“As the amount of retail shelf space for books continues to shrink, libraries have all the tools to pick up the slack,” wrote David Vinjamuri in Publishers Weekly. Vinjamuri, president of ThirdWay Brand Trainers, said publishers should tap the 16,000 public libraries in the United States, which offer dedicated space for books. Libraries nurture reading and are trusted by the public because they are neutral providers of books.
Tension over E-books
Even with these advantages, a partnership between publishers and public libraries is not easy because of an existing tension between them. The two sides have an ongoing disagreement about pricing and lending of electronic books.
When you buy a print copy of a book, you own that physical copy. When you buy an electronic copy, however, you’re actually buying a license to read it. This is the same deal for libraries when they buy print copies vis-a-vis e-books.
Some publishers limit the number of times libraries can lend an e-book before they need to buy another license to continue lending that book. Other publishers let a license expire after one year, while some charge libraries a lot higher for every electronic copy.
There are also some misperceptions about libraries, such as they “cannibalize” book sales in the sense that people don’t need to buy a copy of a book if they can borrow it for free in a library. But Vinjamuri said recent studies refuted that because they show library users also buy books.
I agree with Vinjamuri that publishers and libraries have mutual interests that should encourage their partnership. Public libraries want to buy more books and introduce new authors to readers, but most of them are short on funding. Meanwhile, publishers want to promote more books and more authors, but they have lesser opportunities for displaying their books.
Of course, public libraries should remain neutral, but they could optimize the use of their facilities for promoting reading, authors, and books. Most of them already do by hosting author’s readings and book signings and promoting book clubs and other activities. They could do more if publishers provide them with the support they need. Given all of these benefits for both parties, shouldn’t they work together to promote their common interests?