One Ebook to Prove Them All

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

At the recent ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, we talked about the idea of a national ebook club. Eric Hellman, President of Gluejar and a member of ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group, summarizes the idea in a post on the ALA E-Content blog. Thought you might be interested and, of course, any comments appreciated.

There’s a lot of data suggesting that exposure to books in libraries increases sales for those books. There’s also a lot of data that suggests that many publishers believe the opposite—namely, that the availability of books in libraries depresses sales, and that if libraries improve the ebook lending process, making it easier for library users to substitute loans for sales, then ebook sales will be hurt even more.

That word “suggests” is the problem. We don’t have controlled experiments that have really measured the broad effect of the library lending of ebooks on ebook sales. ALA’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG) has been examining the situation, and we had an idea. What if libraries all around the country promoted a single ebook for a month? What if that ebook’s publisher offered a special deal so that for that one month, libraries could lend that ebook to as many patrons in their communities as possible without decimating their acquisition budgets? Once the month was over, that specially promoted library ebook deal would end. What do you think would happen?

Here’s what we think. If the book was a good one, even an obscure title could be transformed into a national bestseller. Publishers would clamor to be included in the program, and libraries would become key components in any publisher’s marketing plan. The rapid extinction of the bricks-and-mortar bookstore is creating a marketing vacuum for books, and libraries could fill that vacuum. As for ebook candidates, there are plenty. There isn’t a publisher out there that doesn’t have a book on their list that they just love but which somehow hasn’t found its audience.

This concept might remind you of “Oprah’s Book Club” but lots of libraries have been doing programs like this on a local basis for years. Usually named something like “One City, One Book” or “[City] Reads,” these types of initiatives have existed for years, and ALA provides a page of resources for running a one-book program. Libraries could also use a one ebook program to get patrons and staff to start thinking and learning about ebooks.

There are a lot of details to be worked out before we can roll out a “One Nation, One eBook” program, but the mobilization of effort has begun. The leadership of the Public Library Association is on board, and two members of the DCWG (myself and Vailey Oehlke) have been charged with carrying the idea forward.

Do you think this is a good idea? Would you like to help? Let us know!

Eric Hellman

Expert Publishing Blog
Alan S. Inouye

About Alan S. Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is director of the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) of the American Library Association (ALA), based in Washington, D.C. Since 2011, he also serves as the program manager of ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Initiative. Prior to ALA, Alan was the coordinator of the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President for three years. Earlier, Alan served as a study director at the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academy of Sciences for seven years. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

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