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Joe Konrath put up a neat little Q&A with two librarians from the Harris County Public Library who are bypassing the usual OverDrive-based library system and setting up their own internal check-out, seeking to buy books directly from publishers and manage them internally.

The librarians talk about issues such as accessibility, public experience, collection decisions and library benefits. It’s a great read; well worth checking out for those who are interested in learning more about the challenges libraries are facing in managing their digital collections. But what most caught my attention was this bit, near the end:

* * *

Joe sez:I like libraries. I like librarians. I like innovation.

So I sat down and had a think, and then called up my frequent collaborator Blake Crouch and bounced some ideas off of him.

This is what we came up with.

Blake and I are willing to sell our entire ebook catalog to the Harris County Public Library, and to any other libraries that are interested, under these terms:

1. Ebooks are $3.99

2. No DRM.

3. The library only needs to buy one ebook of a title, and then they can make as many copies as they need for all of their patrons and all of their branches.

4. The library owns the rights to use that ebook forever.

5. The library can use it an any format they need; mobi, epub, pdf, lit, etc. And when new formats arise, they’re’re free to convert it to the new format.

In short, the library buys one copy, and never has to buy it again.

Now I’ll take questions. I’m sure they’ll be a few.

The main question Konrath addresses, in various formats, from the subsequent Q&A with himself is piracy. If the library can distribute as many copies as they wish, as many times as they wish, forever and ever, why will people buy the book? The answer is three-fold:

  1. Piracy exists anyway, whether the books are at the library or not
  2. If he makes the terms fair, the library will buy his subsequent books and there are a lot of libraries he can sell to
  3. People could already read it for free at the library in paper

I have to admit, it’s an interesting angle. I know not every author shares Konrath’s fairly benign relationship with ‘piracy,’ but what he’s essentially saying is, There’s more than one customer in this transaction.

Okay, he didn’t sell to You the Individual, because you borrowed from the library. But he did sell to Library, the Entity. And they will buy again. And how many of them are there? A lot!

Just in my own local area, there are two public library systems I can access, because we live in one system and my partner works in a neighbouring municipality and can get books from its library, too.

Multiply that by every city and county and township in the world, and … well, it’s a lot of customers. If they buy every copy of every Konrath and Crouch title in this special direct-from-the-author package—and here’s the clincher … keep on buying them—those two can make a pretty nice living even if a million library users get the book for free.

Well played, Konrath!

 
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