Monday, July 6, 2009

Libraries and Publishers

Speaking of libraries, I've been wanting to comment on this for a while. It's an article from the Library Journal about book editors and librarians--how their relationships with books and their goals for them meet and diverge. Predictably, perhaps, since it's from Library Journal, I ended up rooting for the librarian. Why can't publishers make digital borrowing (not to mention buying) easier? Why do they flood the market with mediocre titles that are half-assedly (pardon) marketed? Why don't they compile the sort of sales data that could help both them and libraries identify those present and future books most likely to appeal to certain audiences? Those poor librarians, toiling away without even the hope of profit, bringing the books to the masses, spreading the reading word.... And I envy them, also, because where they work people want to read. That's why the come. (Okay, some of them are lured by Wii tournaments and DVD rentals, but whatever.) Wouldn't it be nice to live in that world--where one's problems arise from readers wanting more and better, not from the desperate need to find readers in the first place? Still, we have roughly parallel goals. So here's an idea: let's work together.

There are already plenty of outlets for publishers to communicate to libraries--things like the Junior Library Guild, and of course review publications like Booklist. But I think it would be helpful for communication to go both ways, in more than just the buying practices of libraries. I assume this is once again part of publishing's reluctance to engage in market research. But librarians are out there, doing it already--they know what their patrons are asking for, or what they're checking out again and again. I think it's safe to assume that high library demand, in general, correlates to high retail demand--the most checked out library books have probably also been on the best-seller lists as well. So if there were some way, ranging from librarian consultants to elaborate reporting mechanisms a la Nielsen's BookScan that could report how much certain books were checked out, to take this already-existing market data into account, well that would be just swell.

The Tortise and the Hair Band

I love this blog about outrageously-still-in-circulation library books, both for the kitsch factor of the books and the reminder it provides about how absurdly time-bound and short-lived many, many books are (the example to the left is a favorite). I don't suppose there's any practical take-away: even though many of-the-moment books are doomed to quick obscurity/absurdity, they make a quick buck and satisfy a present need or want. They're not going away, nor should they. But it is nice to be reminded, when such things seem all to ascendant, that someday they will be put in their place, possibly by these bloggers, while less heralded, smaller advance-earning, non-Daily Show-worthy books, may go on year after year and eventually out-earn them by leaps, because they provide something more endearing and valuable to the reader.