Self-Publishers and eBook Authors Need a CHAMPION to Assist Them in Gaining Access to the Library Lending Process

Amazon’s entry into public libraries and their own lending process through the Prime program has just quadrupled the activity in ebook lending. With this rapid growth of the ebook lending process comes some inherent problems as everyone rushes to get a piece of the action.

At the top of the ladder are the traditional publishers, Amazon and Overdrive. They are the people that have the most control. Their motive is profit. At the bottom rung are the libraries and the authors.

I have discussed this issue with several authors recently and the sentiment is the same. “How do I make a living if they’re going to give my ebook away?”

One author relayed this to me. “I spent 16 months of my life, writing and researching a 600 page technical book/ebook and the sales have been mediocre at best. The hardcover sells for $35.00 USD with the ebook at $19.95 USD.”

“Now my publisher is going to let over 11,000 libraries have access to the ebook version and I haven’t heard anything about me sharing in the income. There is no one to turn to. You know? No competition.”

There are Some Problems with the Current Lending Model?
The Current Model
The current model is a profit-orientated process designed to funnel readers to the retailer’s buy pages by creating an availability problem. Avid readers want something to read and the convenience of an online device that can access a library’s collection, means they can be reading an ebook in moments. Sounds good!

Retailers and publishers know that ‘lending leads to sales’. The one copy, one user rule insures them the sale of the ebooks to the libraries. Then the publishers jack up the price above even the current online price and start to bring in the money from the libraries. Oh, I forgot to mention, the profit margin on an ebook is in the 90 percent range.

Several publishers have opted out of the lending because they have not bought into the ‘lending leads to sales’ theory. One thing for sure is they control the selection of what is available.

They already have a delay built into the model so the new releases are not available until they have passed an established sales period. This is similar to the movie industry. They do the same thing with new releases by monitoring sales until it passes an acceptable level and then they release the movie to video and online viewing.

And the kicker is that accessing ebooks is not an easy process, as advertised. Just try maneuvering through the catalog and all the separate Internet pages to borrow an ebook.

Amazon has a very sound strategy here. They already have the ebook content on their servers. First they throw the readers a bone by allowing some ebooks to be purchased by libraries for lending. Then they flood the device market with Kindles at below market pricing. Some reports say below the cost of production. Of course, the Kindles are using Amazon’s own proprietary format.

Next they add the Amazon Prime lending program which allows a member to borrow one ebook per month for about $6.50 a month. The Prime program does have several other features like free shipping and the ability to stream movies and videos at a price. This could be a trial balloon for something more dramatic like a Cloud-based service renting ebooks and circumventing Overdrive and libraries all together. All links lead to their buy pages and at the same time they are capturing the patron’s information and reading habits.

You know there is too much power here when Amazon includes a publisher’s ebooks without their permission. Of course, the publishers can withdraw their ebooks from the Amazon sales site but I don’t think that is going to happen often.

Amazon biggest benefit is the increased pressure on Barnes and Noble. This competition definitely will affect the Nook ebook availability and their exposure to the Library audience.

With Libraries, the squeeze is on. Saddled with limited budgets and a growing demand for ebooks spurred on by the entry of Kindle users into the mix, the availability of new titles is few and far between. And the Nook users are now battling for access to ebooks that before were totally in their domain. The multiple formats, one access per ebook model insures that.

Add to this a movement by publishers to affix an artificial limit to the ebook life cycle. HarperCollins has already put in place a checkout limit of 26 before a library has to rebuy access to a title.

Libraries, who fought for ebook lending, how realize that the opportunity comes at a price. Not only is the demand crushing the system, but the motive behind the change was to sell more ebooks and devices to frustrated readers.

And the price the readers had to pay was the loss of privacy of their information. Now the retailers are capturing all the reading habits of the library patrons with no recourse. To read more about the privacy issue go to Librarian by Day by Bobbi Newman and Librarian in Black by Sarah Houghton.

Another problem is the decision making process. In the library setting, a reader browses the online card catalog looking at very limited information. Next the reader goes to the shelves, finds the book and scans it. Then they borrow it or not.
Unfortunately, with ebooks the catalog descriptions are card-based. Some do provide a sample of the works but that is a very limited number of titles at this time.

And the kicker is libraries, at this point, have no alternative. Avid readers and the authors deserve better.

How do eBook authors and Self-publishers make a Living using this Lending Model?
The quick answer is THEY DON’T particularly if they’re just starting out in the business. Traditional authors, who are established in the marketplace and their ebooks are a byproduct of the hardcover publishing process, will do JUST OK with this, if it does indeed lead to more sales.

The newbie author who has to do their own marketing, fight for reviews and work hard at social networking to get word-of-mouth recommendations, are fighting an uphill battle. They need exposure and the lending process seems like the perfect opportunity.

