A Publisher’s View

To strengthen the library-publisher relationship, we must begin with dialogue

May 29, 2012


Librarians and publishers are not effectively communicating with each other. There, I said it. Many of us already know this to be true, but as someone who comes from the publishing side, I came to this realization during my yearlong process of selling ebooks across the country and through my many conversations with library directors, state librarians, and heads of consortia.

This disconnect didn’t really crystallize in my mind until I went to a session at ALA’s 2012 Public Library Association (PLA) national conference. While there, panelist Alan Inouye, director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, stressed the need for librarians to improve their communications skills, increase their investment in relationships, and—most importantly—upgrade their negotiating skills. And that’s when the light bulb went off: It’s not that we don’t want to talk with one another. It’s just that we don’t know how.

Working together

Also at the PLA conference was Rolf Hapel, director of Aarhus (Denmark) Public Libraries, who spoke about the community-based decisions made while the new Aarhus library was being built. What stood out most during his talk was his challenging message to “think relational rather than transactional.” In other words, libraries must create partnerships within their community.

As publishers, we can offer a bevy of features to a library once we develop a relationship with its staff. For instance, we can identify a specific author or genre that is special to your library. What’s more, we may even know an author who lives down the street from your building and help organize an author signing/reading or a writer’s workshop, with little or no effort on your part.

The company where I work, Dzanc Books, has donated books to libraries in Wisconsin and New Jersey based on area bookstore promotions. We can also offer significant bulk discounts of up to 30%.

Many of our authors enjoy connecting with their readers. David Galef, for example, gave a reading at the Montclair (N.J.) Public Library May 9. Jonathan Baumbach did the same at several Massachusetts libraries in late 2011. Eugene Cross read his recently published collection of short stories May 4 at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

Fair play

A new element—ebooks—has been a recent disruption to the relationship between publishers and librarians. But the ability for us to rebound lies in the new paradigm that ebooks present and the resiliency of our original mission: Dzanc Books and other publishers bring authors to readers to encourage people to read, and libraries serve communities by advancing literacy.

What this all means is libraries help publishers sell books by bringing authors and readers together. We have research that suggests this is true. In Library Journal’s “Library Patrons and Ebook Usage” survey from October 2011, 50% of all respondents said they go on to purchase books by an author whose works were previously borrowed from the library. In 2011, Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries (DCL) instituted a “buy now” link in case a patron wants to purchase an ebook he or she was reading or interested in reading. Monique Sendze, associate director of information technology at DCL, said the fact that 10,000 people clicked the “buy now” link indicates libraries are helping complement the business of publishers.

At the Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in New York this past February, keynote speaker Brian O’Leary, founder of Magellan Media, a management consulting firm, said, “New technologies don’t just lower transaction costs; they eliminate transactions entirely.” Information passed back and forth between us is invaluable to our business practices today.

Sure, if you buy from Dzanc Books, we’re happy. If you don’t, or can’t, having met you and getting to know your libraries’ needs is as valuable to us as if you purchased our entire catalog. The knowledge you and I gain from efficient communication further sustains the library-publisher ecosystem and narrows the gap between us.

Let’s face it, we need each other. I have direct access on a daily basis to authors. You are a direct channel to readers. Let’s go back to the nuts and bolts of negotiation by opening lines of communication to give us information that enables fair play.

If we talk, there is no limit to what we, as partners, can do as we continue to bring authors and readers together.

LISA LONG HICKMAN is sales and marketing manager at Dzanc Books.



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