Are Libraries Bad for Authors?

Before we stumble into a cliche-filled moment of drama where inferences are made off of the title, I’ll be blunt: No, I don’t think so.

Let me say that again. Are libraries bad for authors? No, I don’t think so.

MacMillan, on the other hand (one of the larger book publishers), does.

Remember about … I want to say eight months or so ago, but it may have been longer, when Tor went ahead and decided that libraries were a threat to their business, since they let people check out books “for free” (the library pays for the book at a high price, mind). And therefore, they were going to be barring libraries from purchasing new copies of their books until a set time after release so that readers would be forced to buy them, rather than reading them at a library?

Well. apparently this idea is catching. MacMillan is the latest publisher to jump on this train. Now normally I’d sort of shake my head at this and move on, because this is just more book drama with publishers trying to recoup a market that’s slowly and steadily slipping away from them, but then in the news release, something else caught my eye. Something that really said a lot to me, personally, about how MacMillan is seeing things.

But first, we should cover MacMillan’s new blow at libraries. It’s not as brutal as Tor’s … but it’s still not great. Instead of an outright ban, it’s a limit. Libraries get one digitial copy of a new book, and only one, for the first eight weeks. After that, they can buy additional ones at a very high price. Backlist books? Not available.

The license is pretty limited to, down to 2 years or a set number of reads, after which the library has to purchase another copy.

As this news article points out, MacMillan is the fourth publisher to go after libraries in this manner. But then there’s this bit that really made me want to do a post on things, where MacMillan’s CEO basically blames libraries for why authors at publishers are making less money.

Here, take a look.

“It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an e-book for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American e-book reader is starting to lean heavily toward free … Our new terms are designed to protect the value of your books during their first format publication. But they also ensure that the mission of libraries is supported.”

He goes on to say that because ebooks are easy for people to borrow and read from libraries, and because libraries lend them freely and frequently, that readership is hurting authors and leading to lower author royalties and money.

That’s right. Libraries are the problem. Those darn libraries, paying for knowledge at a vastly inflated price and then giving it to the masses for nothing! How dare they!

Now, the article then counters with several quotes from high-placed officials running libraries, one of whom quickly points out that three of the companies that have tried similar policies in the last few years have quickly reversed them with hard data showing libraries lead to sales. Another quote points out that they buy another ebook copy every time they have four stacked requests for the same book.


But no, MacMillan’s CEO says. Libraries are to blame. Libraries are why they’re paying their authors less and less.

By the way, a quick Google shows that Sargent, MacMillan’s CEO, was one of the CEO’s deeply involved with the Apple Ebook price-fixing scandal half a decade ago. Huh. Imagine that.

Look, I could make this a really long post, and dig into a lot of things … but I don’t want to. I instead just want to tackle this one question Sargent seems to be arguing, that libraries are bad for authors.

No. I disagree completely.

Instead, I think the problem is Sargent. Libraries aren’t the ones who determine royalties given to MacMillan’s authors. MacMillan is. And I’d bet if you went through the company with a fine-toothed financial comb you’d find a lot of frivolous jobs and spending that, for one reason or another, matter more to the company than the authors they claim to be defending here.

Price is probably to blame too. A $12.99 ebook?


Actually, that’s a low estimate. I hopped onto Amazon and looked at one of MacMillan’s latest releases, Nora Robert’s Undercurrents. It’s $14.99.

For an ebook. A 440-page ebook.

And this guy is whining? Yes, I will call it whining. I also note that as of the writing of this article, this book is the #53 bestseller on all of Kindle.

It’s a freaking $15 dollar ebook. That’s overpriced as anything. It’s more expensive than the hardcover. That last bit does ring true, as this is from one of the pubs during the Apple endeavor that wanted ebooks to be “luxury purchases” rather than paperback equivalents.

Somehow, somehow, this guy is whining that they can’t pay their authors enough, and that libraries are to blame, while selling a 440-page ebook that’s fifteen-bucks and still in Amazon’s top 100 bestsellers.

Interesting how even Googling I can’t find a single mention of his salary. I’ll bet it’s on a “top listing” somewhere too.

Libraries aren’t bad for authors. MacMillan is bad for authors. Since having a book that overpriced, yet still selling like bottled water isn’t enough for them to pay their authors what they seem to think is a fair wage.

Or … right. MacMillan is hiding behind its authors while throwing blows at libraries and hoping no one notices the man behind the curtain.

That’s the far more likely one, in my opinion. I believe that libraries are great for authors. Fantastic, in fact. And you know what? I’ll put my money where my mouth is.

Libraries of the world! MacMillan charges $60 for a single ebook. I will give you a license that’s good for the same amount of time, with no limit on readers … for $10.

Why? Because I can do math. There are 116, 867 public libraries in the United States alone. If just 30,000 of them decided to add Colony to their ebook rotation at $10, that’s still a cool $300,000 for me. I could live off that for years. And all that while new fans would be discovering Colony and checking out my other books. I call that win.

Colony, just to throw up a comparison, is only $5.99 for the average person. And about 1300 pages long. And has a sweet 4.5 stars on Amazon.

Seriously, libraries, talk to me. I’ll give you the great deal MacMillan never will. And I’ll happily thank you for it, while MacMillan seems inclined to give you the finger even as you give them money.

Plug aside, while I think MacMillan’s behavior here is incredibly scummy … in the long run I think it’ll only harm them and be a boon for the exact market they’ve been terrified of in the past: Indie authors like myself. Because libraries exist to be stocked with books, and if MacMillan won’t given them to libraries, Indie authors and publishers will.

Seriously, librarians, start bugging your ebook services like Overdrive to start getting you indie authors. There are hundreds more indie hits out there like The Martian and Wool waiting to be found by your readers. Ask for them! We’ll give good deals! We’re not bogged down by decades of bureaucratic nonsense and overrun!

Libraries and authors go hand in hand. We write the books, you help people discover them.

MacMillan doesn’t get that, and is telling you to take your patrons elsewhere.

Indie is waiting with open arms.

6 thoughts on “Are Libraries Bad for Authors?

  1. Imagine a locked door.

    On one side you have an artist with an amazing, unique vision, who wants nothing more in life than to properly express what he/she sees so that it could be understood and appreciated by everyone.

    On the other side of the door are a horde of people feeling bored and uninspired who are eager to be introduced to something amazing that they could understand and appreciate.

    A lot of time and effort goes into the articulation and digestion of an author’s message. Is it right that a publisher gets paid so much just to merely turn a key to a door lock?

    I don’t think so. But then, one may say that the only difference between genius and insanity is popular validation


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