You know when ebook self-publishing stars like Amanda Hocking, David Baldacci and John Locke have a hard time getting by the gatekeepers into the library ebook catalog, something is wrong with the system.

Send in the Champion
So from the self-publishing, ebook author’s and the libraries’ point of view, what is the best alternative to the current model? We need a champion. We need a leader to design and implement a system outside of the current model. One who would compete with the traditional publishers and Amazon. A Gutenberg-type system, filed with current ebook authors and titles. You know a system where libraries can access titles for free or at a reasonable fee.

So what would the ideal system look like?
I have nicknamed this system:

CSPILL or The Champion for Self-Publishers and Independents Library Lending program.
Here is a summary of the attributes of this hypothetical system.

1. A catalog of ebooks would be established and available to all libraries for lending.
2. All ebook authors would be eligible to submit their ebooks for inclusion into the CSPILL catalog. (Probably some restriction on sexual connect and such should be determined)
3. Authors and publishers would be responsible for providing the ebook formatted files.
4. The system would be Cloud-based and each ebook would always be available.
5. The collection would have fee-structure like:

A. Some authors would provide FREE access to their ebooks. (usually early titles)
B. Other authors would provide their ebooks for a one-time fee for their ebooks with no limit to the life.
C. Established authors would provide for a yearly fee their ebooks with a library opt-out option.

6. Privacy Control: No collection of information like borrowing habits will be attempted.
7. A Dust Cover Description will be provided for readers to search and select a title to borrow. This would also be furnished by the author/publisher.
8. Access to buy page links will be included in the Dust Cover Summary.
9. Provide an opportunity for readers to submit reviews and opinions for each title.

So What Does this Buy the Self-publisher and the eBook Author?
1. Reader’s exposure to the author’s ebooks otherwise denied by publisher controls.
2. Reader’s reviews and opinions that are so difficult to get by the independent author.
3. Borrowing gives the reader a free trail of an author’s works rather than a small sample.
4. A Dust Cover Description concept which would provide the reader with information to help make the decision on which title to borrow.
5. Assist the ebook author with marketing and branding their style of writing.

A Champion needs to step up to the plate. I think it is a huge opportunity for an organization to provide the self-publisher and independent author a voice in the exploding ebook industry.

Ron Frisch, author of the Promised Valley Rebellion, summed up the thought on this. “Would it take much for a small group of people to set up a website performing the service you describe, to which every independent writer would soon flock? Could SPR or the Association of Independent Authors do it?”

What would happen if a consortium of ebook authors and self-publishers united, offered libraries FREE copies of their ebook for a limited number of copies so they could gain access and exposure to the vast library system?

With all the factors involved, the avid reader is going to be looking for ebooks they can read right now.

References and Good Reading on the Topic
Library eBooks: Is the eBook Ecosystem affected by the Amazon Library Lending Process?

eBook Authors: Is the New Kindle Library Lending Program a New Opportunity for Self-publishers?

New Questions, Concerns About Kindle’s Lending Library—What About Authors? By Laura Hazard Owen

Amazon will lend Kindle books for free, but authors will get paid from Book Making by Michael N. Marcus

Kindle lending library for self-publishers by Henry Baum

Internet Librarian 2011: Keynote – Lee Raine From Librarian In Black by Sarah Houghton

Public Library eBooks on the Amazon Kindle – We Got Screwed from Librarian by Day by Bobbi Newman

Libraries Got Screwed by Amazon and Overdrive from Librarian in Black by Sarah Houghton

View my website: HBSystems Publications
Specializing in the ebook experience

Or EMAIL at: jrm@hbspub.com
Or go to my blog: The eBook Author’s Corner

LinkedIn Profile: James Moushon
Author: Call Off The Dogs, a rendered eBook

CIA Agent Jonathon Stone
discovers another shooter in
the Kennedy Assassination

  • James, I’ve studied your proposal for a C SPILL, and I’d like to see it become a reality. I can’t claim to have the expert knowledge to fully understand how such a thing would work. But, given the technical information I do have — thanks in large part to you and others I’ve met online — I don’t see any major obstacles to what you propose.

    I think we both view libraries as an important part of the book-distribution system where “independent,” “indie,” and “self-publishing” authors can readily compete with the traditional publishers. Those authors will only pull it off, though, if they’re organized in C SPILL or something like it.

    Readers who utilize libraries are obviously people who love to read. (I think we can skip over the jokes about our homeless sisters and brothers who utilize libraries for the warmth in winter to which every human, in my view, has a right. Besides, I imagine more than a few of them enjoy reading as much as I do. They have places other than libraries to spend their time in.)

    We independent authors should have a means to inexpensively offer our ebooks to libraries that, as you say, James, find themselves “saddled with limited budgets and a growing demand for ebooks.”

