Editio Self-Publishing discussion

General > Another war is brewing as libraries seek ebook file ownership

Comments (showing 1-31 of 31) (31 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments In response to news about several libraries in the U.S. buying, or attempting to buy, ebooks on a pay-once-loan-in-perpetuity basis, and in response to three deals Smashwords inked with the Califa group, Douglas County, and The Internet Archive to sell ebooks in bulk, I wrote a critical review of the deals. Too long to post here; if interested see:


message 2: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Thompson | 2 comments Thank you, M.A. An informative article. I must say when I received the notification from Smashwords I didn't pay much attention, and did not opt out. I shall now have a rethink. Here in the UK, the author receives a small royalty each time their book is loaned out. I've a friend who wrote a local history book, and every now and again she gets a cheque, sometimes for a reasonable amount. We have something called public lending rights, and there's an association that keeps track of how much an author is owed, providing the author has subscribed.
Thanks again, for taking the time to post your piece.

message 3: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments I think Mark Coker counts on most authors not paying much attention. If not enough authors sign on to the deal, the deals may fall through. I was interested to hear that the default is to opt in. Typical back door method. Right up there with Facebook tactics to sell your data, likeness and content to advertisers. I think it's sleazy.

I wonder if we have public lending rights here in Canada. I like that the UK has it; it's akin to royalties paid to musicians for radio and other uses. Will have to look into that.

message 4: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Thompson | 2 comments Your comment reminded me! I've just opted out of library sales at Smashwords. Thanks vm.

message 5: by James (new)

James Piper | 2 comments Thanks for sharing your insights.

A new battle ground in the world of publishing. Another blogger wrote about it and said he didn’t care if they only paid for it once with no restrictions. He has his reasons.

If your one non-fiction book is a calling card, a way to build your brand for speaking engagements or consulting, it makes sense.

If you’re a fiction writer without name recognition, and 99.9% fall into that category, it also makes sense especially if you’re writing a novel a year. If they sign out your book and like it, it can help grow your career.

I’m interested in seeing the distributor’s web site to check if any of my books are listed. I don’t know where to look.

I’m in Canada and use a web site called DownloadLibrary (http://www.downloadlibrary.ca). It’s connected with my local library and has a small selection of e-books and audiobooks. I sign out books using Adobe Digital Editions and load my Kobo with them. They use DRM and expire after 7, 14 or 21 days. I get to pick the expiration. The same setup (same company?) is used in other areas of Canada and the US. The selection is limited and seems to be entirely from traditional publishers.

On Amazon, it seems limited to either prime members when you’re enrolled in the select program and if not enrolled a purchaser can lend it to a friend for 14 days. I’ve lots “borrow” my book under the select program, but not sure about the later.

Smashwords? Not sure where or if they go. Kobo? I don’t know they have lending.

Public libraries have limited and in most cases shrinking acquisition budgets. The decision makers know what readers want. Indie authors usually can’t get anywhere with libraries. Check out this podcast “How to Get Your Books into Libraries” from The Writing Show. It’s on Itunes.

So much to know. So much to learn.

But in perpetuity is a long time.

message 6: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (KevinHallock) | 40 comments A question for libraries is what is the best business model. Individuals who buy ebooks get them forever and can loan them out if they wish to, so if a library owns a book, why shouldn't they get the same rights? (I'm not trying to start an argument, just wondering what business model people would like for libraries to adopt.)

message 7: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments I think the licence for x-number of loans model is fair, as long as the number of loans allowed is proportionate to the typical lifespan of a book. A really popular book often has to be replaced quite frequently because it wears down -- people spill coffee on it, tear pages, the kids get hold of it, and so on. It's not fair to authors that a library can buy a digital book -- which is already cheaper than a physical copy -- and never have to worry about replacing the file no matter how popular the book is.

