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The biggest threat to publishing isn’t Amazon; it’s Angry Birds (why...

My nephew plays for an elite high school basketball club. I know it is elite because it is one of a few high school teams in the state that is sponsored by Nike. Yes, sponsored. Kids in our state from the ages of about 14 and through 18 can play on teams that travel around the country and play in tournaments. Their entire ticket is funded by Nike. Nike pays the traveling costs, per diem, and tournament fees and provides the uniforms (two sets), warm up jerseys, socks, shoes, and travel bag. All the gear is emblazoned with the distinctive swoosh.

Nike-Dri-FIT-Elite-Basketball-Crew-Socks-(Large-1-Pair)-SX3693_007_CA couple of years ago, I noticed that all the kids on the court, even the ones that aren’t sponsored by Nike, were wearing these Nike socks, made distinctive by the vertical patterning on the back. (These are strange looking socks, you guys. They are calf socks that go up just under the calf.) I asked about them and was told by several that these socks are the best socks ever made. Mothers told me, grumbling, that they were the most expensive socks ever made. $14 a pair but for their sports obsessed sons, these were the only socks to purchase.

Many of the kids that Nike sponsors will never go on to play a professional sport. They will, undoubtedly, buy Nike for many years beyond their high school experience. Nike is investing, not only in youth talent, but in hooking kids at a young age on the Nike brand. Moreover, these kids with their elevated social standing are spreading the Nike brand loyalty to others. Nike is spending some amount of money on its future with these kids.

When you get a group of readers in a room, nearly every one of them will recount how their reading either started at a library or was fostered by a library. One of the slides from Bowker that I saw at BEA was that for individuals who have adopted a tablet, the number one thing that activities on the tablet have replaced is reading. Tablet adoption is on the rise and by 2015, tablet sales will exceed the number of PCs currently sold. Why is this troublesome for the book market? Because the biggest threat to publishing isn’t Amazon. It’s Angry Birds.

Publishing, whether it is traditional publishers, self publishers, digital first publishers, needs to invest in early reading for two reasons. First, early readers become paying adult readers. Second, early readers become adept adult writers. Both readers and writers are needed for a healthy publishing ecosystem and investment in fostering the love of reading and writing is vital.   There is no better place to do this than by investing in libraries.

By not allowing digital lending in libraries, when many readers are moving toward digital, when reading is already imperiled by the mobile computing world, publishers are failing to invest in the future of publishing.   Currently, publishers are focused on the concept that the current system of digital lending is not a business model that works.  According to Sarah Glassmeyer, a librarian, if each patron bought one more ebook than they ordinarily would, the market loss of libraries would be covered.

SUMMARY: U.S. Libraries circulate about 2 billion items per year. This means each person that has a library card averages about 13 checkouts a year. Given that the average price of a book is about $20 (low estimate), that means the value of materials circulated by libraries is 45 Billion dollars or $270 to each borrower.

If each borrower changed one checkout to purchase – $3,750,063,240
If each borrower bought one eBook at $6.00 – Publishers would get $1,001,352,000.

Publishers are concerned that with digital lending will erode sales and decrease the value of books.  Publishers point to the near frictionless availability of books at no costs to patrons (and by friction I believe that they mean that it can be done from home and does not require the effort of going to the library during set hours and not by the number of steps it takes to download a digital file), the limitless life of a digital file, and the zero cost of borrowing as negative points to the digital lending business model.

These points (among others that haven’t been publicly stated and I assume exist) aren’t ameliorated by data that borrowing leads to lending.  Bowker’s early data indicates that library patrons buy books that they discover at the library:

Nearly a fifth of all patrons use the library to discover near content, a quarter purchased a book they discovered at a library and a quarter bought a book by an author they had discovered through the library.

The results among library “power patrons,” those who visit the library most often, about 21% of the whole, were even better. More than a third of power patrons use the library to discover new content, nearly 40% purchased a book they discovered and nearly two thirds bought a book by an author discovered through the library.

For every two books they borrow, power patrons buy one. And, maybe most surprising, nearly two thirds of power patrons buy books that they had previously borrowed at the library.

This data is supported by data released by Amazon:

  • In the case of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, 24% of customers who borrowed “The Hunger Games” bought “Catching Fire” and 24% bought “Mockingjay,” despite the entire series being available to borrow for free in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.
  • Debora Geary was one of the top 10 KDP Select authors in February, and 51% of customers who borrowed one of her books from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library went on to buy one of her titles.
  • L.J. Sellers, author of the Detective Jackson Mystery/Thriller series, saw that 25% of customers who borrowed one of her books also bought one of her books, all of which are also available in the lending library.
  • Since the launch of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in November 2011, the paid retail sales of backlist trade titles in the library have seen 229% higher growth than corresponding titles that are not enrolled.

