E-book creation and lending
This discussion aims to demystify e-books: how they are made, how they circulate in libraries, and what are the possible benefits to local authors and publishers. It is an important topic given that for the first time in 2016, the Public Lending Right Body, which issues royalty payments to Canadian authors who have books circulating in libraries, will begin tracking and paying royalties on the lending of e-books.
Expozine co-founder and author Louis Rastelli (LR) moderated the discussion, which included: Hugh McGuire (HM), founder of the Pressbooks, an online book publishing platform, and all-around digital publishing guru and technologist who experiments and writes about the changing world of publishing ; Zile Ozols (ZO), MLIS, librarian and active Manager at the Atwater Library and Computer Centre ; and Eric Craven (EC), MLIS, Project Coordinator of the Atwater Library Digital Literacy Project.
LR: When did the Atwater Library begin e-lending?
ZO: We started in 2012 after we got a grant to fund it. To launch it, we offered a free workshop for people to come and learn how to use their e-readers and borrow e-books from the library. A lot of seniors came out for that. We still offer drop-in sessions for people who need help setting everything up.
LR: What is the age group of the average person that comes in? Are they mostly older?
ZO: The people asking for troubleshooting tend to be older, but our library’s clientele in general is older. A lot of our services are used by seniors.
LR: How complicated was it to develop the e-lending—choosing a platform, understanding the contracts with publishers…
ZO: The major choices were made by our head librarian before her current maternity leave, but actually there aren’t really that many choices out there. In North America, Overdrive is pretty much the biggest platform. If I remember correctly, they have about 15000 clients. It isn’t just libraries, they also serve educational institutions and others.
LR: Is Overdrive bilingual?
ZO: It’s very much Anglophone, but they do have books in other languages. Here we strictly purchase our English e-books from Overdrive. I know that the BAnQ and French libraries use PRET NUMERIQUE. There are a few French e-book platforms, if you go to the BAnQ site they have quite a few databases that you can search.
LR: It can be tricky to figure out for the small presses in our Expozine community… So many of them are already slack in getting an ISBN, and many self-publishing authors don’t even know about the public lending right form… E-lending can seem too complicated to set up for many of them.
EC: The problem with something like Overdrive and the digital world in general is that every time you add another distribution channel, you get another small cheque that has to be split 20 or 50 ways, and then you have to calculate the royalties. For publishers where Overdrive is the e-book distributor, once they’ve signed on, they’ll get the royalty cheques every quarter from Overdrive. Then they need to split that up among their authors and decide whether it’s worth it.
LR: But if you go through an aggregator, then I guess it’s split up one additional way.
HM: The problem is the small cheque that you have to split into a hundred different ways to rights holders and other parties. I talked to one publisher who said they had a person come in, full-time for two weeks, just processing royalty cheques. They kind of collapsed afterwards and had to start all over again, every month.
LR: The system is still set up like it had been for physical books, when the amounts weren’t so sliced up. Even for larger presses, it seems outsourcing this stuff is common. One of our sponsors at Expozine that still prints in the tens of thousands of physical books each year decided to outsource the management of e-books a couple of years ago.
ZO: Although Overdrive is based in the States, it has a pretty good collection of Canadian publishers. They have a Canadian portal so when I’m on there purchasing books, it lists new Canadian books like Linda Leith books, Anansi.
LR: So when you do the buying, can you order both print and digital versions of a book at the same time?
ZO: It’s separate: l go to one place to buy all my print books; I do all my e-books on Overdrive; I order DVDs from someone else…
LR: I’m a bit surprised that there’s no overlap, it’s as if the physical book distributors left the e-books to others to worry about, or maybe they decided to wait for some standards to emerge.
HM: In Canada there is an organization called eBOUND Canada, they are affiliated with the Independent Publishers Group, so they are the place where I think the most indie publishers in Canada are going to do their distribution. And then all the big guys are going through, you know, Random House or a distribution company, but eBound is kind of a central place for others…
LR: Like a library distribution?
HM: Well, they would be for sure selling it into Overdrive as an option for publishers who want to sell to libraries, but I’d have to check on that because they actually use Ingram’s digital distribution as their backend, so they’re kind of like a friendly Canadian face on Ingram.