Another model might be a pay-per-use one, maybe a few cents royalty per loan. But the problem with that model is the record keeping required by the library and the temptation to fudge the numbers; libraries would then have to continue the distributor-maintained back end and could not adopt the Douglas County model.

message 8: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (KevinHallock) | 40 comments How many loans per purchase do you think would be reasonable? (I remember seeing a headline that a major publisher put such a limit on their books IIRC.) Is it fair for ebooks to wear out for libraries when they don't wear out for anybody else?

message 9: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments Yes, it is. If I buy a print book I read it once and put it on a shelf. It isn't subject to the wear and tear of a library book. If I loan it out and my friend damages it, then my book is devalued and either I live with that or the book must be replaced.

Just because a digital file does not wear out does not mean a library should be exempt from limitations. To compare library use with personal use is to compare apples and oranges.

Also, consider how easy it will be to execute inter-library loans with digital. So now a group like the Califa library could buy only a few copies to serve the entire state of California. Is that what you want as an author?

message 10: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (KevinHallock) | 40 comments Maybe. I think it opens up the possibility of libraries buying more books from lesser known authors because an entire system only needs to buy a copy or two and then it becomes accessible to the entire state. If people consistently check them out and request more copies, the library can purchase more copies, if not, at least they purchased a couple.

But getting back to a previous question, how many loans do you think is reasonable for an ebook?

message 11: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments It would depend on the cost of the licence. The higher the cost the more loans per licence. But the Smashwords model of selling at less than retail (as suggested) AND loaning in perpetuity is ridiculous. It should be the opposite: it should be a HIGHER fee if loaning in perpetuity.

message 12: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (KevinHallock) | 40 comments Let's say a library purchases a book of mine ($2.99) at regular price; how many loans should they get before they have to repurchase it?

As a beginning author, my worry with the limited loans model is that I think it discourages libraries from purchasing books from lesser known authors. They have to save their budget to repurchase books from the most popular authors. And even if they do purchase a book of mine, when it runs out, what's the likelihood they'll repurchase it since it's probably not going to be one of the most popular books among their patrons?

message 13: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments Kevin: your question is like "How long is a piece of string?" If you feel that $2.99 is a good price for unlimited loans of your ebook, then that is your price. If the market agrees, a library will buy your book. If the market disagrees, no library will.

The value of an ebook and/or ebook licence is like everything else: governed by the laws of supply and demand. Those that can command a higher price, will.

If you feel that your book has little likelihood of ever becoming popular, then why did you write it? I find this common among indie writers: on the one hand we dream of a bestseller then repeatedly undermine that dream by devaluing our work either by continually lowering our price or by giving away thousands of free copies. If you don't value your work, why should anyone else?

message 14: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (KevinHallock) | 40 comments I'm more interested in what you think is a reasonable amount of loans per purchase; I just used my book to provide a specific example. If you'd rather use your book to provide some specifics, that's okay with me. I'm just trying to get an idea of what you think is a reasonable cost vs. the benefit provided to the library.

message 15: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments I really cannot give you a figure because I have not researched the typical cost-per-loan of a print book. If you could provide me with that data then I might be able to arrive at a figure for ebooks.

As for the benefit to the library, as much as I support and appreciate my library, at the end of the day it is a government institution and it is not the responsibility of authors and publishers to compensate libraries and the general public for the lack of government support. Ever-decreasing budgets is a political issue; it's about governments that spend more on war than education, or in bailing out Wall Street instead of transferring funds to municipalities for infrastructure. If Mark Coker really wanted to support libraries he would start a public campaign, picket government offices, and fight for more money to be put where it counts. But he doesn't. Instead, he suggests to authors that they take an ever bigger cut so libraries can buy more books -- and loan them in perpetuity -- and Coker can make another $30K.

If you think his agenda is about supporting libraries and not about money, ask him why his support does not extend past asking authors to sell cheap. Or as one SW author put it in the discussion (paraphrased from memory), "I'm not going to be guilt-tripped into signing up for something I don't feel is a good deal."

I totally see the benefit to Coker and to the library. I can see some benefit to the author if it encourages new readers and later sales. I just don't see why the author is the only one taking a hit. Why doesn't Coker offer to sell the libraries the books at full retail and take a smaller cut for himself? He's taking 30% (he said the deal is worth $100K with $70K going to the authors). That's TWICE the cut he gets for regular sales, in some cases THREE times his normal cut. With the B&T and Axis360 deals, authors are getting 45%. That leaves 55% between SW and the distributor. If they split that 50-50, SW is earning a 27.5% cut.

