An American Editor

February 11, 2010

A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age

Recent posts on some blogs and forums I visit have questioned the future viability of libraries in the future ebook world. These got me thinking about libraries and independent bookstores.

I think libraries are the repositories of knowledge; it would be tragic if they disappeared, removing a fantastic resource for learning and knowledge. Libraries are a great way to introduce children to the wonders of books and reading. When my children were young, library visits were a weekly excursion and I expect to repeat the same with my grandchildren.

But now libraries — and independent bookstores — face a threat of extinction through the growth of ebooks. I admit that my power in Washington is nil and that getting Congress to do anything to protect libraries in the digital age is beyond my abilities. So, instead, I’m offering a modest proposal that, hopefully, doesn’t take an act of overpaid politicians to accomplish. I admit that the idea is in the germinal stage, but I also think it’s one worth exploring.

I modestly propose that libraries and independent bookstores combine and create a new entity that I’ll call the Lindie for want of better imagination (shall we hold a contest for a better name?).

Currently, many communities have at least one large building dedicated to the local library. If there is an independent bookstore in the community, it usually is a very small affair and in precarious financial condition.

As things are presently constructed, libraries and indies work against each other’s best interests. Indies want to discourage readers from borrowing, preferring that they buy, and libraries want to encourage borrowing. Additionally, indies have to fight against online booksellers, the growing ebook market, and the chain bookstores — very daunting tasks. Libraries have to deal with declining numbers of readers.

But what if my local library became a book mall, a Lindie, a place where I can both borrow and buy? I would readily give up visits to Barnes & Noble and online book buying, and if not give up entirely, at least significantly reduce those visits and buying. The Lindie would be my choice for one-stop shopping for the reader.

No indie bookstore can carry on its shelves the variety of books that the library can; they simply can’t afford to. Many indie bookstores supplement their current books with “antiquarian” and specialty offerings. Think about a reader browsing the library shelves and then wandering over to the  in-library bookseller and buying a print or ebook version.

The indie bookstore would pay a rental income and perhaps a percentage of sales to the library, thereby helping the library fund its own purchases. The library would provide the shelf material, the inventory so to speak, for the bookseller. More importantly, the combined resources of the Lindie could enable the purchase or lease of an Espresso-type machine (the one that prints books to order, not the coffee type). Currently, this is cost prohibitive for most small indie bookstores.

Someone who read a borrowed book and really liked it or wanted to give it as a gift to a relative or friend could get a copy printed at a discount or purchase an ebook version on the spot. And because of lower business costs, the indie bookstore would be better able to compete against Amazon and B&N by offering  a comparable discount and still make money.

Suppose the indie had a book that someone was looking to read but didn’t want to buy and which was missing from the library’s collection. Why not have a system where the indie supplemented the library’s lending collection? Perhaps by directly lending for a fee or by allowing the library to “lease” the book on behalf of the borrower.

And don’t forget the marketing capabilities. Think about combined marketing and advertising, especially around holidays.

But, you ask, how does this help the library in the age of ebooks? By providing funds to the library to purchase and expand their pbook and ebook offerings, by offering a single place for book lovers to go and thus increasing lending, which is often the basis for financing, and by giving libraries a source of revenue they currently do not have. For the indies, the advantages are lower costs and a better ability to compete.

One other advantage to indies and libraries is that many libraries have community rooms, places to hold readings, signings, children’s activities, senior meetings, and the like. The indies could sponsor more community events to draw in community members and the libraries could offer those events at minimal to no cost it.

By turning into a book mall where one can both borrow and buy books in either ebook or pbook form, the Lindie offers a way to save two endangered species: the local library and the local bookstore. It’s a win-win, I think.

9 Comments »

  1. One area where many libraries are making themselves more relevant is in computer access, which fits into your concept of independent bookstores and libraries working together in various ways. Something else libraries have that bookstores don’t is, well, librarians. A bookstore owner usually knows his or her stock pretty well and often knows a lot about certain genres or authors, but librarians know so much about how to find information … libraries that take advantage of that knowledge and training by offering fact-finding services are very smart, even if they can’t or don’t charge for such services. And several libraries that I know of have established internal shops that sell not just souvenirs but books either being removed from the shelves or that were donated and aren’t needed for their collections. That gives them an ongoing book-sales effort as opposed to, but usually in addition to, an annual book sale.

    I love it when I go to my local library – usually to donate books; I don’t borrow them because I can’t be trusted not to mark up all the typos! – and see it full of people reading, using the computers, having meetings, listening to speakers, etc. It’s a pretty vibrant environment. The community is lucky to not only have such a resource, but apparently value and use it.

    A partnership between libraries and local bookstores would be a great idea.

    Like

    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — February 11, 2010 @ 3:03 pm | Reply

  2. I see some feathers getting ruffled over partnerships between publicly funded libraries and privately owned businesses. There’s also no way that the big-name bookstores could be legally excluded from these partnerships, especially in places that don’t have any independent bookstores. And if all that was successful, other big businesses would want to get in. Pretty soon, the library would be a department in Wal-Mart.

    So I don’t know about combining indie bookstores and libraries, but I certainly think we could upgrade libraries to give more options. I see no reason (besides budgetary constraints) why a library couldn’t have a print-on-demand machine and sell custom-print books. It would also be great if some big, friendly, socially conscious company (are you listening, Google?) would come out with a totally open-source ereader that it ONLY SELLS TO LIBRARIES, libraries could then sell it to its consumers and start (or continue) offering easy access to ebook downloads.