    We should also have as many options as such an organization could reasonably allow us. Some of us might want to let every library in the world lend for free our first book in a series, and maybe even our second, for three or six months for any person with a library card, or online account, who requests it.

    If the reader downloads the book and doesn’t read it, we haven’t lost a dime. If, on the other hand, readers do read the book from end to end, no matter what they ultimately think of it, we’ve gained the most valuable thing of them all: recognition.

    I can’t see how independent authors such as myself would lose anything in a C SPILL system. For example, we wouldn’t give up our rights, or those accruing to our legatees, to have our masterpiece made into an Oscar-winning film.

  • I sympathize with all authors, having had the temerity to attempt to be one from time to time. A few comments on this piece:

    Those 11,000 libraries each bought a copy of your book. No one gave it away to them. If several libraries in a consortium bought a copy of that book to share, it is still a sale, and only one reader has it at a time.

    There is nothing wrong with the profit motive. Authors have it, too. What is wrong is the lending model currently in place, which inhibits profits all around.

    The Amazon Prime service costs $6.50 per book ONLY if you do not use the other, older benefits of membership, which you mention: free shipping and lots of streaming video.

    “Avid readers and the authors deserve better.” ABSOLUTELY, and they will get better, in the fullness of time, you may be sure. Because, finally, it is the author-reader connection which is what it is all about. Authors want readers and readers want eBooks. Anyone facilitating that relationship will thrive; anyone inhibiting it will ultimately fail.

    I like your CSPILL. It is similar to a proposal I made in my series, The End of Libraries, at

    Public libraries and traditional publishers both are in danger of becoming obsolete under the juggernaut of rampant capitalism, and I would hate to see either of them disappear. To lose our public library network would be a national tragedy.

  • Dale, I read your series, The End of Libraries, and agree with you that your AmPLE seems very similar to James Moushon’s CSPILL, except that AmPLE would serve traditional publishers whereas CSPILL would further the purposes of independent authors and self publishers.

    Your series includes some other interesting information and points concerning the public library system. (I suspect most of the members of and visitors to SPR don’t agree with your view that readers and authors need — in the sense of “must have” — traditional publishers, but you are certainly entitled to your opinion on that issue, and it doesn’t invalidate the other parts of your posts. Wouldn’t it be interesting if independent authors and self publishers had access to a CSPILL for their books while the traditional publishers neglected to heed your call for an AmPLE?)

    • Ron,

      The AmPLE concept by no means excludes self-published authors. They are simply their own publishers, and are as welcome under the AmPLE umbrella as any other. Indeed, Amazon is making a play for them this month with their offer to “share” a pool of money in exchange for exclusive distribution rights to their work (a bad idea which I hope will not be too successful).

      I have enormous respect for authors who go it alone successfully. I also know that traditional publishing houses do provide services which are important to, and valued by, “traditional” authors, and the choices they make for publication do provide readers with a certain assurance of a minimal level of quality.

      I believe the essential fiscal model for eBooks is to be found in their lending, not their sale, and the public library network is an appropriate center for that service. Not the only one, by any means, but one which should not be allowed to fall behind commercial offerings. All parties will make out better (better exposure, better income) if something like the AmPLE model is implemented.

  • Ron and Dale:
    Thanks for your comments. Sorry for the delay in my response.

    I think no matter what method is used, there is an opportunity for ebook authors to get their works in the hands of library readers.

    @Ron – You’re right on. Recognition and exposure is the goal here. I think we can even tie in reviews by readers into the process.

    @Dale – After your comments, I went back and read your posts. Good stuff. I think your AmPLE concept is a good one.

    Maybe we are talking about having tiers of compensation. First time authors are in the startup tier giving their ebooks to libraries for a nominal fee. The second tier of authors fitting into a pay as they lend process and the third tier being a full paying participant.

    The authors get to pick which tier they want their ebooks to appear in.

    It seems like at least once a week I see a list of new ebooks for free or 99 cents. I can’t believe these authors would not go for a distribution program like the one Dale or I am proposing.

    We could let the reader’s review process be the gatekeepers on quality.

  • James,

    There is certainly an opportunity for eBook authors now to get their books into the hands of library readers, so long those readers are part of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL). With the announcement of KDP Select, they will even be paid for those loans–unprecedented! (Although this is a feature of the AmPLE notion I put forward in my series on the End of Libraries.)

    If I were a self-published author, I would be onto KDP Select like white on rice. What do I have to lose, except the next 90 days? And plenty to gain–a piece of a half-million-dollar pie. I wonder if ALL 5000+ books in the KOLL are partaking of that pie? We don’t know enough about Amazon’s arrangements with the publishers of those pre-KDP titles.

    In any event, we are certainly in “disruptive technology” territory, and many surprises are yet to come.

    My fear is that Amazon will get a corner on eBook lending if publishers, authors, and libraries don’t get together soon to come up with a credible alternative.

    The End of Libraries