Forget ideology. Follow the money. Then ask yourself why you are the only one in this deal not making any.

message 16: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (KevinHallock) | 40 comments I haven't done a market analysis either, but Joe Konrath's most recent blog post (10/3/12) has some interesting claims about what the Big 6 are doing.


message 17: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments As is typical of a Joe Konrath blog, it's all rant and no data. I get that libraries are upset, and an equitable solution has to be found, but their demands are just as ridiculous as the publishers'. This is just politics and a pissing match; it's not two sides trying to find a fair solution. Currently, I do not have faith in either side behaving well.

The thing about the examples given in the blog is that they are out of context. The writer remarks about the cost of Fifty Shades being $47.85 but he does not say what $47.85 gets the library. As noted in my blog post, some publishers are also selling ebooks using the one-fee-for-perpetual-loans model but are charging a high price. Is this such an ebook? If so, and considering how many people might borrow that file over the lifetime of interest in the book, that's not a bad deal: a print book would cost half that amount and cost the library more money in upkeep and/or eventual replacement.

As for replacing front-listers with indie writers, sure there is some of that. But how long can a library resort to the B-list and still claim it serves its community. It's like DVDs: have you ever noticed the ratio of B-list movies in a library's catalogue compared to recognizable titles. And how long did you have to wait for the library to buy that popular DVD after it became publicly available? In other words, if the libraries and publishers do not both grow up and strike a deal, we will be left with a very obvious two-tiered information system like we do with so much else now: one great system for those with money to spend and a substandard one funded with public money.

message 18: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (KevinHallock) | 40 comments The market will probably find a solution, whether or not the libraries and publishers figure one out. Maybe new indie authors will sell copies of their initial books, allowing perpetual loaning, as a way of building up a fan base and increasining initial sales, while more established authors will charge more because they can.

It's difficult for me to imagine that the X-number-of-loans-then-the-file-"wears"-out solution will last very long. It just seems too contrived to be reasonable. A higher price for indefinite loaning rights is more reasonable IMO.

message 19: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Cantwell (LynneCantwell) | 16 comments Hmm. Maybe it's because I'm not one of Smashwords' top 10,000 sellers ;) , but I didn't see a problem with the library deal. Nobody's requiring indies to lower their prices for libraries.

Your argument that hard-copy books wear out and have to be replaced is questionable. Not all library books are checked out so often that they need regular replacement -- and that's just as true for novels by midlist authors as it is for nonfiction titles. So in a lot of cases -- probably in the vast majority of cases -- libraries only ever buy a book once.

As for the poor DVD selection in many libraries, I can only speculate that it's a combination of low library budgets, and patrons checking out the good ones and keeping 'em. ;)

And: Formats don't change? Please. Maybe you aren't old enough to remember the VHS/Beta shakeout, but surely you've heard about the LP/8-track/cassette/CD/MP3 progression in music. We've already moved, in a few short years, from epub to -- what is it now, epub3? There's no reason on earth to believe epub will be the last word in ebooks.

message 20: by Darvin (new)

Darvin Babiuk (Dosho) | 3 comments Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I've got a couple of books on Smashwords and after reading all your comments and the Smashwords terms, I've decided to keep them up there since I'm mainly looking for market recognition of them.

However, I've got a couple of other books I opted out of the Smashwords library distribution for.

Thanks again.

message 21: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments Lynne: I find it interesting that you don't see anything wrong with the library deal when Coker is asking his authors to lower their price while almost tripling his. As noted, Smashwords' usual cut of an ebook sale is 15% or less, often much less, or so SW advertises. Yet their cut of the library deal is 30%.

Coker has wrapped this up in rhetoric about supporting libraries and offering authors another opportunity for exposure (though as one author noted, The Internet Archive is not a library), but SW's agenda is this: if SW doesn't get enough of their authors on board, especially their more popular authors, the deal may fall through and with it SW's $30,000. This is less about libraries and more about Smashwords' annual revenue.

