OverDrive and Libby

When a service isn’t exactly a service

Anyone involved in the publishing industry will tell you there’s just so much to know, and that knowledge has been changing rapidly from the beginning of the 21st century. Now, it seems, I’ve stumbled across another bit of knowledge which has left me surprised.

When ebooks were first becoming a thing, there were only a few ways in which a reader could obtain them, quite aside from the ever-prevalent piracy. Then because of the ease of inventorying ebooks, we started seeing an increase in the number of purchasing and lending services available to readers. One of these is OverDrive. And for many indie authors and publishers, signing up to have your catalogue streaming to OverDrive seemed a smart choice, because OverDrive sold itself to aggregators like Smashwords as a one-stop eLibrary service.

That’s where things get interesting. For years I had my own books, and those of authors I published, streaming to OverDrive. I thought I was offering them, and myself, great exposure to the digital lending library world. Imagine my utter surprise, then, when two weeks ago I learned that while your titles may be available to libraries through OverDrive, that doesn’t mean that your library actually has them in their digital collection. You, as the reader, have to request your library obtain these phantom, digital books through OverDrive.

A system fueled by capitalistic greed

That headline sounds like a broadcast for a political manifesto. But it’s not, in this case. It’s simply a statement of fact.

Consider this: when a library system orders a copy of a print book, they pay for it once. They can then loan that copy out until the book disintegrates. An author, in Canada, is paid a royalty through the Public Lending Rights Program, based on the presence of a title in public library catalogues that are consulted during the annual PLR survey. Those payments come from the PLR’s funds, which are generated through public taxation.

However, when a library system orders a copy of an ebook, it may be that the ebook distributor, like OverDrive, set circulation limits, so that after a certain number of times an ebook has been downloaded, the library system is required to purchase the ebook all over again. According to an article on Goodereader.com: Some have circulation limits, before the title has been purchased again, while others allow for one copy for every user. Digital content cannot be purchased for a one time fee and loaned out an infinite number of times.

I am not certain if an author is entitled to PLR royalties on ebooks. If anyone reading this knows the answer to that question, please leave me a comment. I’d love to be informed.

Where do indie books fit into that eBook marketing infrastructure?

I’m not sure. I haven’t been able to find out that information as yet. However, what I do know is that my own ebooks are available through OverDrive. That’s good. Sort of. What isn’t good is that those same ebooks aren’t necessarily available through any library system. A reader has to request the ebook. And then the library has to decide whether that’s something they’re going to do, a decision most likely affected by shrinking library budgets across Canada because of municipal policies which have been increasingly undermined the ability of our public libraries to offer services.

What you can do as a reader?

Make that request to your library for the ebooks you would like to read which aren’t yet available on Libby or Sora. A list of my books on OverDrive is here. Of course, it would tickle me silly if you were to request any or all of my ebooks.

And if you do manage to get your library to obtain these ebooks, and you download them, I’d really appreciate reading about your experience either by leaving a comment on this blog, emailing me, or leaving a message through my Facebook page.

And while you’re at it, inform your municipal government that your library matters, that funding for your library matters.

Cheers! And happy reading!