Do authors get paid for each time an ebook is borrowed from the library?
December 9, 2020 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Does checking out an ebook or digital audiobook from a public library in the US lead to the author getting any royalties (or benefit them in any other direct way)? Does this differ by platform (Hoopla, Overdrive, Axis360)?

I'm wondering both about royalties and also other direct, measurable (if individually tiny) benefits. Like...is there a countrywide compilation of library ebook circulation stats in the way that there are bestseller lists, where higher circulation or meeting a particular threshold might generate some other positive thing for them? (I'm sure individual library systems pay attention to that for their own use, but is there anything on a bigger scale?) Basically, if we assume that I am going to read (but not purchase) a particular book no matter what, does the author benefit slightly if I get the ebook from the library versus borrowing a friend's paper copy?

(I've been wondering this for a while and am finally asking after seeing the related question about how libraries are charged for things. I realize that in the same way that the answer to that is partly "just use the resources you need" some of the answer here might be "the author just wants you to read their book" but I am specifically wondering about what benefits them directly.)
posted by needs more cowbell to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are a few different ways that the library purchases the rights to lend an ebook; most of them would not benefit the author as an individual transaction. Most books (afaik) are either bought for a length of time or a number of checkouts. So the library purchases 25 checkouts of a book (usually with a time cap, so if it goes out 25 times in a month, they need to repurchase, but if it's only checked out 20 times in the year, they lose the last five). Sometimes it's just a time cap--however many checkouts in six months or one year.

If a book is popular, the library is incentivized to buy more copies, which gives more money to the author, but each individual checkout does not result in payment to the author directly.

I believe there *is* such a thing as pay-per-circ; that might look like some kind of modified "sale" on the author's royalty statement, but I don't know about that.
posted by gideonfrog at 1:26 PM on December 9, 2020 [1 favorite]


I am not an expert on this and I can't speak for all authors, but I have written books and many are in libraries in both electronic and print form. So I will share my experience.

There is most definitely not a line on my royalty statement from library circulation.

... does the author benefit slightly if I get the ebook from the library versus borrowing a friend's paper copy?

Possibly? I mean, most likely in the sense of a butterfly flapping its wings. As you realize, it would be an individually tiny effect. But it might be there. On some level it would have to be better than your borrowing a friend's print copy because that print sale is counted and... that's it. That person can prop up a wobbly table with the book or circulate it to 100 friends; it'll never change the sales stats.

Anecdotally, I had a very popular book for a while and one library system had hundreds of people on the wait lists for both physical and electronic copies. As far as I know, they never bought more. They actually brought me to the library to speak (because that money came from a different budget), but they never bought more of that book.

Finally, I have on occasion looked myself up in libraries. (Cheap thrills.) It has made me happy when I see that there is a wait list for a book of mine. I mean, I don't want it to be hundreds of people long! But it's nice to feel wanted. So there's that.
posted by veggieboy at 2:10 PM on December 9, 2020 [9 favorites]


I should add: That bringing me to the library to speak? That was a big deal. And it paid me real money. And it came about because people were seeking my book at the library. So that is the best example I can give in answer to your question. It would never show up in a contract or a sales statement, but it was a definite tangible benefit stemming from that library circulation. (Albeit rare, from what I know.)

[Shout-out to the Ottawa library system!]
posted by veggieboy at 2:20 PM on December 9, 2020 [18 favorites]


In my experience as a purchasing librarian, in your scenario, the author would benefit the most by borrowing the print book from the library. Not for that book but for forthcoming titles - previous circulations always helps future buys.
posted by lyssabee at 3:26 PM on December 9, 2020 [3 favorites]


There are multiple ways that libraries pay publishers for those digital files as noted above - sometimes it's a license for a certain period of time, unlimited checkouts, or a certain period of time + a limited number of checkouts, or an unlimited time + a certain number of checkouts. Sometimes it's a permanent, multi-user license for indefinite periods. In most of these cases, the author gets a royalty for the initial sale of the license but nothing additional depending on circulation. Popular books in most of these models would need to have their licenses renewed, and that would be additional royalty income for the authors.

Services like Epic pay publishers via a pool method. Each publisher gets a % of revenue based on the total number of views, which can be defined in various increments, such as books, pages, time, etc., depending on the service, and the publisher also gets a list of what was viewed which they use to allocate royalties to the authors whose works were included. While I can't prove it, I don't think that these services make authors as much money as other methods.

It is also worth noting that generally ebook royalties are less than print royalties, even for the same title. So the author will make more on the sale of a print book than an ebook, even at the inflated library licensing prices publishers charge.

I second what someone noted above, that circulation for either the print or digital book will be noted for future library purchases of that author's books, so I do think there is a declarative statement to be made that any checkout from a library will be more beneficial to an author than your borrowing a friend's print copy, which is utterly invisible. Another great way to "pay" an author is to leave positive reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, BN.com, and other places, even if you got the book from the library. Reviews make a big difference to algorithms.

(I work for a publisher that focuses on library sales.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:35 PM on December 9, 2020 [2 favorites]


Like...is there a countrywide compilation of library ebook circulation stats in the way that there are bestseller lists, where higher circulation or meeting a particular threshold might generate some other positive thing for them?

Generally to this question: no. Except that books that circ. well tend to result in the library buying more books by that author. There has been a lot of drama in the library world recently about ebook pricing models, both what ebooks cost (i.e. libraries usually pay more, often for ebooks that "expire" after a certain time or number of checkouts) and how authors are paid for those books.

Libraries are a wild distributed system and there really is no centralized record of library checkouts in the US, though some large library catalog vendors do offer some aggregated circ statistics and large library systems can do the same giving you loose ideas of what is circulating. The Panorama Project is an attempt to do this for ebooks generally and they have done some research that is kind of neat.

It's also worth noting that this is different in non-US countries, just from a trivia perspective. Australia has a lending rights scheme that compensates authors for what would be seen as "lost revenue" for books shared via the library. Canada does something similar.

But really, what peanut_mcgillicuty and veggieboy say are true, leaving positive reviews on social media (especially for smaller press titles) and getting authors to speak at events or write other shorter (and sometimes more lucrative) things are both ways in which you can help authors if you liked a book you read at the library. It's also worth noting that checking a book out of the library does leave some tiny mark of that book's popularity, whereas buying the same book from a secondhand store does not (except in some weird secret back-end way that Amazon or Ebay might know if you buy from them but they're not telling).

This article talking about books and ebooks is old but I don't think people's habits have changed too much, if anything people are MORE likely to get exposure to a book at a library (in non-COVID times) than a bookstore because... there are just fewer bookstores now.
posted by jessamyn at 5:08 PM on December 9, 2020 [5 favorites]


It is also worth noting that generally ebook royalties are less than print royalties, even for the same title. So the author will make more on the sale of a print book than an ebook, even at the inflated library licensing prices publishers charge.

Just a note - this is not always true. For example, if a book is self published, on Amazon and most other platforms, the ebook royalties are dramatically more than print.
posted by Zumbador at 11:17 PM on December 9, 2020 [1 favorite]


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