Digital Libraries, Subscription Services and Post-it Notes

GoGlobalIn2014_500You may think Post-it Notes – those delightful little yellow squares of paper that stick just where you need them but never where you don’t – have little to do with ebooks. But the ebook world is always stranger than you think.


We’ve mentioned in previous posts that the wholesaler OverDrive saw over one hundred million digital downloads in 2013, and that five million of those came from just five libraries in the US, and another million from a single library in Canada.

Indie authors largely dismiss libraries as irrelevant to their private little world, where readers are expected to pay cash up-front to a big retailer like Amazon that’s easy for the author to upload to, or go to hell.

But libraries have been at the forefront of literacy and book discovery pretty much since books were invented. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the Sahara Desert in West Africa one library in Timbuktu (yes, it’s a real place!) had more books than the prestigious university libraries of Renaissance and Enlightenment England.

In the twenty-first century, in England and America and pretty much everywhere else, libraries, far from becoming redundant as books go digital, are experiencing a whole new lease of life providing digital content to a public with an insatiable appetite for more.

Not just by making books available from established authors and publishers, but by publishing their own books and ebooks, and helping local authors do the same.

One library in Tennessee is leading the way, having partnered with IngramSpark to set up its own library self-publishing platform – both print and digital. The primary aim is to make the new books they create available in the library, with all the revenue coming back to the library. But of course they will also be putting these new titles out for sale on retail platforms, and for borrowing through other libraries.

Early days, but this is one more example of market fragmentation shifting reader focus away from the handful of mega-retailers that most indies are almost exclusively focussed on.

Too many indie authors have their heads in the sand about the way things are developing out there. Wake up and smell the coffee! Subscription ebook reading and library ebook reading are the new black.

Why pay Amazon, or B&N, or Kobo, or Sony for every single ebook you read when you can pay a token fee at the library or a monthly subscription and read as much as you like, with exactly the same ease and convenience as from an online retailer?

That may not be your thinking, but as the OverDrive numbers show – one hundred million digital downloads last year – it is the thinking of a growing number of people. We can expect the OverDrive numbers to at least double this year. More likely they will grow multi-fold.

Here’s the thing. You don’t own the ebook from Amazon or Sony or Google Play, any more than you owned a print book borrowed from the local library. Not convinced? Read the small print in the Kindle user agreement, for example.

Upon your download of Digital Content… the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application… and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Unless otherwise specified, Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

An Amazon ebook (or from any other big retailer – their T&Cs are almost identical) is licensed to you. It will never be yours, to lend, sell or otherwise recycle. It’s just an expensive way of borrowing ebooks long term.

The reasons most people progress from libraries to buying print books from bookstores are a) ownership and b) convenience. Digital libraries and ebook subscription services level the playing field.

As more and more readers come to this realization so more and more readers will gravitate to digital library and subscription services.

Don’t let these exciting opportunities to reach readers pass you by! These outlets are not going to cannibalize your beloved Amazon sales. They are going to compliment them.

In the USA it’s Oyster, Scribd and Entitle that are leading the way with ebook subscription services. Yay! Go, Go, USA!

Though actually ebook subscriptions have been around in Europe for several years.

Denmark does them. Germany does them. Even Russia does them. Spain’s 24 Symbols has been going for several years and – you’ll like this – it has an English-language portal and offers English language ebooks!

Like we said at the top, the ebook world is always stranger than you think.

OverDrive and Ingram got a brief mention above. Just two of the big wholesalers that supply ebooks to libraries (and retailers) around the world. There are others.

If you are with Smashwords then you may be getting into some libraries through Baker & Taylor. If you are not with Smashwords, which also gets you into the Oyster and Scribd subscription services, then you really need to take a second look at your distribution pattern. Smashwords is far from perfect, but the above outlets, along with Flipkart, India’s biggest online store, are places you could be gaining new readers for your titles, and Smashwords is an easy route in..

The number of digital libraries is going to expand rapidly over the next few years, at home and abroad, soaking up readers who might otherwise have gone to the big retailers we all know and love. Those OverDrive numbers will go from hundreds of millions to off-the-scale in the coming years.  Will any of them be your ebooks?

It’s not 2009 anymore. You need to be in the wholesaler catalogues and as many distribution channels as possible, if you want to stay ahead of the game. And that means not just the obvious places.

We began this post with a mention of Post-it notes. Post-it notes are made a company you’ve possibly seen the logo for but have never given a second thought to. Take a look at the bottom right hand corner of the Post-it logo above.


Never heard of them? Don’t worry. They’ve never heard of you.