I think that, regardless of whether one agrees with the library deal terms or not, SW authors should be scrutinizing this more closely and asking tougher questions of SW than have been thus far.

message 22: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments Had a thought this morning upon waking: why do SW authors feel they have to accept the deal as is or simply opt out? Perhaps you could band together to demand a bigger piece of these library deals, whether Library Direct or the Axis360, etc. Considering that the standard agent's cut of an author's income is 15%, why not demand an 85-15 split instead of the 70-30 split for Library Direct, and more than 45% for the other deals? It strikes me that, at least for the Library Direct deals, SW authors have some leverage to negotiate a more equitable split.

message 23: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Cantwell (LynneCantwell) | 16 comments M.A., what have you got against Mark Coker? He's running a business. I would assume he has had to do a fair bit of legwork to set up this deal. Doesn't he deserve some compensation for that? And 70% of any book sales to libraries still beats what you'd get if you had a contract with a traditional publisher and got 17.5% or whatever it is.

I'm not trying to be a shill for Smashwords. But if you don't like the way Coker does business, you don't have to do business with him. You're not required to lower your price to participate in this program. In fact, the whole thing is optional -- you can list your books at Smashwords and not participate in the library program at all.

I just think you're losing sight of the bigger picture, is all. It's an opportunity. You don't have to take it.

message 24: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments What I have against Mark Coker is that he manipulates his authors and often misrepresents the truth. If you read his blog posts on the Library Direct deals and the ensuing discussions you see a lot of manipulation going on. And it's not just Coker; I take issue with any CEO that is not upfront with his stakeholders, and in many ways SW client-authors are stakeholders.

Of course he deserves compensation for setting up the deal, but how is 30% fair to his authors? And how are the other library deals, at 45% for a one-time-in-perpetuity sale, fair to authors?

I don't think it relevant to compare the royalties to traditional publishing because Coker isn't providing his authors with any of the perks of a traditional publishing deal.

And in any case, what others do is irrelevant. All that is relevant is the fairness or not of the deal, in and of itself, not in relation to any other offers.

SW authors are free to do as they please. I don't do business with Coker for the reasons already mentioned and more. As for losing sight of the big picture, on the contrary: it is precisely how contracts such as this negatively impact authors across the industry, now and in future, that concerns me and should concern SW authors. If you continue to sign onto deals that offer your work in perpetuity for such a paltry sum, how long before you have nothing left to sell? I see such deals as part of a much larger attack on our rights, in league with the Hathi Trust scam and Google Books scanning without consent.

message 25: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Cantwell (LynneCantwell) | 16 comments "What others do" is entirely relevant. If you don't agree with someone's business practices, you are free to *not* do business with them. You say you don't do business with Smashwords, and good on you for that. But you're making it sound like Coker is right up there with the Author Solutions companies and PublishAmerica. *Those* people fleece authors. Coker is very upfront about the services he provides.

And 45%, while certainly less than 70%, is hardly "a paltry sum". If I sell 10,000 copies of my $2.99 book to libraries, at 45% I would earn $13,455. That's several thousand less than a 70% deal, I will grant you that, but it's hardly chump change. And it puts my e-book in front of library patrons who might never see it in the cluttered field on Amazon. Digital Book World reported this summer about a study that shows that e-book borrowers are big e-book buyers -- and as Joe Konrath keeps saying, people who read one of your books and like it will often end up buying the rest of your books. You could conceivably make up the difference, and then some, by taking a lower profit on library sales, if the sales of your other books take off.

message 26: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments Except that the deal will ensure you do not sell 10,000 copies to libraries. Consider the 220-member Califa deal: their intention is to buy only a few copies to service the entire state of California, sharing the file across all jurisdictions. If such deals continue, even if every state buys your book that's only 50 copies. If your book becomes popular and demand ensues, you're still never going to sell 10,000 copies to libraries that are free to share them with fellow libraries across the state. Inter-library loans have always been possible but because of the shipping expenses it is usually cheaper for a library to buy their own copy rather than borrow from another library. Not so with ebooks: just have to send it down the wire. And no worries about files getting corrupted from all that travel: they'll be backed up on servers and new files generated and put into the system. Coker himself has suggested authors not have great expectations of making more than a few sales from these deals; instead, it's presented as a way to get more exposure that allegedly will result in more sales outside of the library.

