Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ebooks for Libraries

TL;DR

1.     I want to help authors get their ebooks into libraries.
2.     I want to help libraries acquire indie ebooks.
3.     To do this, I started a business called EAF - EbooksAreForever.com.
4.     I want to sell your ebooks to libraries.

What's going on with libraries and ebooks?

There are 120,000 libraries in the US. These libraries, and their patrons, are eager for popular ebooks. Many libraries have a budget they must spend, or they risk having that budget cut.

Currently, libraries have no allies in the ebook market. They aren't happy with the restrictions and costs of the current leader in supplying libraries with ebook content, Overdrive. Through Overdrive, many publishers charge high prices for ebooks, some higher than $80 a title. They also require yearly license renewals, and may force libraries to re-buy licenses after a certain arbitrary number of borrows.

Just one example of the perils of this approach for Americas libraries is that a library must pay for extensions of time-limited licenses of old ebooks and purchases of licenses for new ones. All kinds of sustainability and predictability issues arise. And thats true even if the budget remains the same, rather than declining, as many have in recent years. It will be harder than ever for libraries to grow their collection, whether the licenses are time-limited or come with limits on the number of times a library can loan a book.

So libraries are spending a fortune and don't even own the content they're spending that fortune on. In many cases, if they stop paying the fees, they lose the content they bought. This has been dubbed "digital decay", and it's a money grab, pure and simple. 

What's going on with indie authors and ebooks?

Some indies are on Overdrive and 3M. I've been on Overdrive for a few years. My last quarterly check was about $60, and I have a large catalog. This is small money, not just for me, but for any writer. And I was fortunate enough to have been invited into Overdrive. Many authors are not.

The vast majority of libraries don't have access to many of the ebooks that readers are seeking. The latest AuthorEarnings.com report showed that 33% of all ebooks sold on Amazon are from indie authors. Libraries are missing out on 1/3 of available titles, because they have no way easy way to acquire them.

Just as important, these are quality titles. People are reading, enjoying, and recommending them. Indie authors are hooking readers, and selling as well as the major publishing houses, but there isn't a way for libraries to offer them to their patrons.

This is unfortunate for patrons, and libraries, and indie authors, who are all missing out.


For the past year, my business partner, August Wainwright, and I have been talking to acquisitions librarians across the country, and they crave an alternative to the status quo. These libraries are looking to buy thousands of ebooks at once in order to best serve their patrons and community.

Their main wish is to be treated fairly - which means they want to own the ebooks they purchase, acquire good content at a reasonable price, and have access to as many copies as they need.

Our solution? Give libraries what they're asking for, and in a way that gives libraries the sustainable purchasing model they deserve. We're striving to offer a large, curated collection of popular ebooks that libraries can easily purchase with just one click.

We currently have just under 1000 ebooks in our collection, with more being added daily.

And we want to include your titles as well.

I'm a writer, and I'm already on a lot of platforms. Why should I sell my ebooks through EAF?

EbooksAreForever distributes to libraries at $7.99 for full length novels, and $3.99-$4.99 for shorter works. We're offering 70% royalties to the author, and the library will have the ability to purchase more copies as needed.

The way this works is that if a library wants to allow 3 patrons to borrow your ebook at any given time, they’d need to have purchased 3 “copies”. Most libraries adhere to a strict hold ratio (usually around 3:1) in order to present patrons with the best user experience possible. Our hope is that by making ebooks both affordable and sustainable, then libraries in response will automatically purchase more copies.

So, if you have a catalog of 10 ebooks that we then distribute to 1000 libraries, you've just earned $56,000 in royalties from making your books available to the library marketplace if they each buy one copy. If your titles are popular, they'll buy more copies and you'll earn more.

I heard about EAF over a year ago. What have you been doing all this time?

Listening and learning. EbooksAreForever.com is trying to serve three groups: Authors & Publishers, Libraries, and Library Patrons.

Each requires special consideration to ensure the best overall experience possible.

Currently, there is no killer app in the library market. Every library, library system, or consortium, has to reinvent the wheel in order to offer ebooks to its patrons. With no standardization in the library market, and the few companies and publishers who offer ebooks to libraries doing so in such a one-sided, money-grabbing manner, libraries have been getting squeezed without getting fair and sustainable value when it comes to content.

We needed to figure out what libraries were looking for, as well as what features authors and publishers would love to see, and how to best provide them with that.

A large part of this involved bringing on multiple partners to help make the EbooksAreForver.com website as robust and useable as possible, while implementing a fully RESTful API.

What's an API and why should I care?

The easiest way to conceptualize what an API does is to think of an interaction between two separate pieces of software without needing a human element.

EbooksAreForever wants libraries who purchase ebooks in our collection to eventually integrate access to those titles in as many places as possible; most importantly, their own ILS (catalog system).

Some libraries have their own custom ILS, others use third-party services of which there are many. You can see here that in Texas, there are about 20 different ILS systems being used. Without an API, we'd have to go one by one to help each library integrate our books into their catalogs. Think copy and pasting times a million. With an API, each service could integrate our catalog by following a simple set of standardized rules.

Another way to think about it would be to look at the connections on the back of a TV. That panel on the TV with all the coax/hdmi/usb/fiber/rca connections are in a way your TV's API. It allows other appliances (Cable boxes, DVD players, video game consoles...) to interact with your TV.

