Another year, another series of monthly Ask BHP posts! We got some great ones in our survey (feel free to add more anytime), and here’s our first: “Since libraries provide books to people for free, are libraries a benefit or detriment for authors and publishers?”
Almost every publishing employee and author you meet sincerely loves libraries. This is not just a line we use when speaking to a crowd of librarians, or a crowd that might possibly contain a librarian, or a crowd where someone might quote us to a librarian friend of theirs. We really mean it.
Now, we might be slightly biased, since authors and publishing employees are devoted “book people” who often practically grew up in a library. Objectively, though, libraries are helpful to publishers. Here are a few reasons why.
First, libraries buy books. They have a budget set aside for that purpose. Your tax dollars at work, making the public literate, exposing people to great works of literature and fun pieces of entertainment, and keeping kids off the streets and safely tucked inside adventure novels for days at a time (or was that just me?). Even when the economy is down and bookstores decline, libraries stay fairly constant in the amount of money they send our way.
That said, certain authors/series/genres do tend to do better in libraries than others. Sometimes the reason is easily discernible, sometimes it’s a mystery. Overall, though, the sales groups that handle library orders show up in our top customers all the time.
Second, libraries introduce people to authors. As I think through my personal shelves, many of the books there were ones I first checked out of the library. Recommendations from friends are all well and good, but I am a choosy reader. I prefer to read before I buy…but I do buy. Like me, many readers will buy an author’s book or entire backlist after finding a book they love at the library.
As for the most voracious patrons whose library cards have long faded due to over-use and who never purchase an actual book for themselves…if the library wasn’t there, maybe they’d buy more books. Or maybe they’d borrow from friends or buy used or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with any of those options. It’s just to say that there’s no evidence that library usage corresponds to a loss of potential sales.
Third, libraries contribute to a general love of books. That seems vague, but hear me out. Libraries teach children to be readers, so they’ll grow up to contribute to book sales when they’re older. They also host book signing events and author chats, sponsor book clubs, recommend and display their favorite novels, a provide a space for readers to pursue the best hobby around…all of which tends to lead to more sales for us.
And if that went from “vague” to “money-grabbing” for you, just a reminder that even publisher—and even people on the marketing “dark side” of publishers—do love books. That’s why we’re here. And while there are bottom-line reasons we’re glad libraries stay in business, mostly, we just can’t imagine life without them.
So, if you’re a librarian, here’s a heartfelt thanks for all you do! Keep supporting books, readers, and authors. And if you’re a reader, don’t forget to request your favorite authors from your local library (even if you already own the books) so others can enjoy them.