Thursday, September 6, 2012

Libraries Grow Writers - Long Live the Library by Deb McLeod

A few weeks ago Jamie LaRue and Lisa Casper of Douglas County Libraries met with a group of local authors to talk about publishing e-books at DCL libraries. As executive director of The Writing School and an author with plans to begin e-publishing next spring, I was honored to be included.

Jamie opened the meeting with statistics about e-book growth.

e-Book Growth
  • In 2010, Amazon reported selling 115 e-books for every 100 paperbacks and three e-books for every hardback.
  • In 2004, there were 29,000 self-published titles in the United States. In 2009, there were 766,000. In 2010, 2.7 million.
  • Independent publishers are now publishing almost as any titles per year as mainstream (approaching 300,000).
  • Publishers Weekly reported e-book sales rose 117% in 2011

If more and more books are available as e-books, if more and more readers are reading electronically, clearly libraries have to adapt. But legacy publishers aren’t making that easy. Here are the terms from the big six publishing companies for e-book publishing at the library:

Legacy Publishers Stonewall Libraries
  • Hachette, Macmillan, Simon & Shuster won’t sell e-books to libraries at all. Under any terms.
  • HarperCollins requires libraries to buy e-books again after 26 checkouts.
  • Random House increased their prices by 3-5 times. (Danielle Steele’s latest book cost the library $84).
  • Penguin is considering selling to libraries after the book has been on the market for six months.
  • The library has lost ownership, discount and integration (into their catalogs) for most e-books.

Libraries Grow Readers

Research by Pew and Bowker and repeated in Douglas County shows the e-book lending does NOT undercut sales. In fact, the more people that use the library, the more e-books they buy. “Power users” (more than once a week) buy one e-book for every two they borrow.

Libraries Grow Writers

My local library had such a profound effect on me that the thought that there could be a future without libraries is chilling.

My mother told me she had to wait until she was old enough to get a library card to check books out. When she finally did, she spent her days on her bed, eating apples and reading as her immigrant grandmother told her she was going to ruin her eyes, told her to go out to play like her athletic sister.  When I was young, every Saturday we would start family errands at the library. Then we’d go to the grocery store and finally, the Italian store for lunch meat, cheese and bread. The culmination of our weekly ritual was a dinner of giant Italian sandwiches and treat of all treats, we could read at the dinner table. Only on Saturday.

By the time I was seven I had begun eyeing the very small teen section on the other side of the library. I was too young for those books, my mother said. So I devised some goals to keep me occupied. First I read all the purple-spined books on the children’s shelves. Then I went through the children’s catalogue for any book that had been written by, starred or in any other way referred to the name Deborah or one of its derivatives.

When I asked again to move to the teen section, my mother said there were still children’s books I hadn’t yet read. So I did the only thing I could do. I started at one end of the children’s section and read every single book in order, even the ones I’d already read.

Each week I started at the shelf where I left off the week before, not considering that books were checked out and returned all the time, so there were books behind me that I hadn’t read. I just plowed forward. I read as many as I could while we were at the library and checked out a pile when we left. I have no idea how long it took, but I do remember the day I finished.

This time, when I whined to my mother about nothing to read, I had the sense to whine in front of the librarian. Together they decided I had earned my way to the other side of the library.

Ah, the teen section with its stories of girls who had boyfriends, of high school and books that tackled issues like jealousy and thinly-veiled instructions on being a lady. I remember the first teen book I read. A purple-spined book called “To Have and Not Hold.”

But the teen section was small so when I reached the end of that I moved on to the adult section. This time without even asking.

Eventually, my mother got tired of checking what I was reading and soon the whole family was sharing books. I read “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” hidden behind my social studies book at night in bed while my parents watched TV. “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Godfather,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Valley of the Dolls”: the world was an astounding place.

I was a voracious reader and then one day I began to write. Together, my mother and the Town of Tonawanda libraries in New York State grew me into a writer.

It can’t be possible that libraries could disappear.

Enter Director of Douglas County Libraries, Jamie LaRue, and “The DCL Model.”

DCL Model
  • Under DCL’s new program, Douglas County Libraries are working with over 800 publishers and buying (not renting) e-books, at discount, and integrating them into their catalogs. In addition to buying e-books, DCL is providing a link to purchase them.
  • The DCL Model is being adopted by libraries from California to Florida and has been investigated by libraries from Europe to New Zealand.

Local Authors Lend a Hand

At the task force meeting, the first question asked was: Would you donate a copy of your e-book to the library? The answer was a resounding “Yes.”

That settled; we moved on to talk particulars. How the library might maintain quality by creating a selection process. How the library might be a piece of the local author’s marketing plan.

It was a productive meeting. A hopeful meeting. There doesn’t have to be a world without libraries.

Legacy publishing may perish, but long live the library.

About the Writer:  Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach, co-founder and executive director of The Writing School. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.