Smashwords recently announced it is launching a new program called Library Direct to make Smashwords titles available through various library systems. It is making available bundles of particular ranked titles, such as top 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, etc. bestsellers collections, which libraries can purchase for checkout.
Smashwords has received purchase commitments for its top 10,000 titles totaling almost $100,000 from three library systems: Colorado’s Douglas County Libraries (which has already gotten a reputation for putting together its own library lending program by cutting deals with over 800 individual publishers), California’s Califa library network, and The Internet Archive’s Open Library.
According to an article on The Digital Shift, the genesis of the project came from over a year’s worth of talks with Douglas County Libraries, who wanted to acquire Smashword titles but Smashwords had no way of making them available in the quantities DCL wanted at the time. (Smashwords did and still continues to make smaller quantities available through its other library aggregation partners, Baker & Taylor and 3M Cloud Library.)
The major problems Smashwords had to solve in creating the system were allowing authors to set lower (or higher) prices for libraries to buy their e-books, and allowing authors or publishers to opt out altogether if they wanted. By creating an opt-in/opt-out system, Smashwords avoids having to try to contact over 30,000 authors and publishers individually for permission.
Smashwords will also be drawing on the experience to create better library collection curation tools for Baker & Taylor and 3M Cloud Library.
In a comment to the announcement post on Smashword’s blog, Mark Coker clarifies that the Open Library’s library books will be checked out via a library style system, using DRM and one-checkout-at-a-time limitation, the same as any other library. Presumably this will be true for the other libraries, too.
This new library system would seem to be quite a feather in Smashwords’ cap. I don’t think I’ve heard of any other distributor providing this kind of flexibility in how its e-books are offered to libraries. If you want to discount them heavily figuring the library lending could help promote real sales, you can. If you fear library lending could detract from real sales and want to price them higher instead, you can. And if you want to opt out altogether, you can do that too.
Quite a contrast to the major publishers, most of whom have been doing everything they could to cut back on their library lending. But as with so many things the publishers have done (such as agency pricing), this too seems designed to make it easier for independents to steal the show.