Granted, this data is very new so it is hard to draw firm conclusions but all pointers seem to indicate lending increases sales rather than diminishing them.  But even beyond the existing power patron or Kindle owner is the very roots of reading.  In order to defeat Angry Bird addictions, publishers must invest in the early reader and the early writer, in the nascent point of the publishing ecosystem.  With digital library lending, publishers must follow the Nike directive.  Just Do It. NikeSwooshRed_tiny

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Elaine
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 06:21:09

    Bejeweled, not Angry Birds.

    From my iPad.

  2. Keishon
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 07:33:34

    Publishers are only looking at their bottom line and no they’re not the only company doing this. I remember when I was browsing at a bookstore, a customer approached me and told me that she loved Lisa Kleypas historical romance, Then Came You, that she had borrowed from the library but she just had to have her own brand new copy. That’s true for me too. So yeah, lending does sometimes lead to spending. That’s been true for a long time.

  3. ms bookjunkie
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 08:03:44

    Word. From your blog to publishers’ eyes!

    I was nine and had no income (ha!) when I decided that I wanted to own a series that I’d borrowed from the library. I loved that series and did not want to be without it. So I convinced my parents that instead of Saturday candy, I needed an allowance. And I scrimped and saved for two or three years, doing with less candy and adding in some birthday money etc., and then I finally made my move. It was a huge tragedy to find out that my money was only enough for a little over half of the series, what with postage and all. So I kept on scrimping and saving and finally, a year or two later, I had the whole series. I was triumphant! I’d done it, I owned the books and they were mine to read and reread forever! Woot!

    I still have that series and while my adult eyes love them somewhat less, the only way I will ever give up those books is as a gift to someone who will treasure them as much as I have.

    And that is just the first series I discovered at the library and had to have for my own. (The first and hardest to come by.) But this covetousness started at AGE NINE!!!

  4. LG
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 08:48:41

    It seems like publishers assume that library is legalized piracy – as in, it’s just as easy to download a library e-book as it is to download a pirated e-book, and people are downloading library e-books for the same reason as people are downloading pirated e-books. I have to assume that no one who makes publishing industry decisions has ever actually checked out a library e-book, or they’d have first-hand experience of how “frictionless” the experience is NOT.

    Even at my own library, where we have opted to minimize user questions about e-books by severely limiting our e-book usability, we still have people wondering why they’re having this or that trouble with our e-books. Most of our e-books are only viewable through a browser. I tried one on an iPad last week, and the experience is painful – if you zoom in enough to actually read the text, you can’t see the page turn buttons, and page turning can’t be done by swiping the pages. Right now, the most confusion our users deal with is the concept of an e-book “copy.” They want to know why, when they just looked at the e-book on a computer upstairs, they can’t look at it on a computer downstairs (“Sorry, we seem to only have one copy of that e-book, and by looking at it upstairs you locked it from being used by anyone else, even yourself, for 15 minutes.”).

    If we turned on e-book lending, we’d still deal with questions about the concept of an e-book copy, but we’d add questions about Adobe Digital Editions and general “how can I view this on my [device some of our staff have never even used]?”.

    My mom’s library just started using a service that gives them, from a patron’s perspective, unlimited copies of every e-book in the collection, but checkout is done using credits. Patrons only earn a certain number of credits per week (enough to check out maybe 2-5 books). And it’s still necessary to know how to use Adobe Digital Editions.

    What publishers don’t seem to get is that there are and have always been roadblocks between patrons and library books. That’s what inspires people to buy things, even after they’ve used them for free at the library. No one wants to have to be limited by checkout periods, holds lists, credits, etc. when they discover they love an author enough to want to reread that person’s books over and over. That’s why I started buying J.D. Robb when I was in high school, even though my funds were limited. I now have the money to buy most anything I decide I want to read, but it wasn’t always that way.

  5. carmen webster buxton
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 08:54:15

    Yes, yes, YES! May every publisher in America and Europe read this and take it to heart!

  6. Dabney
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 09:12:29

    My mom is a librarian and she agrees with you. I think many libraries are unable to see the future in many ways and that’s to their detriment.

