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?
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
Public Library eBooks on the Amazon Kindle – We Got Screwed from Librarian by Day by Bobbi Newman
View my website: HBSystems Publications
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About James Moushon
I am a published writer in the electronic document field. Starting over 15 years ago, I helped lead the startup of the electronic forms industry in the creation, conversion and usage of electronic forms by supplying that industry with a continuing source of published literature, software products and training seminars. I worked with over 200 companies and organizations like the IRS, Commerce Clearing House, Nutrilite, UPS, MGM, Sony International and Royal Paper Box with their conversion from paper forms to electronic forms. In 2003 I changed my focus to ebooks and their development. I commented in a recent interview: “The start of the ebook industry as a major publishing method in many ways parallels the start of the acceptance of electronic forms by businesses in the mid 1990’s. Back then major companies controlled the process but with the advent of inexpensive technology (laser printers), the ease of entry and the development of software to drive these devices, the electronic forms industry was formed. Today the ebook reader and new software are driving the startup of the ebook industry.”