Public libraries could be the ultimate way to promote ebooks

Imagine that you’re a relatively unknown author that has written a few ebooks but you haven’t had any success in selling them.  You would absolutely love it if libraries carried your ebooks because that would help promote your titles and would most likely result in some sales if your ebooks are any good.

This is exactly what authors experienced when they decided to participate in Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.  One in four customers that borrowed an ebook for free through Amazon’s library ended up buying another ebook from the same author.

Now imagine that you’re a book publisher that represents hundreds or thousands of authors.  Some of those authors will be very well known and successful like Suzanne Collins or Stephenie Meyer, but most of them will be lesser-known authors that could definitely use some more exposure.

You would think that the book publisher would love to get all their lesser-known authors’ ebooks into libraries in the hopes that it would promote their titles and result in some sales.  You would especially think that the book publisher would do it since the libraries would actually pay for those lesser-known ebooks.

Instead, most of the major book publishers are deathly afraid of selling their ebooks to public libraries.  The publishers are concerned that ebooks are too easy to borrow from a library.  They are worried that customers that would normally buy the ebook would instead borrow it from their local library for free.

This fear makes sense as why would anyone pay for an ebook at Amazon or Barnes & Noble if they could just visit their library’s website and get the same ebook for free?

The end result is that only two of the big six book publishers currently sell their ebooks to libraries and the ones that do have several restrictions.  The publishers believe that this is the only way to protect the sales of their ebooks.

This arrangement is incredibly frustrating for librarians as more and more library patrons are getting tablets and ereaders and they naturally assume that they can get ebooks from their library.  Patrons are happy to find ebooks at their libraries but they are constantly upset at the lack of selection and availability.  Ebook checkouts are skyrocketing at libraries but so are the complaints by librarians and library patrons.

The book publishers are missing out on a huge marketing opportunity for their ebooks because they are assuming all their ebooks would be negatively affected if they made them available at libraries.  The reality is that only some of their ebooks would have lower sales if they made them available at libraries.  A large portion of their ebooks would actually make more money if they loaned them out for free at libraries.

Amazon has proven that loaning out ebooks for free for less popular authors results in a massive increase in sales.  Book publishers should be paying libraries to carry their ebooks that could use some additional exposure.  Most marketing involves paying to get some exposure.  Right now, the publishers could actually get paid by the libraries and still get additional exposure.

Of course, the book publishers are probably right about decreased sales for popular titles.  It’s hard to imagine anyone that hasn’t heard of Harry Potter so making the Harry Potter ebooks available at libraries would almost definitely result in lower sales.  The same would probably be true for most of the best selling ebooks.

So librarians wouldn’t be able to offer patrons the most popular ebooks out there, but it would be a huge benefit for libraries, book publishers, and lesser-known authors if they could offer all the ebooks that weren’t in the best sellers list.