A Tale of Two eBook Vendors: Who Will Libraries Support?

The American Library Association is taking issue with Random House’s decision to set a far higher (sometimes double) price for its eBooks being sold to libraries. An excerpt from the Associated Press story in the Wall Street Journal:

The American Library Association is urging Random House Inc. to reconsider its steep increases in the price of e-books for library wholesalers.

Random House, the country’s largest trade publisher, announced earlier this week that wholesale charges for e-books would rise by more than 20 percent for new adult releases and more than double for new children’s books. Random House noted that e-books can be “repeatedly circulated without limitation,” unlike paper books, which eventually become worn or damaged.

The library association issued a statement Friday saying that libraries were enduring “extreme financial restraint,” which a major price hike would worsen.

Meanwhile, Smashwords, a Little Engine That Could site that hosts and distributes self-published works (including mine), has struck a deal with major library vendor Baker and Taylor. Per the Smashwords blog:

Smashwords today announced a distribution agreement with Baker & Taylor, one of the world’s largest distributors of physical and digital books.

The agreement will expand distribution for nearly 100,000 Smashwords books to new devices and markets.

There are two components of the agreement. The first is distribution into the Blio online store and e-reading app. The second part of the agreement gains Smashwords authors and publishers distribution into the library market through Baker & Taylor’s Axis360 service.

If you’re not familiar with Blio, it’s an online store (Blio.com) and also a popular e-reading application that has been pre-loaded on over millions of computers and devices. It powers the e-reading experience for laptops, desktops and tablets produced by Dell Computer, HP, Toshiba and T-Mobile, among others. Blio is also available in the Android store.

The agreement will also bring Smashwords ebooks to public libraries that subscribe to Baker & Taylor’s new Axis360 digital media platform. Axis360, which was launched last year, has been deployed by several top public library systems in the U.S. Dozens more libraries are converting to the platform.

Like all new Smashwords distribution channels, all Premium Catalog-approved Smashwords titles will gain automatic distribution to Blio and Axis360. As standard practice, we give authors and publishers at least 48 hours to opt out new distribution outlets if they wish, though I don’t recommend opting out. This agreement will give authors and publishers important, incremental exposure for their books.

Smashwords authors and publishers will earn 60% of the list price for books sold through Blio, and 45% of the list price for books sold to libraries.

Read the full press release in the Smashwords Press Room.

OK. There’s legitimately a lot of frustration out in LibraryLand about Random House’s decision. (Let’s be honest: Random House publishes some great stuff, and we want our patrons to have access to great stuff.)

Meanwhile, quietly and in parallel, Smashwords figures out how to get its books into libraries in a way that has financial benefit to authors. Smashwords is cheap; Random House isn’t.

Now, there’s clearly going to be some disparity in quality. Random House has a team of editors to help their authors tell their stories in the best way they can. Smashwords will let authors upload content without checking for the quality of the story. (In a way, does this make Smashwords more “library-ish,” as it does not impose its selection criteria and merely grants access to all? That’s a topic for another day.)

It makes one wonder … at what point might an upstart start to displace one of the Big Six publishers by making eBook acquisitions inexpensive and easy? How might library reviewing change or grow to include these self-published Smashwords books as possibilities for consideration? If an author’s goal is to be read, might Smashwords be a way to get an author’s work into libraries around the country (especially if one’s book is priced for free)? My dean reminds us that our goal is impact. How an author reaches impact could be up for grabs in the coming years.



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