I was over at my neighborhood library yesterday. I had to do some planning for a conference talk and the library can be a good place to get away. And because there were books there, I spent some time browsing, particularly the new books section. I did not borrow any books on this trip, but I got some ideas. And a few of these might end up as book purchases. I also found a free publication with lots of book reviews called BookPage. Among other things, it had reviews of David McCullough’s new book on the Wright Brothers, and a review of H.W. Brands biography of Ronald Reagan–and a back page ad from Penguin Random House.
In short, that is why publishers need libraries, as a recent Publisher’s Weekly article observed. Fewer and fewer people are finding books at a bookstore. In the last five years, the numbers have dropped from just under a third to a mere 17 percent. Furthermore, the best-seller lists, another source of purchasing ideas are dominated by a relatively small number of authors. Think about how many times you see David Baldacci or Bill O’Reilly on one of these lists. It is hard for lesser known works to get much notice unless someone like Oprah or Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates talks about them. In light of all this, libraries may be among the best book show rooms around. While online retailers like Amazon have just about anything on their website, it doesn’t all fit on your computer screen and you may not find a new author unless you are already looking for that author or a book title.
One of the most interesting ideas in the article was that libraries don’t cannibalize book sales. For one thing, they buy books! In addition one third of the people who borrow a book in a given month also buy one. Libraries are also a great way to try out a new author you are not sure you like. Sixty percent of frequent library users buy a book by an author they first read at the library.
Librarians know books and work hard to help their patrons know books. Most libraries these days publicize staff picks and staff book reviews as in the screen shot from the website for our local library. Good booksellers often do the same thing. And it occurs to me that sometimes a recommended book ends up wait-listed. That can turn into a book purchase if it is something the individual wants right away.
The article proposes that publishers work more closely with libraries, particularly in highlighting the work of new authors. Libraries could fall victim to the same forces that are pressing the publishers themselves. Free e-books and the growth in the number of titles are making it harder for libraries to bring in patrons and curate new authors. It is easy to just promote the best-sellers. Yet some of the most dedicated readers use libraries and are looking for new authors to read; and teamwork between libraries and publishers could be a win for both.
Reader question: have you purchased books because you learned about a book, or an author at your library?