This isn’t the post I’d planned. Okay, I’ll be honest. I didn’t have a post planned. The last week has been a whirlwind of dealing with issues with Victory from Ashes‘ release (including firing a proofreader who has been reliable in the past) to family commitments to other real life things. The high point, aside from the release of Victory, was doing a structural edit on an author’s book that really blew me away. Better yet, I saw the opening chapters of the next in series yesterday and I’m already pestering him for the completed project. So I completely forgot today was Tuesday. That meant I needed to find a topic and, thanks to The Passive Voice, and an article last week in the local paper, I got it and the topic pretty much says it all. Who can read your book?
I’m not talking about who should read it. This isn’t about the target age or other demographic for your work. I’m talking about who can get their hands on your book, be it in digital or print format. Are there alternate routes besides buying the book that can be utilized (and that don’t include pirating the e-book)?
This is an issue every indie author should be asking themselves if they are exclusive to Amazon. Not knocking Amazon here. It’s been extremely good to me over the years and I had something happen with them yesterday that gives me hope things may be starting to settle there again. Let’s hope so. Anyway. . .
What first started me thinking about accessibility of books, etc., was an article in one of our local papers a week or so ago. The article detailed some of the very major problems schools in the Fort Worth Independent ISD face when it comes to their school libraries. Funding has never been excessive for school libraries, but now it is minimal to non-existent. Worse, what funding they do get is often shunted aside at the campus level for programs like tutoring, etc. Mind you, those programs are essential to some of these schools, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of school libraries.
In the FWISD, budgets are approved on the district level and then monies are basically doled out by the campus admin. That means budgets are often looked at as guidelines and not as being written in stone. Hell, I’d be happy if they were written in dirt. Since they aren’t, money is shuffled around, leaving school librarians–when there are such things–chasing grants, donations, etc.–to stock their libraries.
In one school, the new librarian did an audit of what materials were available. I don’t remember the figures exactly off the top of my head but, out of all the science and math related books, all but a dozen or so were not only out of date but greatly out of date. Copyright on the vast majority of the books was well beyond the 5 years recommended by the Texas Education Agency. If I had to guess, less than 20% of the books were up-to-date and usable. We won’t even get into the fiction helpings.
Add to that the comments by this particular librarian and others in the district about how they need books that will engage the students–ie, books they want to read. Books they don’t have. Compound that with the fact thousands of books are unaccounted for thanks to Covid. When the schools shut down, books were checked out by students and teachers. Most of those have not been returned and who knows where they are right now.
How many children’s, middle school and YA books are now no longer available for these students to read? Books they can’t afford to buy for themselves and can’t or won’t go to the public library for?
Now, flash forward to the article I saw this morning over at The Passive Voice. It seems the U. S. Senate Finance Committee is taking a hard look at how traditional publishers price e-books for public libraries. I’ve written on this before, both here on MGC and on my personal blog. To say some of the pricing by these “big hearted publishers” is onerous is putting it mildly.
For libraries, who can purchase print books and own them through their natural lifespan, ebooks come with restrictions on a number of fronts. They aren’t owned by the library and instead are licensed: at any time, the books may disappear or come with circulation limits, and those licenses come at astronomical prices. In cases where licenses can be negotiated with better terms for the library, costs only grow.
As an example, the article notes how a California school district had to pay $27/yr per student for access to e-books of The Diary of Anne Frank. In other words, if 100 students that year studied the book, the district paid the publisher $2700–and the district nor the kids “owned” that e-book. If they bought the paperback book directly from Amazon instead of through Baker & Taylor where they’d probably get a discount, they’d pay $11/copy or less. The e-book would cost $6.99. So why is the per student cost for the school library for this e-book so much more?
Why aren’t publishers trying to encourage school districts to invest more of their limited library funds in books and e-books–and giving them more for their money–than they are? After all, if we teach our youngsters to enjoy reading, that should be a win-win for publishers, right?
When publishers have politicians pointing out the obvious, there’s a problem.
“E-books play a critical role in ensuring that libraries can fulfill their mission of providing broad and equitable access to information for all Americans, and it is imperative that libraries can continue their traditional lending functions as technology advances,” reads the letter Senate Finance Committee members sent to Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan.
But the letter also hits on what the problem is–at least from the publishing standpoint. Publishers don’t want to deal with technological advances. They want to go back to before e-books and probably audio books. They want print only. Is there any other reason for them to continue treating e-books as the redheaded step-children?
As authors, we need to keep an eye on what happens in Maryland.
Earlier this summer, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation on ebook licensing. The bill, which goes into effect January 1, 2022, requires any publisher offering ebooks for sale to consumers in the state also make those materials available for purchase by libraries in the state.
This is especially true for traditionally published authors. If the law stands, it could lead to positive or negative changes and I know where my money goes. I expect publishers to try to figure out a way to avoid selling e-books as they do currently in the state and in others where similar laws are passed. Prices won’t change. But no longer will we be able to “buy” and e-book, load it onto our readers, back it up elsewhere, and know it is ours, at least as long as the backup is not hooked up to the internet via that store’s app.
Instead, I see publishers applying similar restrictions to consumers that they do to institutional purchasers. We’ll go back to limits on how many devices the e-book can be on at a time. It will be limited to a number of “reads”. They very well may code in a removal date, after which, if we don’t purchase a new license, the book becomes unreadable. In other word, a return to DRM, this time on steriods, possibly even to locked formats exclusive to that publisher.
So what do we as indies do to help fight this and to fill the void if that happens?
That’s a question I don’t have the answer for–yet. I wish we could simply donate copies of our books in print version or know our e-books if we use services like Ovedrive would be enough. But it isn’t. Districts have their own requirements. Books have to be vetted and there is still the stigma in some peoples’ eyes that if you aren’t traditionally published, your work isn’t “professional”.
So we have to make contacts in our local districts. We need to find out what their needs are. Then we have to look at how we can adapt our own business practices so they help our schools and our public libraries while still helping our bottom line. When we discover those answers, even if only some of those answers, we have to start lobbying our own outlets, be it Amazon KDP or Smashwords or Draft2Digital or something else, to work with these institutions.
Yeah, this is a hot button for me. As a reader, as a parent and lastly as a writer, this is something near and dear to my heart. It should be easy for our kids to have access to books through their schools. Reading should be encouraged. Publishers have forgotten that.
Now for a bit of push of my own. Victory from Ashes is now available in digital and print. If you buy the e-book, make sure you have downloaded the version that notes a 9/24/2021 update on the copyright page. If you don’t have that version, try redownloading or contact the vendor where you bought the e-book. It should be available on all platforms.
War is hell. No battle plan survives the opening salvo. When the enemy is set on the total destruction of your homeworld, how far will you go to protect it and those you love?
This war has already cost Col. Ashlyn Shaw too much. She has lost friends and family to an enemy that doesn’t know the meaning of honor. Marines under her command have died doing their duty. Her enemies at home conspired and brought her up on charges, sending her and members of her command to the Tarsus military penal colony. But they didn’t win then and she won’t let them win now. She is a Marine, a Devil Dog, and they can’t take that away from her.
Ashlyn is determined to do all she can to protect her homeworld and end the war. She will lead her Marines against the enemy, knowing that if they fail, Fuercon will fall. But will it be enough and will those who have conspired behind the scenes to destroy her and all she stands for finally be brought to justice?
Duty and honor. Corps and family. That is what matters. It is all that matters.