Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Libraries and Sales

Whenever the discussion of free reads comes up, someone always mentions libraries. They're the second-favorite target of writers who are intensely concerned with the bottom line on their royalty statement. (The first being used bookstores of course.) Nathan Bransford mentioned recently that he knows "a few authors who cringe every time a fan tells them they can't wait to borrow their next book from the library -- if everyone did that, of course, the author would get next to zero royalties."

If you think about it, a library is actually more of a threat to one's revenue than a used bookstore. A library copy of a book can be read thirty or forty or more times and then have a new check-out slip pasted into it (or whatever they do now -- I'm thinking back to when I was in school but I imagine there's something more high tech than a rubber date-stamp these days) while realistically, a book is only going to go through a used bookstore a maximum of, what, two or three times? I remember back when I used to practically live at the used bookstore across the street from my high school -- I spent most of my lunch money there for four years -- it was pretty rare to find another used bookstore's stamp in one of The Bookrack's books. I don't ever remember seeing more than one.

But you know what? I'm not worrying about it.

Seriously, I think the "if everyone did that" argument against libraries is looking at the situation wrong-way around. Because before it showed up in a library, that book was bought from a publisher. Every book in a library is a sale.

If more people really did start patronizing libraries, if they really were two or three or ten times as popular as they are now, libraries would probably do everything they could to grow their collections, right? Or specifically, if one of my books is ever popular enough that people all over the country are flocking to the libraries looking for it, then it'll probably be one of those books that all the libraries buy multiple copies of, so they can serve their patrons with a waiting list less than a year long.

According to the relevant ALA web page, the number of public libraries in the US (central and branch both) is 16,543. If they all bought -- let's be conservative here, in the face of this overwhelming display of frugality on the part of the readers -- three copies of my theoretically gonzo-popular book, that's 49,629 sales.

You know what? Even if no individuals at all bought the book, I'll still take those sales numbers.

And realistically, if the book is that popular in the first place, the libraries really aren't going to be the only ones buying it. I wish every library in the country would buy copies of my books. Well, some day when I finally have a hardcopy book published. And assuming I ever write something that a public library could carry without getting picketed. But you know, in principle. [cough]



Spy Scribbler said...

I get so exasperated with that, along with the used bookstore thing. I mean, I spend a lot on books, but I simply can't afford to buy every single book I read.

If they really don't want me to read at all when I can't afford to buy them, then... okay...

Although, with the price of books on the Kindle, I've been buying all my books, lately. I can afford them at $3-9!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've actually donated my books to a few libraries, hoping to stir up interest, and the Taleran books were bought by several libraries in my general area. A sale is a sale.

Angie said...

SS -- it's always been a silly argument. [sigh/nod] I still prefer paper books, but although I'm not really into libraries myself as a reader (particularly for fiction) I have no problem with them, as a writer. I want to make money, yes, but I want to be read first.

Charles -- great idea, priming the pump like that. And exactly, I don't care who's laying down the money so long as someone does.