How Libraries Are Bypassing Big Publishers To Build Their E-Book Offerings

Romance is hot: It generated $1.36 billion in book sales in 2009, making up 13.2 percent of the consumer book market–the largest share of any genre. It is also the fastest-growing segment of the e-book market, comprising over 20 percent of all e-book purchases.
Several publishers have even launched “digital-first” romance imprints, which publish only e-book originals. Harlequin, the largest romance publisher in the world, started Carina Press in 2009, while HarperCollins announced “Avon Impulse” in March 2011.
But at libraries, romance ebooks are underrepresented relative to size of their popularity among readers–that is in part because the major publishers are still figuring out their e-book lending strategies.
A new partnership aims to help libraries build their romance e-book collections by giving greater exposure to more titles from smaller, ebook-only publishers. Starting today, Library Journal, which has long helped librarians decide which books to purchase, will begin reviewing romance e-book originals. The advance review copies will come through NetGalley, which provides digital galleys to “professional readers” (critics, bloggers, booksellers, librarians and teachers).
The expansion of e-book offerings is the most complicated issue libraries are dealing with now, says Heather McCormack, Book Review Editor of the 135-year-old Library Journal. Some 72 percent of libraries now offer e-books, but licensing them from publishers can be difficult. In general, publishers work with e-book vendor OverDrive to broker contracts with libraries; the end result tends to be that libraries have limited access to publishers’ e-books, and restrictions on lending (an ebook can’t be checked out simultaneously to more than one person, for instance). Currently, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS) do not make any of their ebook titles available to libraries. HarperCollins has generated controversy by allowing its e-books to be checked out only 26 times before they expire, forcing libraries to buy them again.
As a result of these restrictions by big publishers, McCormack says librarians are turning to smaller presses, which are generally less restrictive about offering access to their ebooks. Library Journal‘s arrangement with NetGalley will introduce librarians to new titles from many of these smaller e-book-only romance publishers. Angela James, Executive Editor of Harlequin’s Carina Press, estimates that over half of digital-first content is in the romance genre.
James predicts that romance e-book originals will be a hit for libraries. “Romance readers are such voracious readers and they can’t afford to buy all that content,” she says. They also tend to be very loyal to specific authors, so checking out e-books in libraries gives them a chance to try out authors they’re unfamiliar with, she says.
Although Library Journal is only accepting romance e-originals now, it plans to expand to other genres. “All signs are pointing to sci-fi and mystery,” says McCormack–two other genres that are fast-growing segments of the e-book market. She says that shorter nonfiction works, such as those offered by Byliner and through the Kindle Singles program, are a prime target for libraries as well.