My last post was about the fight over intellectual property. A few weeks before that I wrote about what a book is in a digital age and suggested that librarians could become the equivalent of DJs for books.
Pulling those two themes together, this post is about what some libraries are already doing that can shift the balance in book publishing.
But, first a bit of history. When public libraries were first established well over a hundred years ago, one of their primary responsibilities was purchase books on behalf of their community. Then the community members could share all these books, without having to buy separate copies.
Until the mid-20th Century, this worked in favor of publishers since libraries were, in general, their most reliable market for books. Libraries also helped build markets of readers that the publishers would sell to or that many people eventually bought the books they borrowed because they liked them so much. The library was a kind of try-and-buy location.
As the industry grew, selling direct to an ever more educated public in the latter half of the 20th Century, many book publishers started thinking that libraries reduced their sales, rather than enhancing them. But that was a battle the publishers had lost long ago and couldn’t do much about.
Moreover, it is a moot point in this century when e-books have overtaking traditional print book publishing. Even if that growth trend has slowed a bit recently, the battle between publishers and libraries has been renewed around e-books, not printed books.
The traditional publishers – the Big 5 – have taken an especially restrictive approach to e-books, perhaps in the hopes of turning away from the historical role that public libraries have played for printed books. Until less than two years ago, some publishers even refused to sell e-books to libraries. They still restrict the number of times an e-book could be lent or charge extraordinary prices for them.
This pattern continues despite some good arguments that publishers could benefit from a more supportive relationship with libraries, as laid out by the marketing expert, David Vinjamuri.
But any significant change, like e-books, can be a two-edged sword. They may be an opportunity for big publishers to change the rules. But they are also an opportunity for libraries.
Unlike printed books, there is effectively no limitation on how many e-books a library can store. And librarians have noticed that many of their patrons are writing e-books. Much of the spectacular growth in e-books has been among self-published authors. (Amazon even makes this easy with its Createspace service.)
With this background, there has developed a movement among libraries to become the publishing platform for authors or to, at least, partner with self-publishing services.
Although he lost by a little, one of the candidates in the election a few days ago for president of the American Library Association was Jamie LaRue, who has built his reputation in large part as a leader of the library publishing movement.
There are already several interesting examples across the country. The Los Gatos Public Library has joined with the Smashwords self-publishing company. The Provincetown, Massachusetts library – proudly “Ranked #1 in the US by Library Journal” – has created its own self-publishing agency, Provincetown Press.
The much larger Los Angeles Public Library is using the Self-e platform from Library Journal and BiblioBoard. The February 2015 issue of Library Journal quotes John Szabo, LAPL’s director and one of the most innovative national library leaders:
“We are and will continue to be a place for content creation… It’s a huge role for libraries. … I want to see our authors not just all over California but circulating from Pascagoula, MS, to Keokuk, IA.”
Too often, news of new library services does not get widely publicized and is only seen by those already patronizing libraries. So it was helpful that LAPL’s platform for local authors was reported a couple of weeks ago in a publication they might well read – LA Weekly.
With the Internet enabling easier collaboration and co-creation than ever before, as I’ve noted in this blog, we are also seeing examples of self-publishing that go beyond an individual author.
Topeka Community Novel Project describes its ideal: “A community novel is one that is collaboratively conceptualized, written, illustrated, narrated, edited and published by members of your community.”
Publishing by academic libraries and other non-traditional publishers is an increasing factor in research, as well. While it publishes papers that are peer-reviewed as in traditional journals, PLOS (Public Library of Science) is perhaps the best known adherent of “open access” publishing. Open Access means that there are no restrictions on the use of the articles, available online, free to read.
Academic journals and books have been very expensive and not all of that cost can be eliminated by this new approach. For example, the peer review process still has to be managed. However, the cost is much lower. PLOS charges authors a relatively minimal fee.
Rebecca Kennison of Columbia University Libraries and Lisa Norberg of the Barnard College Library have plans to extend the PLOS model, with a more cooperative funding arrangement, to “A Scalable and Sustainable Approach to Open Access Publishing and Archiving for Humanities and Social Sciences”.
Overall, all of the initiatives that I’ve highlighted here are a part of a digital age trend in which we’ll see more librarians going beyond being mere collectors of big publishing companies’ books to being curators and creators of content.
© 2015 Norman Jacknis