In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at why Amazon is not supplying books it publishes to libraries.
Last week's main story was out of date the moment I went to press. At that point, I was talking about the $6.6m paid for an NFT. And the same day, the same artist sold one for 10 times that! Talking of updates, for everyone following Audiblegate, please visit our latest update on that essential campaign.
Amazon vs Libraries
It’s been more than a year since publishers and libraries were in a tense stand off over the licensing of ebooks for lending. Now Amazon has entered that fraught arena. And libraries are on the front foot again with a piece of legislation in the US that could have big implications for indies.
Why are publishers and libraries at loggerheads?
Let’s rewind. Libraries lend ebooks. They source those ebooks through platforms like Libby and Overdrive, the latter of which is available to indies. That means we can benefit from library readers. And I mean benefit financially as well as from exposure, because we get payment through Overdrive. Because ebooks, like paper books, can be lent multiple times, libraries pay more for them than a regular customer pays. There is, therefore, an inherent tension in the system. Libraries can feel that they pay over the odds. Publishers and authors can feel that they aren’t getting enough to compensate for the lost sales.
In 2019, publishers took the first step to try and tip those odds back towards them. Several of the big 5 changed the terms on which they sold books to libraries. Metred usage meant that libraries could lend out a book fewer times before having to renew their licence. And successful books started to become more expensive to renew, not the usual less expensive. Libraries started saying they wouldn’t stock books under these terms.
Amazon Threatening to Withhold Ebooks from Libraries
There has been an uneasy truce during Covid as libraries have played such a central role in keeping the world reading. But now Amazon has decided it wants to enter the arena. This may be because they are on the other end of several lawsuits and want to deflect attention from that. Amazon is saying it will not supply ebooks from its own imprints to libraries. The reason is the key point at issue in this whole thing. They say library lends cannibalise ebook sales, at a very unfavourable rate. The jury (pun half intended) is still out on that, of course.
But that’s not it. Maryland has just launched a bill that could shift the balance of power the other way. The bill would give libraries the right to force publishers to grant them a license to stock any ebook they want. Passive Guy has a great post about this, with all his expertise as an IP lawyer on show. He makes the very important point that this could force us all to accept some very unfavourable terms. My first thought was simply that this sounds very like the UK’s legal deposit libraries, which already have the right to a copy of every book published in the UK. In this context, you may enjoy this long read in The New Yorker about the Kansas bookstore taking on Amazon.
Scribd’s Move Into Subscription Audiobooks
At some point I will stop being surprised that Scribd is still a thing. One of the very earliest subscription services for ebooks, it recently followed others in launching an “originals” series, with books exclusive to its platform. And now Scribd is launching an audiobook series, Scribd Audio, with a $9.99 a month price tag. This will focus its attention on works from independent publishers. Which, of course, to them means small publishers. But who knows? We may be next.
Storytel's Continued Growth
Talking of audiobooks, Storytel continues its relentless expansion. A great post in this week's New Publishing Standard outlines their continued attraction of funding. Another $138m has found its way into the company's coffers as it sets its targets on global expansion over the next decade. That brings the total to $250m.
It’s always nice to bring some news from my home town. As I’m lucky to be based in Oxford, that happens quite regularly. This week, the news comes courtesy of the original Blackwell’s, one of the world’s most famous bookstores. They are trialling a new “look inside” function for physical books. An idea whose time has come in an age when we can look through windows but not go in. Jellybooks Discovery provides retailers with a QR code that links to the first few pages of a book. AND then provides a link to buy from the store's website. You can find out more details here.Amazon stops supplying books it publishes to libraries and other top #selfpub news stories for #indieauthors, in one quick read, by #ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes #digitaleconomy #publishingopenup Click To Tweet
Upcoming Conferences and Events
Help us fill this with great online events in the coming weeks and months.
Smolfair, 3-7 Mar
Chanticleer Conference, 21-25 Apr
Love Lambeth Ebook Open Day, 15 May
Comic Con, 22-25 Jul