The reason you should care about this is because it allows EAF and our service to act in the exact manner in which libraries desire. One of our goals is to meet the demands of the ReadersFirst organization, which is made up of nearly 300 libraries that represent more than 200 million readers in the US and Canada. These principles, and in turn our API, are about openness and ease of use, all of which provide libraries and their patrons with the best user experience possible.

If all libraries are using various third parties to license overpriced and decaying digital content to them, how does EAF plan to interface with them? Aren't libraries tired of new companies vying for their acquisitions dollars?

What we've been doing the past year is only offering our collection to a few beta testing libraries that use Adobe Content Server. It's an expensive, ongoing cost, and many libraries can't afford it, or won't even bother with it for various reasons.

With the API in place, we can deal directly with libraries, library systems, and consortium, without Adobe—though we can also interface with libraries who prefer to keep Adobe.

I'm not sure I understand…

Having an ebook file isn't enough. Libraries also need ways to catalog ebooks, store ebooks, and provide ebook access to patrons.

EAF has been developing ways to do that, for all libraries, in a way that doesn't fleece them.

Where are you at right now?

We're at the stage where we need more content. Offering a better service to libraries is only part of the equation; we also want to offer them content that no other company can.

Indie content.

We're the only company fully opening up to indie authors, and we're paying the same rate Amazon does.

Right now, we're working with a select group of partner libraries. We've been dealing exclusively with that initial group, but now we’re adding another selection of libraries who will be joining in the next two weeks. They've weighed in and have helped us build the platform they actually want. Our full launch date is tentatively set for later this spring/early summer. When that happens, we'll begin distribution to ALL public libraries, be it individually, whole library systems, and consortium groups, through both our web platform, as well as patron reader apps.

What are these “consortium” you speak of?

A library consortium is really any local, statewide, or regional cooperative group of libraries that provides and helps with the effective coordination of the libraries they count as members. Their main focus is usually built around improving services to the clientele of libraries within the given consortium (group).

When large publishers were faced with the advent of ebooks, instead of trying to come up with viable models that worked in libraries, they applied the same structures that they used for paper. Some say they deliberately crimped libraries. And in much the same way, many large publishers, distributors, and services have refused to adequately work with consortia.

EAF is not among that group. Although we understand the need to come up with different models for different sections of the marketplace, it is our mission to find solutions where others have fallen back on insufficient ways of doing business.

Joe, you're an author. Are you sure you want to give libraries a copy of an ebook that will last forever? Doesn't that put a cap on a title's earning potential?

It may seem that way, but we have future plans. Currently, libraries can buy multiple copies of titles for simultaneous uses.

Soon we plan to offer libraries unlimited uses if they pay slightly more.

That sounds even worse for the author!

Depending on EAF's ability to saturate the library market, it will be a long while before we run out of libraries to distribute content to. An author selling one title to 5000 libraries earns $28k, which is well above the average advance that legacy publishing offers. Sell four titles, and that author is making six figures in a new market that wasn't previously open to them.

It’s important to understand that EAF is intended to be a complimentary service. Much in the same way that it used to be common for translations and foreign sales to be a part of an author's subsidiary earnings, we want library sales to be available to indies. Libraries spend billions of dollars annually acquiring content. But they likely don't have your content.

Yet.

Don't library sales hurt sales on other platforms?

That's a common assumption, but we haven't found any evidence or data to back it up. The library market has always existed, just like the used book market.


The reality is that readers who are loyal to the ebooks available at their local library may have never had a chance of discovering your titles. What we’re talking about here is an entirely new group or readers that has previously been unreachable.

If I sell my titles through eBooksAreForever, do I still own my rights?

Yes. And you can opt out at any time for any reason, though all sales are final. Meaning, if you sell a title to a library, they keep that title.

Can I sell my ebooks for more than the stated price?

During the current beta period, we are keeping all prices for novels set to a pre-established level.

However, as we move out of the beta period and expand our offerings, we will be looking at different pricing structures. It is of great important to us that we create a sustainable platform for both libraries, as well as for publishers & authors.

I’m already distributing my titles on Overdrive. Will selling through EAF affect my account?

Distributing your titles through Overdrive won’t affect your ability to also distribute through eBooksAreForever. However, libraries will most likely not re-purchase titles if they have already licensed them through Overdrive. We are actively working to persuade libraries to purchase titles - and keep them forever - through our service, instead of continually licensing ebooks at higher prices from other services. This would help library budgets go further.

Is exclusivity ever required to join eBooksAreForever?

No exclusivity is ever required.

And, since we’re still in a beta period, our advice would be to continue to distribute through other library specific channels, if you have access to them. As we grow, we believe our pricing model will earn authors far more royalties, even with fewer overall sales, when compared to any of the other market competitors. But even after we demonstrate that to be true, we will still never require exclusivity.

I'm an author. How do I submit my titles to EbooksAreForever? Do you have any requirements?

At this point, EAF provides libraries with vetted content. We want to offer great books by great writers, so we're reviewing works on a case-by-case basis. If you'd like us to consider your books, you can sign up for an Author Account here

We aren't currently accepting erotica, but we will be soon.

If I'm accepted, what next?


I'm an agent who represents indie authors and want to know more.

Contact Joe at joekonrath@comcast.net. We'll set up a call.

I'm a publisher and want to know more.

Contact Joe at joekonrath@comcast.net. We'll set up a call.

On my blog, I've repeatedly called independent ebooks a shadow industry. This shadow industry hasn't been able to effectively mesh with the library industry.

We're working to change that. And we'd like you to join us.