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  8. Patricia
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 10:26:10

    Coincidentally, as I am reading this essay my husband is trying to set up the necessary software to check out ebooks from our public library. He is a computer professional, very tech savvy. It is not going well.

    He had to sign in to the library’s Overdrive service using his library account. Then he had to sign in to the Apple app store to download the Overdrive software. Then he had to give an Adobe ID in order to actually read any books. Since he did not have an Adobe ID he had to create an Adobe account, which Adobe rejected saying his (our) last name contains invalid characters, presumably because there is a hyphen. He worked around this by misspelling his last name to get around Adobe’s arbitrary restrictions. He then returned to the Overdrive app to sign in to Adobe and was finally ready to download a title. However, he had to scroll to the fifth page of science fiction titles before he found one that was available for immediate check-out. Twenty minutes later he finally has one book on loan from the library.

    This is not “frictionless.”

    At one point in the process I joked to him that maybe he should give up and play Angry Birds. He mock-agreed, saying, “Angry Birds is easy. And it only costs me buck!” Checking out his ebook definitely took more than a dollar’s worth of effort.

  9. PD Singer
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 10:32:48

    I do this all the time! If it turns out I need a book long term, usually for research on a story, I’ll buy rather than renew a library book eight times, and I’ll buy series or backlists if I liked the first one I checked out. I’ve probably made 50 purchases that way in the last two years.

  10. Leslie
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 10:33:04

    I am very fortunate in my local libraries. New titles are always ordered even popular paperbacks. So many times after reading a book suggestion here at DA I go to the library catalog and usually it will be listed. Every book I’ve bought in the last year I borrowed first from my local. I think readers can also influence librarians. Santa Monica has a large Brit ex-pat community, so the SMPL catalog has many UK authors that even the bookstores don’t stock.
    Communities who support their local library then get more materials and better service. Plus they are fostering new readers(new book buyers). I think the publishers might get on the bandwagon if readers and librarians shouted louder.
    Jane, you could apply for a big fat grant to study this subject. Ha!

  11. SAO
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 11:25:22

    I think some of this has already happened. My hometown used to have several bookstores. I was buying books with my allowance in Junior High. The big box bookstores and Amazon killed that, now my town has no bookstore. B&N requires a car to get to. Amazon requires a credit card. Kids can’t drop in and buy a book on their way home from school any more. There are no longer bookstores in the mall, so there are far fewer places where kids can pester their parents for books.

  12. Janine
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 12:21:05

    Great piece, Jane. I’ve definitely purchased books I’ve borrowed from the library, as well as new books by authors I first tried through the library. It seems so short sighted to stop support libraries.

    @Leslie: Yeah, the Los Angeles area library systems are a boon to readers! For reading for fun, both paper and digital, I use the COLAPL (County of Los Angeles Public Library) system most often, while for research I use the LAPL (Los Angels Public Library System) more. SMPL (Santa Monica Public Library) is quite good for both, but I mostly use it for its online databases, including the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Historical Thesaurus, and for digital lending, because it’s further from my home than the local branches of the other two.

    I recently heard from a librarian friend that the Palos Verdes Library District allows any California resident to join. I’m considering it and wondering, is membership in four separate library systems too much?

  13. Darlynne
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 12:26:26

    [I]f each patron bought one more ebook than they ordinarily would, the market loss of libraries would be covered.

    I’m in ur bookstore, saving ur life.

    It seems to me that DA’s 100,000 regular readers are doing their share to cover that market loss. On a daily/hourly basis, we’re buying WAY more books than we would ordinarily. And still publishers don’t see it or understand.

    Instead of 1-click buy buttons, I think an “I’m buying this because my library let me read it first” button would send a much clearer and truer message.

  14. Wahoo Suze
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 12:41:42

    I discovered my favourite authors at the library when I was a ‘tween. They had almost all of Heyer’s regencies (and some of her mysteries and medeivals as well). I still bought them when they were re-printed because a) the library books were hardcover and not very comfy to read/carry around and b) they got tattered over the years and were taken out of circulation. There were actually a few years where some Heyer books were not available to me at all. It was not to be borne!

    Is it possible that the publishers don’t understand that many of us power readers are RE-readers? That we go back to the same books over and over again? Can it be that the people who work in publishing are not, themselves, power readers?

    Also, Nike makes EXCELLENT socks. The first ones I’ve ever tried that stay on my feet without slipping and bunching and driving me crazy.

