Are libraries offering enough self-published ebooks?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

"The Bet" by Rachel Van Dyken

“The Bet” by Rachel Van Dyken

A self-published novel, The Bet by Rachel Van Dyken, was the best-selling ebook on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble during the week ending April 13, 2013. This statistic demonstrates a major shift in our literary ecosystem—self-published books have become culturally important.

Our society is now producing relevant books—books worth reading, books impacting our culture—from individuals, not just publishing houses. This is a significant change and has real ramifications for libraries.

“Are we offering enough self-published titles?”

Librarians are taking notice of the phenomenon of self-published bestsellers, and asking themselves, “Are we offering enough self-published titles?”

Libraries have historically stocked their shelves almost exclusively with books produced by publishing companies—not individual authors. Their purchasing systems are set up to buy from mass-market distributors, not lone writers. Libraries historically have not, generally, purchased self-published books. This is starting to change.

Librarians in the past haven’t bothered much with self-published ebooks because too many of those titles have been low-quality or “vanity” volumes with little cultural significance. But now, self-published ebooks titles are becoming important parts of our contemporary literary environment—and they need to be in libraries.

Self-published books are a big part of our culture

If today’s libraries are to fulfill their missions “to ensure the preservation and transmission of society’s knowledge, history and culture,” (borrowing from the mission statement of the Brooklyn Public Library in New York) then they must make the top-selling self-published ebooks available to their readers. After all, these bestsellers are part of our “society’s knowledge, history and culture.”

“A library’s job is to leverage the civic investment and work as a cooperative purchasing agent for the output of our culture,” says Jamie LaRue, Director of the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado, “Self-published titles are becoming a bigger percentage of the total output of our culture.”

With several self-published books at the tops of the charts, and more high-profile writers breaking ties with their publishing houses to market titles on their own, we cannot keep brushing self-published books to the edges of cultural importance. Libraries know this and are beginning to change their buying habits.

Some libraries are increasing e-book lists

Only 12% of people with digital readers look to the library first for e-books, whereas 75% of readers go online for e-books, according to research conducted by Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. This is probably because they know libraries don’t stock all of the most popular ebooks.

Some libraries are making strides in bulking up their e-book collections. The Califa Group, a library consortium in  California, established a contract with Smashwords to purchase roughly 10,000 top ebooks for about $3 a title. Douglas County made a similar deal, agreeing to acquire 10,000 digital books from Smashwords. In addition to providing access to these popular titles to their patrons, through this deal Douglas County owns the e-book titles they purchase and their catalog allows readers the additional option of purchasing, as well as borrowing, e-books.

A big future for e-books in libraries

Self-published books now make up a portion of the legitimate, culturally significant intellectual content of our society. Libraries have begun to acknowledge this fact and are beginning to make changes in their purchasing procedures and budgets, so they can stock more self-published ebooks to better reflect the realities of our reading public.

2 thoughts on “Are libraries offering enough self-published ebooks?

  1. Evelyn

    I think it’s important—crucial—to make the distinction between ebooks in general and self-published ebooks, and I say that as both a writer and a happy owner of a Kindle. Many, many ebooks are not self-published but are simply the ebook counterpart to a paper book.

    I keep hearing how great some of these self-published works are, but as someone working on my first book and considering which publishing route to take, I’ve looked at several and found many of them to be painfully lacking. That’s not to say some aren’t great, and I don’t discount them out of hand, but self-publishing has some problems to overcome. I imagine it’ll get worked out eventually. For now, though, there is, frankly, a LOT of “vanity” publishing going on.

    Certainly self-published books of value (and by “value,” I don’t mean “stuff I like”; I mean “passes some sort of objective bar, be it peer review, ratings, sales, success of previously published work … SOMETHING”) should be included in a library’s collection of ebooks. Absolutely. But as someone who LOVES, ADORES, CHERISHES libraries (and also helps pay for them via my taxes), I have to say that without the gatekeeper that is traditional publishing, it’s important to put in SOME kind of gate. Not every self-published book is ready for an audience.

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