When OverDrive and Smashwords announced a deal last month which made hundreds of thousands of self-published available to public libraries, I was thrilled. Besides the potential increase in revenues and ebook sales, indie authors were gaining access to a whole new market with opportunities to find new readers.
Unfortunately, the deal between Smashwords and Overdrive isn't working out as well as one would like. In fact, I'm not sure how it could be worse.
Maria Schneider, an author who self-publishes under the Bear Mountain Books imprint, writes over on her blog about her dismay over the hassle of finding self-published ebooks at OverDrive:
I was pretty excited the other day to learn that Smashwords, an ebook distributor, would be distributing books to Overdrive. Overdrive supplies libraries with ebooks. I made sure my books were all signed up. Yesterday I saw they had shipped and were available for libraries to order!
I immediately contacted my librarian friend to make sure they could be seen in the overdrive library system. I’ve had several requests from fans who want their library to order my series. I wanted to make sure the books showed up in the system before I shared the news.
Well. Smashwords does ship the books to Overdrive. HOWEVER, in order for the librarian to even FIND the books in the list, she had to spend a lot of time researching. None of the usual methods worked: Title, nope. Author name, nope. OH. Turns out there is a box on overdrive underneath some other menu…labeled “Self-published.” Once she FOUND that menu and clicked that box and did a search, well THEN the titles would show up. The button was not obvious and had she not known me personally and asked someone else about it…they would never have found my titles at all.
No, you did not read that wrong. Overdrive has put self-published ebooks in their own ghetto.
One could argue that this is justifiable based on certain assumptions about quality, but that argument tends to fall apart when you consider the average quality of the latest celeb bio, or the latest - never mind, I'm not going to tear others down just to build up self-published ebooks.
I would suggest that any argument in favor of a ghetto for self-published ebooks tends to fall apart once you recall that ebooks accounted for half of the growth of the UK ebook market in 2013. People are clearly willing to pay for self-published ebooks, and yet at OverDrive they're in the ghetto.
And if that doesn't convince you, just remember that ebooks distributed by Smashwords have been hitting the NY Times best seller list since 2012.
Take a look at the August 5 edition of The New York Times Fiction Ebook bestseller list, out yesterday. Lightning struck multiple times this week.
Congrats to Colleen Hoover (Slammed at #8, Point of Retreat at #18), R.L. Mathewson (Playing for Keeps at #16), Lyla Sinclair (Training Tessa at #17) and Bella Andre (If You Were Mine at #22, Can't Help Falling in Love at #23, and I Only Have Eyes for You at #24).
All the credit for these results go to the authors who wrote the books, the readers who purchased them and the retailers who connected these books with readers.
Yes, OverDrive has put New York Times best sellers in a ghetto. And according to the statement I just got from OverDrive, they seem to think it's a good idea:
We value self-published works and are proud to make them available to the library. We think it’s a benefit to give the Smashwords and other self-published titles their own tab in our Marketplace catalog portal. This was a direct request from librarians to make their selection process easier by splitting off this important and valuable collection. It’s not because the collection is any less valuable, but instead because it is a large selection it’s much more efficient to search and find what you’re looking for. This is similar to other special collections, like simultaneous use titles.
Horse manure. A ghetto is a ghetto is a ghetto, no matter what you call it.
And it really doesn't matter what OverDrive says or why they think they did it; the result is the same. By setting self-published ebooks apart (they're not even in the same search indices as the rest of OverDrive's catalog) OD is inherently labeling self-published ebooks as inferior.
OverDrive is also making it inherently difficult for libraries to find and buy the ebooks. How does that serve anyone's purposes?
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