  15. rebyj
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 12:52:34

    I gave my daughter my nook color because I had so much trouble with it and guess what she uses it for? Angry Birds and other game apps. It freezes any time you try to read a book and customer service at BN just kept telling us to de-register and re-register. So it’s a game tablet now.

    Libraries do lead to sales, I can think of a few books that I checked out at the library that I liked so much that I not only bought myself a copy, I bought someone else a copy and then I bought every book those authors published as well. Several cookbooks too that I checked out, liked and bought my own copy. Not to mention the children’s books that they HAD to have their own copy of. Lots of purchases that were made due to library patronage.

  16. Ava
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 14:11:10

    I ‘discovered’ romance at my local library. Had read all the Star Trek series books (all of them, even the DS9 series), and wandered into the romance section in search of something new to read. Picked up Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, and that was it. I was HOOKED on historical romance. Bought her backlist, bought all new releases as they came out. Tried new authors at the library then bought all my favorites and their backlists so I’d have my own copies to re-read. Spent an ungodly amount of money on books for a few years then decided to try to write my own stories. If not for the availability of books at my local library, I doubt I’d be an author today.

    So it makes me sad to think that some publishers have so many excuses when it comes to ebook lending. And yes, I see them as excuses – NY pubs are big companies with lots of smart people working for them. If they wanted to embrace ebook lending, they could figure out how to do it, minimize potential risks and maximize potential follow-up sales. Instead, most seem to be throwing up excuses designed to push ebook readers to print books. Yet not all readers are print readers anymore.

  17. library addict
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 14:11:44

    I can’t count the number of authors I discovered through the library whom I then went out and bought their backlist and frontlist titles. The library makes it easy to try new-to-me authors I may not want to spend $7.99 or $24.99 on to try for the first time.

    Even since I have gone digital for new authors, I have purchased many books I first borrowed digitally from the library. Even though we don’t technically own ebooks, I still wanted my own copies. So in my experience libraries = sales.

  18. Lynnd
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 14:32:32

    Well said.

    The library is a publisher’s best marketing department. They should be making library lending of books in every format that readers want as easy as possible. Word of mouth is the best advertisement any product, including books have. If it is easier and less expensive to get some other form of entertainment, people who are not regular readers (and even those who are) are just going to migrate to other forms of entertainment. To bad publishers are too busy circling the wagons against Amazon and are failing to notice the real threat to reading. They all seem to forget that a few years ago, Steve Jobs was of the view that “people don’t read anymore”. Maybe publishers should actually look at what Apple is doing and ask themselves whether Apple is indeed their saviour.

  19. Maili
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 16:25:48

    I firmly agree with this post. The mobile library in my home area was indeed responsible for sowing the seeds of my book buying sprees. I remember feeling outraged when I learnt that my favourite book – which I borrowed every other month – was borrowed by someone else and that I can’t get my mitts on it for at least a fortnight.

    So I talked my parents into driving me to the nearest bookshop and placed an order for the book, just so that it’d not be “withheld” from me ever again. The bookshop owner said he had other books by the same author in stock, which shocked and thrilled me. (The author is S.E. Hinton, by the way.) My wonderful parents bought the lot on spot.

    So yes, libraries were my usual route to the world of book buying when I was younger.

  20. Leslie
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 16:29:04

    @Janine: You can never have to many library cards. I still use the Seattle Public Library Online services. SPL is a really great library. I also have a card with Redondo Beach Public Library. Thanks for the PV tip, I will check it out.
    It always amazes me how one system will have 40 holds on an e-book and another 1 or 2. I spend more recreational web time on library sites than anything else.

  21. Leslie
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 16:33:25

    @rebyj: Me too. I love cookbooks.

  22. Emily
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 17:13:40

    I get your point. Not sure if I agree with it, but I get your point.
    I wish you would elaborate on the threat to publishing by Angry Birds. I get the connection viscerally, but would have trouble explaining it to anyone.
    I don’t particularly buy books available in the library. I sometimes will buy other books by the same author, but not too much of that. I agree that lifetime readership is key to publishing, but doesn’t it all come down to the parents? My parents, not my library, are why I became lifetime reader. Both of them read to me just because it was fun to read out loud. We also read many of the same books and discuss them a little. My access to the library and to book stores was dependent on my parents. I could not get to the library on my own, because it was across town. I think if parents valued reading the way they valued sports($14 for a pair of socks!), then this would not be as much of a problem.

