Check This Out – Borrow eBooks from Libraries

Did you know you can borrow eBooks from your local library? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Forbes reported in June that 58 percent of library patrons don’t know they can borrow eBooks, and only two percent have ever done it.

That’s not surprising, considering that traditional publishing houses have kept as tight a rein on their eBook sales to libraries as they have on eBook sales in general. Some of the Big Six reportedly don’t sell eBooks to libraries at all. The publishers that allow such sales insist that libraries purchase only DRM-locked books, and they limit the number of borrows for a single eBook copy. Why all the hoops? The big publishers are afraid that if library patrons find out they can borrow eBooks, it will eat into their sales – and, hence, their profits. That’s despite the fact that a large percentage of eBook borrowers are also eBook buyers.

Which makes sense, if you’ve ever tried to check out an eBook. When I borrowed a digital version of a book I needed for research for my series, I had to navigate away from my home library’s site, sign in a second time with my library card number, click through several screens to locate the book, and then hunt around the site some more to figure out how to download the book to my device. Once I had it, I couldn’t do anything with it but read it; I could have taken a regular book to the library’s copier to reproduce the diagrams, but with my borrowed eBook I had to haul out paper and pencil. In addition, the file was only available for a couple of weeks, and then it locked itself. It was still on my device; I just couldn’t open it any more. I ended up ordering a dead-tree copy of the book from Amazon.

Despite their tight acquisitions budgets, libraries promise to be a lucrative market for indies, and we’re starting to see progress. In August, Smashwords announced a program called Library Direct that acts as a distributor of its top 10,000 titles to participating library systems; three systems (including the Internet Archive and library systems in California and Colorado) have signed up for starters.

One blogger is complaining about the Smashwords deal, saying participating authors’ profit will be limited to 45 percent of the purchase price of any eBook sold through Library Direct. She notes that’s a far cry from the 85 percent Smashwords authors normally get. I would hasten to add, however, that 45 percent still beats the profit you would make from a sale under a traditional publishing contract. And keep in mind that a hefty chunk of eBook borrowers are also eBook buyers, and that if a reader likes one of your books, they’re likely to look for, and pay for, others. If you think of sales to libraries as an advertising tool, the cut in profits might not seem any different than enrolling your book in KDP Select.

Now if we can just streamline the eBook checkout process. But I suspect that’s out of our hands.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

16 thoughts on “Check This Out – Borrow eBooks from Libraries”

  1. Thanks Lynne. I had no idea they made you go through such hoops. My son was considering getting an e-reader for this purpose. maybe he’ll change his mind and stick with borrowing paper books.

    1. I think some libraries are attempting to streamline the process. But the real problem is cost. It’s easier for a library system with a limited budget to contract with a company with the server space and checkout system in place than to build its own from scratch.

  2. I didn’t know about Library Direct; thanks for the info! I found out about e-book borrowing from the library when I lived in a rural area where the library books were yellowed and dusty (not exaggerating here). So the e-book borrowing was infinitely better than the hard copy options, even though it was a pain to set up, and I never did figure out the audio book borrowing!

    1. Krista, I suspect the real trick to Library Direct participation is having your book become one of Smashwords’ top 10,000 books. 😀 But I think it’s only a matter of time before indies fully crack the library market.

  3. Great article Lynne. I had never thought of libraries as a marketing tool but you’re so right – half the dead-tree authors I love originally came from a chance encounter at a library. And I am definitely the kind of person who prefers to ‘keep’ books by buying them!

  4. We’ve been able to get our indie ebooks to libraries here in NZ for over a year. One of our bigger book distributors got proactive and set up a lending service for libraries and they’re happy to list as many titles as we can send them. It’s great! Only small sales so far while the scheme takes off, but the potential is there. NZ is pretty good for getting into new technology, mainly because we’re a small and fairly homogenous nation so a one size solution does fit all. You chaps over there may have to wait a bit longer for it to become mainstream. 🙂

  5. 45% ain’t bad. Considering BN only pays 40, and lower priced Az books you get 35%. I agree that hopefully if someone borrows one of our books and likes it, they will look for more, thus giving us $$ in our piggy banks. I’m cool with it.

    Excellent post- will share.

  6. Great post, Lynne, I’ll have to check the library scene for eBooks here in Australia. To be honest, I have been a bit slack and, although I’ve been a local library member since forever, haven’t even borrowed an eBook or looked into getting my eBooks set up in there. I certainly should though, if they’re set up for it, I’ve been doing a number of talks for them this year in regards to the Australian 2012 ‘National Year of Reading’.

    Good to hear that NZ is on the ball, Bev, it’s not unusual, it seems, for you to be a step ahead of Oz in literary matters.

  7. I’ve made all my books available on Smashwords through Library direct. The first book in my series is free to the library. I believe if you get the stories into the libraries, people will then look for your other books.

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