Yes Magazine - On the day after Christmas in 2009, Amazon.com released a statement that their Kindle e-reader had become the most gifted item in the company’s history. That holiday season marked an explosion of reading devices into the mainstream and posed a huge challenge for libraries. Now that people had readers, they wanted to borrow ebooks from their local library. “There are thousands of independent publishers who, without library sales, would not be able to remain in existence.”
“It was a wild time,” says Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the American Library Association (ALA). “Hundreds of thousands of people got Kindles and showed up at their library ready to borrow ebooks. But the big six publishers [now the big five] weren’t selling ebooks to libraries. There was a lot of anxiety about the potential of this model to disrupt—that a library would buy one copy of an ebook and then circulate it to everyone in the United States.”
In hindsight, the slightly paranoid perspective is amusing. Today, the big five publishers all work with libraries and, for the majority of smaller, independent publishers and the majority of their titles, libraries constitute a majority market.
“We’ve come to a much deeper understanding of how we help each other,” says Fiels. “There are thousands of independent publishers who, without library sales, would not be able to remain in existence. Whereas something like a Harry Potter or a Fifty Shades of Grey may be able to sell a billion dollars worth of books in a year, most of the thousands of publishers and the titles that are published depend on public libraries.”
For libraries, supporting small publishers extends to the community level as they increasingly help individuals share their creative works. User-generated content is a growing focus for libraries as tech platforms make self-publishing and alternative distribution easier than ever.
“A library has become more than a place that purchases commercial books from standard publishers,” says Fiels. “Increasingly, a library is a place where people can create content and share it with other community members. Whether it’s a place where people can put old family photos or things related to community history, or their great unpublished novel, this has become a huge area that a lot of libraries are looking at.”