I would disagree with the statement that Coker is "very upfront" about his business practices: he set up the library deals as an automatic opt-in, yet the use of automatic opt-in consent practices has long been criticized by Internet ethics committees and privacy watchdogs as underhanded. Do you think automatic opt-in is "upfront"? (Some of the comments here indicate authors either ignored the announcement email or did not understand it; ditto for the comments on Coker's blog post about the deal. I would suggest this is exactly the intention of the automatic opt-in clause.) In his blog post encouraging authors to drop their price for libraries, he quotes a survey of 150 SW authors and presents this as representative of a community of 45,000. And the original blog post announcing the Library Direct deal makes no mention of SW's cut of the deal -- you have to scroll through 8 pages of comments before Coker reveals their cut. Is that upfront? And even with regular royalties things are obfuscated: SW is the only aggregator that I can think of that does not specify what the retailers pay as a gross royalty; SW only reveals the net royalties paid to the author. Since you don't know the terms of SW's contract with the retailers, you are not told what SW's cut of your royalties is. Upfront? Hmmm.

message 27: by Darvin (new)

Darvin Babiuk (Dosho) | 3 comments Automatic opt-ins are just wrong, even if the cause is deemed to be "just," something I would argue isn't the case here.

For a humorous look at an article I wrote regarding automatic opt-ins for organ donations, see:


message 28: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Cantwell (LynneCantwell) | 16 comments You're entitled to your opinion, M.A. It just sounds to me like you have an ax to grind against Mark Coker.

Here's my post at Indies Unlimited about ebooks and libraries, which went live today: http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/1...

message 29: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments Yes, I saw that. And I'm not "complaining" about the deal, I am warning others. Also, you've misrepresented the facts: Library Direct is paying 70%, the other SW library deals are paying 45%. If you're going to be a shill for Coker, at least get your facts right. And while somehow this conversation has become about Coker, I don't have an axe to grind with him; I have an axe to grind with ANYONE who misleads indie authors. That is why I write about ANY misleading practices in the industry. If you checked out the rest of my blog you would see this.

message 30: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Cantwell (LynneCantwell) | 16 comments Thanks for the correction. :)

Your post was about Smashwords. You then went on to suggest, just above, that Smashwords authors (one of which you aren't) should "band together to demand a bigger piece of these library deals" -- which strikes me as stirring up trouble for Mark Coker. Hence my "ax to grind" comment.

If you would read *my* blog, you would see that I, too, have a problem with those who mislead indie authors. I've written about Author Solutions and PublishAmerica, and how indies should steer clear of both companies; I think you and I can both agree on that. I also did a post for Indies Unlimited not long ago on how to spot such ripoffs.

But I don't think Smashwords deserves to be in the same category. It sounded to me as if you do. Again, you're entitled to your opinion. And I would be happy to let the matter drop.

message 31: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 62 comments My post was not about Smashwords. Please, again, get your facts straight. My post was about the new trend, started by Douglas County and the Califa Group, for libraries to demand ownership of ebook files instead of licensing them on terms fair and equitable to both libraries and authors. Smashwords was part of the issue because it is aggressively promoting this as a good thing to indie authors.

I see clearly that you believe Smashwords does not deserve to be in the category of those who mislead indie authors; however, you have failed to answer my questions as to whether or not you consider automatic opt-in to be "upfront," whether you consider it upfront not to reveal in the blog post the company's share of the deal, and whether you believe that declaring 150 authors as representative of 45,000 is legitimate.

You have also failed to address the fact that Smashwords is the ONLY aggregator not to reveal its cut of royalties paid to its authors. Can you think of ANY other company you do business with where you have only an idea of how much you are paying for its services? And you ARE paying for Smashwords' services. Contrary to the site's assertions that "Smashwords makes it fast, free and easy to publish, distribute and sell your ebooks...," it is not free to publish and distribute; SW's cut of your royalties is its fee. Please explain how this is upfront.

You turned this conversation into a debate about Smashwords, not me. Now it's up to you to answer the questions your comments have raised, instead of being "happy to let the matter drop," which is the refuge of the indefensible.

back to top