September 10, 2012

Texas librarians bypass publishers and go straight to indie authors to lend ebooks


The story of librarians struggling to win fair terms, or even the basic ability to set up ebook lending services has been well-documented both here on MobyLives and in the general media.

The issue has been a difficult one to resolve with the big publishers, who’ve set up many artificial barriers to lending, leading some librarians to seek new avenues for delivering ebooks to their readers.

Zachary Knight on TechDirt writes that two Houston librarians are trying something new and working directly with author Joe Konrath to create a new library deal for his ebooks.

As the librarians write on Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing,

“Because of the way we have to purchase electronic content, our customers often have to jump back and forth online through multiple access points, instead of simply finding a book and clicking to check it out. This can make the borrowing experience quite confusing and complex. Then add the confusion about which formats match which devices. We’re not just providing materials for one type of device, our customers use Kindles and Nooks and iPads and cell phones and devices we probably haven’t heard of yet.”

Although easy lending of ebooks would be treading new ground for publishers, its benefit for authors are clear.  As Knight says,

“This ability to try a new author or series without having to spend money is something that we have supported many times. It is one way to battle obscurity as a creator. Without the ability for readers to try out a new author for free, that author may lose out on potential sales. Libraries are important tools in gaining that exposure and publishers are blocking them from doing their job.”

In an effort to resolve this complexity, Konrath is going to sell his entire catalog to the library 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.

Konrath is encouraging other authors to do the same.  Although it remains to be seen whether this direct author-librarian agreement will catch on, readers are making the inexorable shift to digital reading, and some sort of resolution needs to come quickly.


Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.