But here’s the thing. 3M don’t just make Post it notes. They are a global production and services operation that have a surprisingly diverse portfolio. Among the many strings to their bow 3M one of the leading suppliers of ebooks to libraries in the US through the 3M Cloud Library eBook Lending System.

If your local library uses the 3M Cloud you can download ebooks from the library direct to your Nook, Kobo, iPad or iPhone, or your Android device. But as their site says, “The 3M Cloud Library is not currently supported by Amazon.” Draw your own conclusions…

This week 3M took their first tentative step abroad with a foray across the border into Canada. Given 3M’s impressive global reach across a diverse range of products we can safely assume 3M has further international expansion in the pipeline.

The ebook world is changing by the day, getting bigger, better, faster. It doesn’t care for geographical boundaries, myopic indie authors unwilling to step outside their comfort zone, or how many of your ebook sales currently come from Retailer A or Retailer B that make you dismiss the rest as irrelevant.

The ebook market is driven by readers, not writers. It’s something a lot of indies seem to have trouble grasping. So let’s spell it out.

We authors only supply the content.

Readers supply the demand.

If your titles are not in the outlets where the readers are getting their ebooks from around the world – be it Uncle Joe’s 24/7 Mini Ebook Store & Car Wash, the latest ebook subscription service, or the digital library at the end of their digital road – they will just read another author’s books instead. It’s your loss, not theirs.

it’s not rocket science. Being available is half the battle.

Go Global In 2014.

Or be left behind.

Ebook Bargains UK

Far More than just an ebook promo newsletter.

Far more than just the UK.


7 responses to “Digital Libraries, Subscription Services and Post-it Notes

  1. How does an Indie writer get on OverDrive? Do you have to be a publisher?

  2. The aggregator Ebook Partnership can get you in to OverDrive, Ingram and Garders, as well as Google Play and numerous other key retailers .

    Smashwords have a pending agreement with OverDrive (and also ‘txtr), but no further details have seeped out yet.

    Smashwords is great for free uploads, but they will take a percentage of each sale. Ebook Partnership charge an upfront fee (just $40 per title per year for five or more titles) but then pay 100% of net royalties . Given the reach Ebook Partnership will give you it should be easy to recoup the $40 per title fee and be up on the game. If you have a good seller on Smashwords their percentage will soon mount up.

    An in depth report on aggregators soon.

    • Thanks for the response. I’ll try EBook. $40 isn’t much compared to the money you can spend advertising on various sights.

  3. It’s not that we’re ignoring libraries…it’s just really hard to get into them. Just because an aggregator says it has an arrangement with B&T or Overdrive doesn’t mean your books actually get into B&T or Overdrive — they are, they say, “selective” about which books they list, which seems to boil down to not taking indie books. And when asked, the aggregators (such as Ingram, my p-book distributor) say “we can’t make them take your book” and wash their hands of it.

    Without being in B&T, a great many large U.S. library systems won’t bother with you. I’ve managed to get my print edition into a few libraries, but it was a hand-selling job and you need at least one or two “real” reviews (i.e., in trade publications) before they’ll even listen to you.

    @Anne: in theory, you can get into Overdrive as an indie publisher. You can fill out their form and submit it. But look at the questions they ask; unless you have a large and ever-growing catalog and a marketing plan with some money behind it, you won’t make the cut. (In other words, if you’re not a “real” publisher, go away.)

    I’m not sure I’m willing to pay an up-front fee to an aggregator unless it can guarantee that my book will make it into one or more of the library wholesalers’ catalogs. I can be ignored by B&T for free.

    It would be useful to hear from an indie writer (not Hugh Howey) who actually made it into B&T or Overdrive and then actually showed up in a library’s catalog, just to know that lightning struck at least once.

    • @Lance Thanks for the comments. I gathered Overdrive wasn’t really geared towards Indie Authors, but maybe in the future, as the publishing front continues to move and change, they’ll become more friendly.

  4. BTW, from 24symbols FAQ:

    Are self-published books accepted?

    Currently no. We try to guarantee a catalog of the highest quality, and to achieve it means that it is necessary that someone has the role of selection/filtering (the publisher that uploads the book, or the author directly whenever it certifies that the title was published in the past though
    she keeps the digital rights.)

    In any case, we are assessing the possibility of having an exclusive section for self-published works.

    At least they address the problem. 3M doesn’t even have information for authors or publishers. I guess they’ve got their content supply already sussed out.

  5. Pingback: Bookbaby Looks East – Why Indie Authors Should Too. | Ebook Bargains UK Blog

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