Posted by: Katie | June 7, 2010

The RA Grey Zone

I can’t tell you how many times I started this point. Every time I’ve written something, another aspect or angle reared its head and I had to incorporate it into my thoughts on the topic. Or should I say topics? At base, it feels like there are two issues at play in the ramblings that follow: digital-first presses who partner with a vendor of ebooks for libraries and how you include digital-first works in RA discussions. My musings began as I watched another romance digital-first press open its door for business this morning. Carina Press is a new arm of Harlequin. While they are under the umbrella of Harlequin, they are following the digital-first business model which includes titles that are only available in digital format upon release and no DRM encoding. However, as they are an arm of Harlequin, I began to wonder if they would have titles available through Overdrive or NetLibrary for the library market. I knew Harlequin was already a partner with Overdrive, but Carina is not listed as a publisher with them, even though all of Harlequin’s other imprints are. I asked someone I know who is in the know with Carina if they would eventually be available and she confirmed that Overdrive is in their plans. After going through Overdrive’s list of publishers, that would make Carina the second digital-first romance publisher in the list. Now, Carina is publishing more than romance, but the bulk of their launch titles are classified as either romance or erotic romance, so I feel comfortable claiming them for the romance market 🙂 I’m also sure there are a few digital-first publishers on Overdrive’s list, but as I’m most familiar with the romance market, I only caught the one romance publisher currently there: Total-E-Bound.

Where am I going with this? Frankly, I’m scattered, and this post is probably best considered a springboard for discussion. From a librarian’s perspective, I need to be able to put an item in my patron’s hand, or at least get them on the hold list for it, when recommending a title. I can’t do that if the distribution scheme used by the publisher does not include libraries. I don’t expect my library, or the system it belongs to, huge as it is, to own every title. But I should at least be able to place a request with a library somewhere in the country who does own the title.

This is admittedly easier to do with print copies. However, a great number of digital-first titles do not make it to print for whatever reason. Which is a feature instead of a bug from the business model standpoint. From the library standpoint, this means we’re less likely to be aware of a title and therefore less likely to talk it up to our patrons. Why? Purchases of ebook readers and multi-function devices which including ebook reader applications (and I include computers in this statement) are limited to the people who can afford them. Those who can’t afford them come into the library and use the library computers, which often have time limits on them. Planning when to go to the library and how to spend limited time on the computers takes out that all-important type of book purchase: the impulse buy. Publishers and authors need to be aware of this section of the market.

Libraries have been great places for authors to grow their audience. For many readers, we are the place they turn to when they hear about a new author they want to try, but don’t want to risk their money. This is especially true when times are tough financially from the personal to national levels. Many librarians also love talking with these people about these new authors, and recommending yet more authors to them. A byproduct of not having a readily available title to give to the patron, is that I, and others like me, tend to not make a point of noting those authors/titles for recommendation. I’m a fiend for talking about books no matter the venue, but I tend to only talk about digital-first titles when I’m speaking with someone who I know is already familiar with the market and buys their books. While that sale is great for the author, I do think about all of the other word-of-mouth publicity I could be providing if I were able to talk up some of these authors and titles at the library. I keep going back to Cory Doctorow’s saying, “my biggest threat as an author isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.”

So that’s where I’m at after about 12 hours of thought on this topic. There’s more I want to think on, especially developing reader’s advisory tools for digital-first/only titles, but I wanted to get the conversation started. Thoughts?

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