for romance, mystery and science fiction. There’s at least one standard brand of those labels where the romance label was a heart, the mystery label was a dagger, and the sci-fi label was a spaceship.

This isn’t about the labels. This is about the books.

Back in the Dark Ages (pre-Internet), librarians were the ones who knew when new books were coming out. How did we know? We had some great magazines (yes, magazines) that reviewed books just a few weeks, or maybe even a couple of months, before they came out, so we could order them. Those publications are still familiar names: Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, etc. They still publish reviews. And let’s not forget the venerable New York Times Book Review every Sunday and their best seller list.

But the world around them has changed. Everyone knows when books are coming out. Amazon and Barnes & Noble may have books available for pre-order more than six months ahead of publication. But it’s more than that. Reviews are no longer the domain of a select few. Anyone can review a book and post their review on the net. Not just on Amazon and B&N, but also on Goodreads, Shelfari and LibraryThing.

Back to the hearts and daggers and spaceships. Once upon a time, most fiction bestsellers were “just plain” fiction. Today, most fiction bestsellers are part of one or more genres. They are romance, or mystery, or science-fiction, or fantasy, or one of the new genres like urban fantasy or paranormal. Or one of the tried-and-true variations, like horror or thriller or espionage. But fiction sells better today when it is in an easily defined category. Just like cable television has broken down into a zillion niche channels, so has publishing.

Genre readers have also developed their own niches on the net where they publish news and reviews and author interviews, just like the traditional review magazines that libraries have always relied on do. The difference is that many of the genre sites are doing this out of love, and not necessarily for money. For many, this is as much about the fandom as it is about the literature. But they still make terrific review sources for a lot of material that may not be covered by traditional reviewers, particularly not in vast quantity.

Every public library already knows whether they are going to purchase James Patterson’s next book. Or Nora Roberts’ next, whichever name she writes it under (I’m waiting for New York to Dallas with the proverbial baited breath myself). Librarians just don’t need to see the reviews for certain authors, because it doesn’t matter whether the book is good or bad, it will still be “hot”.

But monitoring a group of genre fiction blogs and websites, even if it is a moving target, can bring in a lot of really great material, including ebooks, for your patrons, and can help separate the wheat from the proverbial dusty chaff. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Fiction Vixen both review romance, and lots of it. This is a great thing, since there is an awful lot of romance published, and nowhere near enough of it gets reviewed anywhere except online, particularly the ebook-only titles. All Things Urban Fantasy, Para Your Normal and Galaxy Express (Science Fiction Romance) cover subgenres that aren’t necessarily even thought of by more traditional reviewing sources.

Locus Magazine and the SciFiGuy both review science fiction and fantasy. The Rap Sheet and Criminal Element cover (or uncover) Mystery. And many of these sites have that wonderful feature, a blog roll. Veritable treasure troves of sites in the same bailiwick.

As both selection resources for collection development and readers’ advisory resources for patron services, these sites are fantastic. They can answer questions like “what is the authors’ preferred reading order for the Liaden series vs. the publication order?” and “If I have patrons who like Sookie Stackhouse but not Anita Blake, what else should I buy?” There’s also the ever popular question of where to go for clues on what to purchase to fill in the ebook selection on OverDrive.  Those are the most popular genres, and most of them are not reviewed. Checking out the purchaser reviews on Amazon, or going to a specialty site like Fiction Vixen may help you decide.

And it’s fun.

Embracing the downloading present

In the ALA Virtual Conference, a presentation that can have an immediate impact for any library was “Download This! How One Library Embraced Its Downloadable Future”.  But it’s not about the downloadable future, it’s about the downloadable present!

For those who missed the ALA Virtual Conference, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County gave an excellent presentation about how they took the proverbial bull by its proverbial horns and pushed downloadable ebooks and eaudiobooks from backburner to front and center of their website, their service and their collection development. There was definitely a note of chagrin in their confession that just a couple of years ago, the best place for a person to learn about ebooks in the Cincinnati area was the local Barnes & Noble, not the library. (Full disclosure, my very first library job was as a page for PLC&HC many moons ago)

Although they may be a large library with a good-sized budget, the process that Sandy Bolek and Holbrook Sample outlined was a process that any library could tailor to their own circumstances.  And every library has circumstances.

The current statistics according to the Pew Research Center show that 12% of Americans own an eReader of some type. 8% of Americans own a tablet device, so an iPad or Android tablet. On the one hand, some of that ownership definitely overlaps (yours truly has both) but on the other hand, those statistics are a month old. They’ve undoubtedly changed–by rising. EReader ownership has tripled since the same time last year, and tablet ownership has doubled. Book sales are down in every category, except digital, which is up by 150+% according to the American Association of Publishers.

The July 25, 2011 issue of Shelf Awareness reports that, “Some 21% of reading group members are now reading all or most of their selections on e-readers, up from 11% in 2009…”  Reading groups are valued members of every library’s community. And one member out of five is reading their book on a reader.

If more than 1 person in 10 has an ereader, and 1 person in 5 in a reading group is reading their selections on an ereader, then, are downloadables the future, or are they now? What can your library do if it’s now?

Cincinnati’s plan is straightforward. Although this list is in order, it is also a continuous loop. Once you start, you don’t ever get to stop.
1.Collection to meet demand and holds
2.Staff training to be able to assist patrons
3.Website promotion to make downloads prominent and increase ease of use, FAQs, etc.
4.Marketing, marketing, marketing

Straightforward doesn’t mean easy. They spend 5% of their collection development funds on downloadables, and circulation has risen dramatically as a result. This is true for collection development in general. New material, popular material, brings new users. Older material, a collection that is not refreshed, does not have what people want, or doesn’t have anything in, frustrates people and turns them away.

Patrons need to know that the library doesn’t just have ebooks, but can help. Although the user experience is getting better as the products mature, it can be frustrating. If we want people to come to us, we have to be willing to help them, and to listen to them. Barnes & Noble will help them if we don’t.

We need to tell patrons that we have what they are looking for. People don’t assume that we have ebooks. Some people think we all still have white hair tucked up in a bun, and we know that’s not true. Why would they think we have ebooks unless we tell them? Barnes & Noble and Amazon put their Nook and their Kindle front and center on their websites.

At the Alachua County Library District, I went through many of the same steps that Cincinnati did. I also looked at the collection as it was, and the outside market, and realized that downloadables could be really huge for the library if they were focused on in the right way. Collection development for downloadables is a different animal in some ways than more traditional library formats, but the challenge is to work it into the library’s flow. Alachua also saw a jump in downloadable circulation of 300% from 2009 to 2010, and 2011 is on track for a similar increase. Giving the downloadable collection a prominent place on the library’s website will reap benefits. Making sure there is high-quality, constantly refreshed content when patrons go to your downloadables will bring them back time and time again.