Publishers and Libraries: Some Questions Answered

As you know, I try not to update the blog at work, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t have a cheeky peek now and then to see if anyone has left comments. Today, I noticed emofalltrade’s comment on the Book Packagers post, and I thought it warranted a little research and a post. 

My comment on publishers and public libraries pertains to MNM. Just because MNM is a bit closed minded about its relationship with public libraries, it doesn’t mean that other publishers are ignorant of the impact public libraries have on sales and marketing. However, after a bit of research, it seems that the situation is not that simple.

All publishers, by law, must send a required number of copies of each publication to the copyright libraries in Britain. (The British Library, Cambridge University Library, The National Library of Scotland, The National Library of Wales and the Bodleian Library.) Some of these libraries only require one copy others up to five, so with each publication at least 20 free books are sent at the publisher’s expense. Because MNM is a Scottish publisher, we also send copies to the five University libraries and to several of the council district library services – all at our expanse. By the time this is done we’re looking at about 40 copies of each book, and quite a lot of money in postage. (I know, because it’s my job to send these books.)

While I understand that it is required by law to send copies to the Deposit Libraries, I didn’t understand why other libraries weren’t treated like a retailer? So, I went and asked NFEditor.

She said that it depends on the publisher. Some publishers work with what’s called a ‘Library Supplier’, who specialise in selling books to libraries (public, academic and corporate). Other publishers have ongoing contracts with libraries. Some publishers will send libraries books that aren’t selling well, and they just need to get rid of them before they go to pulp. She also added that academic publishers heavily rely on sales to libraries, so they concentrate on libraries sales. Also, some library councils wait to see if a certain book is checked out regularly, or if there is a constant waiting list, then they contact the publisher or the ‘Library Supplier’ to order multiple copies.

However, MNM is such a small publisher, and the library market would bring in very little revenue; so, it is better PR to have the books on the library shelves than to waste man-hours trying to sell to local lending libraries. Additionally, if one book is over budget, then it is our perogative to skip the local libraries.

The next question, do authors make royalties from library loans? The answer is a ‘yes’, but only a small amount. They get what’s called a PLR (Public Lending Right) on each book. This is a very small royalty received every time a book is checked out from the library. However, unlike revenue of retail book sales in which royalty is paid by the publisher, this PLR royalty is paid by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is also up to the individual author to apply for a PLR. Therefore, once a publisher has placed a book at a library, they have nothing further to do with it.

With this in mind, a publisher would find no outright advantage to tracing statistics on library loans. However, other publishing companies seem to understand the marketing potential of libraries. With libraries offering downloads of e-books and the coalition government threatening to close libraries across the country (suggesting that they reopen as non-profits using volunteers, thus de-legitimising the profession of librarian), and with some University libraries cutting staff by as much as 80%, the role between libraries and publishers is strengthening. Yet it is challenging.

Stephen Page of Faber and Faber said in his speech, ‘Publishers, libraries and the future of the reading service’, that: ‘Authors and publishers cannot allow a universe in which ebooks can be accessed remotely for no charge without the strictest controls. To do so could undo the entire market for ebook sales. Unfortunately recent activities by some library authorities have only confirmed how potentially damaging e-book lending can be if allowed to operate without controls – some services were lending for remote downloads, without geographical restrictions.’ (Anyone interested in this topic must surely read his entire speech.)

It seems that ebooks are what is finally placing libraries under the nose of publishers (although, as Page stated, many publishers have already realized the strong marketing potential of libraries), and since MNM is only just now considering the use of ebooks, I am sure their awareness of how the library can/will play a role in distribution of ebooks is minimal. Obviously, that will need to change as MNM moves into a more digital format. (Despite the protests from some editors at MNM that ebooks are ‘just a phase’.)

All of this is new to me, so I’ve listed below a few more articles on the role of libraries and publishers. It is also important to note that this information predominately refers to the UK.

Restrictions on Library ebook Lending:
Authors fear Cut Library Income
Spending Cuts Put Library at Risk

PS-This post kind of felt like I was writing an essay for Uni. I actually do miss doing that.

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