It has always been a mystery why some who were always to be regarded as being too small to compete digitally by themselves did not take the consortia and collaboration route to self determination. Instead they were often happy to sit on the edge and watch as others ate their lunch or entered into deals were they effectively gave away their customers, or even their transactions for what appears to be chump change in commission. Publishers, retailers and libraries often forgot what they did best and rolled over digitally, even Waterstones rolled over, admitted their were bereft of digital competency and welcomed Amazon in through the back door
Now we are starting to see some smart publishing initiatives which can make a difference. Faber’s Factory offers small to medium publishers the benefits of a digital consortia, Bloombury online offers other publisher the ability to share their digital shelves but libraries and retailer who would appear to be those that are most a threat have often failed to grasp the digital nettle.
It seems an age since Overdrive took to the road in the US to show off their digital capabilities and enlist the libraries into their universe. The model was easy for libraries to adopt and merely involved them handing over their digital lending to Overdrive. Where once they owned their books they now simply white labelled them on demand. However some library organisations in the US are now making bold but logical and long overdue strides to take control of their ebook environment. The Douglas County Libraries in Colorado are being followed by the San Mateo-based Califa Group, which is the largest library network in California and Kansas State Library. The objective is to create their own library and striking a deal with Smashwords for outright ownership of its top-selling titles and with Boopsie to provide mobile apps for the platform. The Califa deal with Smashwords will enable them to purchase some 10,000 of the their top titles for around $3 a title and host these on their own Adobe Content Server. There is no reason why the server could not host compliant files from any other source and in doing so build their own digital facility which could easily expand even be linked with others. Publishers who today are sticking their heads into the sand on digital lending or inventing that infamous ‘26 loans and re-buy’ rules should be wary that this model could soon snowball and leave them with a bad PR nightmare. In contrast, it is being claimed that some small publishers sensing an opportunity to be seen are even prepared to give the book free to the library as a show of support, whilst others said that they would sell to the library at a price below retail.
The interesting twist that Smashwords offers is the ability for the libraries to offer self publishing facilities to their patrons. This is an interesting added value which could provide the community with a two way hub and also reverse feed Smashwords would could then in turn feed its retail Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Sony etc.
So at a time when the public library is under threat some are showing that they have the vision to move forward and even raise funding in difficult times to start to redefine the library in the digital arena. Libraries have a great potential future but are not going to achieve it by standing still and trying to defend yesterday. By staking out a place and acting collectively they may not only redefine their future, strike up meaningful partnerships that are two way and importantly present the community with a new focus.