Coming up with a way to get independent e-books into libraries is a tricky issue. You’ve got programs like Smashwords’s collaboration with OverDrive (which can be a trifle confusing, even leaving aside critics complaining about the selection) and Library Journal’s SELF-e Select. There are also libraries like Douglas County in Colorado that have created their own e-book lending system and made their own contracts with over 800 publishers. But most libraries aren’t going to have the ability to do that.
So, what’s a self-publishing author to do? For that matter, what’s a librarian to do, if authors have asked to be included or patrons have asked for certain authors’ e-books? What if they want to provide some good independent e-books but they don’t know which ones to pick? J.A. Konrath has been working on a solution—a company called eBooksAreForever that aims to provide libraries with a framework to own their titles instead of renting another company’s infrastructure to host titles that expire after so many checkouts. It also wants to offer curated collections to ease the selection process for librarians.
A lot of independent authors try to get their books into libraries. Some even offer to waive royalties, simply wanting the exposure having their books available will bring. However, as Konrath notes, they’re trying to solve the wrong problem. Librarians believe authors deserve to get paid for their work, and it’s not so much that the libraries can’t afford them.
The problem librarians have with independent authors’ books is that, even if the library wants to include them, they might not necessarily be on Smashwords. Even if they are, the Smashwords/OverDrive process is daunting to go through individually for every such book, and there are so, so many of them. eBooksAreForever wants to simplify things.
I find it interesting that so many of these services are concentrating on curation. Smashwords offers curated self-published lists of its own, as does SELF-e Select. But eBooksAreForever’s articles seem to act as if curated collections are a new idea original to them. I wonder what’s different about their curated selections as opposed to someone else’s?
Regardless, the most intriguing aspect to me is the idea of building an infrastructure to let libraries own and check out books and offering it to libraries for free. How is that going to work? Do they give the library a blueprint for what kind of computer equipment they need, then hand them over the open source software? I can’t imagine they’d be offering space on servers of their own, as those kinds of things cost money, and that’s the very sort of thing that the other providers do.
I was curious what my local library might think, so I reached out to Deb Lambert, Director of Collection Management for the Indianapolis/Marion County Public Library. She wrote:
This is a very interesting and exciting development in the library ebook world! Our struggle with OverDrive and Smashwords, is the amount of titles we have to slog through to find quality content. J.A. Konrath’s approach to a curated indie author collection is intriguing. Konrath has nailed it on many library issues – the way we are approached by indie authors with no marketing/excerpts/summaries, the amount of work required to acquire indie titles one-by-one, the current unfair pricing models and expiring content, and much more. However, the vetting of authors to find proven successful indie authors is the most valuable component for us. At IndyPL we would be interested in learning more, and we would indeed consider adding it to our online offerings, if there is quality content and the price is right.
I also asked Smashwords founder Mark Coker if he had any comment, and he replied:
I think what Joe and the EAF team are doing is great. I don’t see it competitive to Smashwords. Instead, I see it as complementary. We’re providing broad access for over 100,000 authors to over 20,000 libraries via our agreements with OverDrive and Baker & Taylor Axis 360. We’ll broaden this reach further later this year. EAF are creating a curated collection, and I think this adds a lot of complementary value to the collection development efforts of libraries. From my POV, indie authors and publishers should take advantage of both of our services.
I’m certainly in favor of anything that can make it easier for libraries to check out e-books, and that can make it easier for independent authors to get their books out there for people to check out. eBooksAreForever is still in beta testing, and plans to launch later this year. I wish it the best of luck.