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Find more Self Publishing and E-books
Here at Booklist, we’ve always believed that a key part of our job is discovering books and authors. By virtue of reviewing those books, we allow librarians the opportunity to acquire them—whether they come from the Big Five or from small presses, and whether they are written by debut, midlist, or best-selling authors. But where do self-published e-originals come into play? We are very excited about the prospect of covering this growing sector of publishing, but a big hurdle remains for libraries interested in adding e-originals to their collections. At this time, the majority of public libraries can only buy e-books available via one of the major library e-book platforms, leaving many librarians scratching their heads over how to handle requests for titles beyond that range, specifically, most self-published e-originals—and leaving us wondering where we stand on reviewing titles that your average library may not be able to buy?
The speed at which things are happening in the e-book universe—along with the self-publishing and small-press world—is unlike anything librarians have ever seen. Other industries have already dealt with rapidly changing formats, but they have had no choice. When was the last time you waited until a certain night of the week to watch a particular television show? And just think about how many people now watch television programming on a tablet or via a streaming device. But libraries still haven’t been completely successful at replicating this on-demand, technology-driven lifestyle in the world of traditional circulation of reading materials. Where do libraries fit into this new world?
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to David Vinjamuri, a marketing guru who also writes and presents workshops about the importance of libraries in the era of e-books and self-publishing. “For a long time, libraries were archives—the place where books were stored, and people went to check them out,” he says. “In the days when a new hardcover fiction title cost $25, that made sense. Now that I can buy a best-seller for $4.99—or try a new author for 99 cents—what’s the incentive for using the library? Discovery is the incentive.” Leading readers to their next book seems to be the answer. And in Vinjamuri’s view, whether a book is self-published or traditionally published shouldn’t make a difference.
Vinjamuri believes that librarians are perfectly positioned to be on the forefront of the self-publishing wave and that libraries can wield collective influence to change the way readers get e-books—and shift the way publishers view libraries. But to start that process, there needs to be an attitude shift among librarians. “It was safe to ignore self-publishing before, but with the explosion of self-published e-books, that is no longer the case,” he states. According to his research, there are more self-published titles than there are traditionally published titles, and a full third of the Amazon best-seller list is self-published books. Of course, that doesn’t mean all those books are worthwhile. “While it’s true that 90 percent of what’s self-published hurts your eyes, you can’t afford to ignore the other 10 percent,” he declares. Even some mainstream authors once published by the Big Five houses are now going the self-publishing route. Vinjamuri sees a huge opportunity for librarians to be on the ground floor here, helping patrons sort through that 90 percent to find the good stuff.
Indeed, sorting through the chaff is a daunting prospect. But one library system is eager to be part of the process. Vinjamuri’s program on e-books and self-publishing at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference was the catalyst for the Soon to be Famous Illinois Author project, which recognizes and gives a boost to self-published authors. Sponsored by the Illinois Library Association and RAILS (Reaching across Illinois Library Systems), the program aims to spark interest in self-published authors and help ease the resistance. More than 100 titles were nominated for the Soon to be Famous awards, and a team of 20 librarian judges narrowed the field to 3 top picks. Vinjamuri thinks programs like this are a great first step, which can lead to even bigger leaps. “State library associations and systems can have real influence in getting providers to change their game,” Vinjamuri says. “They are the ones with the consortium money and the influence to get the providers to allow improved access and local control of titles.” And that sets the wheels in motion to answer the question “How do libraries fit into this new world?”
However, an important question remains: If Booklist started reviewing and recommending self-published e-book originals, how would libraries add those titles to their collections? If this is something you’re mulling over as well, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to have this conversation with you.
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