    Public domain books would just download permanently, but current books would need some built-in DRM that would delete the book from the eReader after two weeks or whatever. (It might also prohibit downloading the book to another device.)

    I think libraries will survive as long as they recognize their need to evolve, which, at least in my area (Indianapolis), they’ve done very well.

    Oh, and for a name, I vote that we borrow (and respell) from the French and call them BiblioTechs.

    Like

    Comment by 4ndyman — February 11, 2010 @ 3:50 pm | Reply

    • 4ndyman,

      I think there would be less problem than you think about excluding the big chains. There are always advantage programs enacted to aid small businesses. One easy way to do it would be to base rent on a corporation’s gross earnings worldwide. I doubt B&N or WalMart would want to pay that kind of rent for such a small space. I have no doubt this is not an unresolvable problem.

      Like

      Comment by americaneditor — February 11, 2010 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

  3. My library already allows self-destructing downloads of audiobooks, and I’m pretty sure they do the same for ebooks.

    Like

    Comment by Helen — February 14, 2010 @ 4:46 am | Reply

  4. […] Seventh, create an Indie Book Mall where several indie bookstores can share the space. This type of arrangement is often done by antiques and collectible dealers and I see no reason why it couldn’t be done by indie bookstores. It would create a shopping “destination,” which seems to be something consumers like. Some of the advantages to doing this include the ability to share fixed expenses (e.g., rent, heat, electric) and it would allow each indie to have an area of concentration rather than be required to have such a general focus that each is a full replica of any other. It would also facilitate some of the earlier suggestions. Additionally, this is the kind of project that would fit right in with Main Street renewal projects and could enable a group purchase of the real estate or low rent from cities trying to draw businesses and people back to the Main Street. Something like this could also be done in conjunction with a struggling local library system, something I proposed nearly 2 years ago in A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age. […]

    Like

    Pingback by The Indie Bookstore in the Amazon Age - The Digital Reader — November 28, 2011 @ 9:12 am | Reply

  5. […] Seventh, create an Indie Book Mall where several indie bookstores can share the space. This type of arrangement is often done by antiques and collectible dealers and I see no reason why it couldn’t be done by indie bookstores. It would create a shopping “destination,” which seems to be something consumers like. Some of the advantages to doing this include the ability to share fixed expenses (e.g., rent, heat, electric) and it would allow each indie to have an area of concentration rather than be required to have such a general focus that each is a full replica of any other. It would also facilitate some of the earlier suggestions. Additionally, this is the kind of project that would fit right in with Main Street renewal projects and could enable a group purchase of the real estate or low rent from cities trying to draw businesses and people back to the Main Street. Something like this could also be done in conjunction with a struggling local library system, something I proposed nearly 2 years ago in A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age. […]

    Like

    Pingback by Can independent book stores survive in the face of Amazon and ebooks? | eBookanoid.com — November 29, 2011 @ 1:25 am | Reply

  6. […] Seventh, create an Indie Book Mall where several indie bookstores can share the space. This type of arrangement is often done by antiques and collectibles dealers and I see no reason why it couldn’t be done by indie bookstores. It would create a shopping “destination,” which seems to be something consumers like. Some of the advantages to doing this include the ability to share fixed expenses (e.g., rent, heat, electric) and it would allow each indie to have an area of concentration rather than be required to have such a general focus that each is a full replica of any other. It would also facilitate some of the earler suggestions. Additionally, this is the kind of project that would fit right in with Main Street renewal projects and could enable a group purchase of the real estate or low rent from cities trying to draw busiensses and people back to the Main Street. Something like this could also be done in conjunction with a struggling local library system, something I proposed nearly 2 years ago in A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age. […]

    Like

    Pingback by The indie bookstore in the Amazon age | Ebooks on Crack — November 29, 2011 @ 1:52 am | Reply

  7. […] Seventh, create an Indie Book Mall where several indie bookstores can share the space. This type of arrangement is often done by antiques and collectible dealers and I see no reason why it couldn’t be done by indie bookstores. It would create a shopping “destination,” which seems to be something consumers like. Some of the advantages to doing this include the ability to share fixed expenses (e.g., rent, heat, electric) and it would allow each indie to have an area of concentration rather than be required to have such a general focus that each is a full replica of any other. It would also facilitate some of the earlier suggestions. Additionally, this is the kind of project that would fit right in with Main Street renewal projects and could enable a group purchase of the real estate or low rent from cities trying to draw businesses and people back to the Main Street. Something like this could also be done in conjunction with a struggling local library system, something I proposed nearly 2 years ago in A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age. […]

    Like

    Pingback by Can independent book stores survive in the face of Amazon and ebooks? | Ebooks on Crack — November 29, 2011 @ 3:30 am | Reply

  8. […] Seventh, create an Indie Book Mall where several indie bookstores can share the space. This type of arrangement is often done by antiques and collectibles dealers and I see no reason why it couldn’t be done by indie bookstores. It would create a shopping “destination,” which seems to be something consumers like. Some of the advantages to doing this include the ability to share fixed expenses (e.g., rent, heat, electric) and it would allow each indie to have an area of concentration rather than be required to have such a general focus that each is a full replica of any other. It would also facilitate some of the earler suggestions. Additionally, this is the kind of project that would fit right in with Main Street renewal projects and could enable a group purchase of the real estate or low rent from cities trying to draw busiensses and people back to the Main Street. Something like this could also be done in conjunction with a struggling local library system, something I proposed nearly 2 years ago in A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age. […]

    Like

    Pingback by The Indie Bookstore in the Amazon Age « New England Horror Writers — November 30, 2011 @ 12:44 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: