Does consulting library books harm authors and independent bookstores?

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I like reading books. I love shopping at the little local bookstores with worn wooden floors and bespectacled vendors. I believe in buying a book to support an author I love. But I also check a lot of books in the library. Which got me and many others wondering: aren’t we supporting authors when we use the library?

“No, you absolutely support authors when you check out books from the library,” said Elena Gutierrez, collection services manager at the Seattle Public Library. “Libraries buy millions of books every year. In 2021, the Seattle Public Library spent $6.4 million on books.

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Jen Worick is an editor at Sasquatch Books in Seattle and New York Times bestselling author of 25 books.

“I’ve never heard of an author who would be unhappy to have their books in a library,” Worick said. “When I was writing books, I was always happy to tell people, ‘hey, if you can’t buy my book, go ask for it at the library.’ Long waiting lists for a book tell the library to order more books, but also tell readers who may not want to wait that long to go out and buy the book.

I was curious if libraries pay more than retail for books because they are read by so many people.

“No, there are no different library fees for physical books,” Gutierrez said. “Libraries and bookstores pay the same amount for books. We get a discount from our book sellers, but eBooks are a whole different story. Publishers allege that library sales are hurting their bottom line. This is how they justify charging libraries two to three times the retail price of a digital copy of a book. I would be curious to know if [the author] gets three times the royalties or does the publisher take all the rest of that profit? »

In recent years, many major publishers have imposed various restrictions on libraries purchasing e-books. A library may only have access to an e-book for a year or two, or be allowed a certain number of downloads.

“And then I have to buy it again,” Gutierrez said. “It’s very expensive, it really hurts the whole reading community, I think.”

I’ve contacted a few of the major publishers for comment, but haven’t heard back yet.

“The federal government is considering a monopoly,” Gutierrez said. “Before, there was Penguin and Random House. Now it’s Penguin Random House and they’re considering acquiring Simon & Schuster. All the imprints of all the books you see in bookstores and in the library really come down to five major publishers. So it’s a power imbalance and those in power don’t feel they need partnerships.

Some publishers claim that libraries are eating into their profits, since so many people are now downloading e-books for free. But there is no concrete evidence that a person would buy a book if they did not borrow it from a library.

“I just hope that more studies will be done,” Gutierrez said. “Studies have shown that libraries help sell books. We have hundreds of author events every year at the Seattle Public Library and people come to buy books. So we really work together to promote the authors. We searched for studies prior to this interview, and we have nothing current that shows that in numbers, we, i.e. libraries, are actually contributing positively to the bottom line for authors and publishers in order to convince the publishing industry that charging three times the amount of a copy of an e-book is not the right solution.

Sasquatch was acquired by Penguin Random House in 2017, but Worick, who credits libraries with his lifelong love of reading and writing, says they’re excited to work with libraries.

“I like to think of libraries as part of the book ecosystem,” Worick said. “We’re in the book publishing business, yes, but we’re also in the business of creating lifelong readers.”

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