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  24. Keishon
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 20:02:07

    Instead of 1-click buy buttons, I think an “I’m buying this because my library let me read it first” button would send a much clearer and truer message.

    I like that. There are so many times I wish I would have read it from the library first, too.

  25. willaful
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 21:20:27

    @Janine: I have cards for 6 libraries and plans for a 7th. And if I could get a Los Angeles card, I would do it in a New York minute. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up a book on OverDrive and found it at one library — Los Angeles.

    I’m another one of those people who’s more likely to buy a book I’ve already read.

  26. Nonny
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 02:13:07

    I also use my local library to find new books and authors. I don’t have a whole lot of extra money for books; I can usually afford one to three per paycheck but new books by favorite authors are coming out all the time so I don’t usually buy from an unknown author. My local library has a lot of new books in stock, particularly for YA.

    I’ve lost count of how many authors have become “must-buy” because of library loans. I have bought a couple in e-format while still having the one from the library because I wanted to finish the book in bed while my husband was asleep and couldn’t find the book light. I’ve bought some because I just plain loved them that much, and some because my husband wanted to read them too after I had squeed about them but his arthritis is bad enough he can’t hold a paperback book anymore.

  27. Janine
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 10:50:36

    @Leslie: Thanks! I’m going to look into the Redondo Beach library.

    ETA: I just looked into the Beverly Hills library system too for the heck of it. It’s free to residents of Los Angeles and Orange counties. I wonder how big my library card collection could get?

    @willaful: Thanks! When I lived in upstate NY, I only had two library cards. One for the local library, and one for my alma mater’s library. And before that, I only ever had one card at a time. I’m not used to the concept that I can have so many. It’s definitely an embarrassment of riches here in LA, with the incorporated towns having their own library systems and the city and county both having their own too.

  28. P. Kirby
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 12:49:05

    I got my husband a Kindle Fire for Xmas. Since then, he’s read a grand total of three books on it, one of them mine. He bought one book–$10–then after that bit of sticker shock, checked out an ebook from the library. He’s a slow reader, so after two weeks it disappeared and he had to check it out again. Overall, I think he’s found the ebook lending interface a little annoying, especially since books listed aren’t necessarily available: it isn’t till he clicks on them that this is revealed.

    All in all, the majority of time on his Kindle is spent playing Angry Birds, and similar games, and Sudoku. He also uses it a lot to surf the web.

    I have a Kindle Touch, but the majority of my reading is still from the library–print. I just can’t afford to buy books very often, unless I utterly fall for a book and it becomes a keeper. The titles on my Kindle were freebies or priced at less than $3.99.

    I was primarily using the Albuquerque library system, but recently discovered that my village’s teeny little library is quite modern and well-stocked. So I have two library cards now. The trick is to not return a book to the wrong library. :)

  29. Lazaraspaste
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 14:30:25

    @Darlynne: That’s kind of a genius idea! I think, along with reviews, I’m going to update every book on my GoodReads and Amazon accounts with a giant, bold statement that says, “I BOUGHT this BECAUSE I read it in a LIBRARY FIRST”

    I’ll be some kind of underground campaign.

  30. Leslie
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 15:57:44

    @Janine: Yep, I have one of those too, but I hardly ever use it.

  31. Leslie
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 16:04:37

    @P. Kirby: I am notorious for returning library books to the wrong library system.

  32. Maaja
    Jun 12, 2012 @ 18:20:19

    In Toronto, Canada, we have public libraries lending books in ePub format using Digital Editions etc. to manage the DRM. It’s a good system for book sellers because the book you donwload to your ereader disappears after 3 weeks. If you don’t get around to it, suddenly you find yourself buying what you just lost… My son has bought plenty of books from the Kobo store because of library downloads to the Kobo.

  33. Maaja
    Jun 12, 2012 @ 18:21:31


    I second that. Great idea!

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  36. brian nolan
    Jun 14, 2012 @ 08:48:21

    With a limited budget for buying books, these days I check out virtually every book from the library before buying it. I still buy a lot of books, but it easier access through ebooks would make it quicker and easier for me to buy the books I am now buying.

  37. Leslie
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 10:32:53

    This morning when I went to the Seattle Library Overdrive catalog online there was a survey that was about this issue. Very timely, don’t you think?

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  46. that lung nam
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 21:25:11

    good ! With a limited budget for buying books, these days I check out virtually every book from the library before buying it. I still buy a lot of books, but it easier access through ebooks would make it quicker and easier for me to buy the books I am now buying.

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