Booksellers v. Libraries? Publishers v. Amazon? These are the wrong battles to fight
Four months ago (a long while back in Internet time), I wrote a piece noting how, in our research, we’ve identified libraries as representing the biggest short-term threat to Amazon’s (and others) ebook sales.
As you would expect, this was met with many questions and quite a bit of disbelief.
Why? The reason is obvious. If you’ve been following the book industry statistics closely, you’ll quickly see a strong belief in the exact opposite. Research from both Bowker PubTrack Consumer and Pew Research illustrates that library patrons are more likely to buy ebooks than non-library patrons.
Even further, just last week, The Bookseller had a piece focused on the fact that booksellers are seeing libraries as being “disruptive” to their operation.
Quoting from Waterstones’ managing director James Daunt,
Libraries who will soon start loaning e-books to users will be a disruptive force,” Daunt said. “If you can download a book for free and read it, why would you want to own it?
To add a bit more fuel to the fire, The Observer had a piece on May 14th illustrating why Writers won’t lose out if libraries lend ebooks.
You’re probably thinking, “Hmm, this is all very confusing.”
- Are libraries good or bad for booksellers? Maybe.
- Are libraries good or bad for authors? Could be.
This is enough to give you whiplash … and it’s all missing a major shift that has occurred (in earnest) in the last four months:
Four months ago, the real competition for booksellers WAS libraries.
Today, the competition is much more severe – it’s across the entire ecosystem.
Today the real competition for booksellers, publishers and libraries is NOT READING.
Four months ago, it mattered if libraries were or weren’t a direct threat to booksellers. Today, this question is irrelevant. What matters is that the participants in the industry aren’t innovating at the pace readers are seeking and expecting solutions v. reading’s alternatives.
When looking specifically at traditional publishers and booksellers, two questions arise:
- Could it just be that traditional booksellers and publishers aren’t innovating quickly enough to meet the needs of today’s authors and readers? (Absolutely)
- Could it be that traditional booksellers and publishers are being out innovated by, of all parties, cash and funding-strapped libraries? (Absolutely)
Libraries have, for a very long time, been battling competition from not reading. They’re experts in this area – which is why they made such consistent inroads as an early competitor to booksellers and a thorn-in-the-side of publishers.
The not reading competition is now beyond libraries, however. It is forcing libraries, booksellers and ultimately authors to move, quickly, to remain a relevant and highly valuable resource for readers. Powell’s and Harvard Book Store, to name two, aren’t standing still. They’re adopting new models, experimenting with new technologies and generally innovating across the board. Libraries across the country are innovating as quickly as they can with ebook lending, ereader lending and myriad other programs. Authors are creating all types of new works to experiment with gaining readers and improving reader engagement.
It can be done – but booksellers, libraries and authors need even more help.
Here’s where the publishers come in.
Publishers (both old and new) must step up and provide the platforms (and rights management frameworks) for innovation needed by booksellers (all types of booksellers) and authors to push reading forward. If they don’t, publishers will fall by the wayside as true innovation will be limited to a few (one?) large players investing on their own behalf’s (see Amazon, Barnes & Noble + Microsoft) while authors take their storytelling to completely new platforms that are altogether outside of the bookselling and library frameworks.
The battle isn’t booksellers v. libraries. The battle isn’t publishers v. Amazon.
The reason this piece was written four months ago is because, four months ago, the competition for Amazon and booksellers WAS libraries. Today, the battle is reading v. not reading as a plethora of free and low-cost alternatives including TV, games, movies, videos, Twitter, Facebook are always at the ready.
Everyone in the ecosystem needs to step up to the plate and prepare to take back reading or an industry will be lost for everyone.