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OverDrive Carries Self-Published eBooks, but Don’t Worry – They’re in a Ghetto

5350382220_48d46283ed_b[1]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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Maria (BearMountainBooks) June 18, 2014 um 6:25 pm

If librarians requested it, why didn’t my librarians know anything about it? Who is the council of librarians that Overdrive uses to make these decisions? No really. I want to know. My tax dollars support libraries and I’m always interested in how that money is spent. I request books frequently at my library and these little rules are important.

If libraries or a council of libraries don’t want self-published books then don’t pretend to carry them to appease authors or some segment of readers. There is no point to pretending. But let’s call a spade a spade so that when a fan requests my books, I can tell them where to actually FIND them.

Deborah Smith June 18, 2014 um 7:17 pm

Welcome to the world in which librarians sort through massive catalogs of new titles and have the resources to buy what? perhaps one percent of them? Sorry, but few books reach the prized light of day in front of overworked and underfunded acquisition librarians. As for self-pub bestsellers–you can bet that libraries will order books that win awards, are reviewed in notable places, and/or are requested by significant numbers of readers, regardless of those books' pathway to publication. Self-pubs are not going to get much sympathy from the majority of trad authors whose books never reach a library shelf. Tough game, kids.

Robert Nagle June 18, 2014 um 9:20 pm

I once made a bet with a friend that the new digital library in my city would not carry books by 3 award winning indie writers. And we looked it up — and I was right. (2 published through Amazon and 1 through Smashwords). Then I further bet my friend that the city’s digital collection would include more than one copy of EVERY SINGLE HARLEQUIN NOVEL being published today in the last year. I was right about that too. Often acquisitions departments just go by the brand of the publisher and not whether the author’s book is any good.

(Strangely, my library also buys 30+ copies of the latest Eminem CD, but doesn’t have anything by Charlie Parker or Stevie Wonder. These are the more egregious examples (I’ve found a lot of good stuff there), but libraries should not be allowed to get away with this stuff.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) June 18, 2014 um 10:01 pm

Keep in mind that some books/cd/music could be the result of a donation. We had one donation that was in the form of a grant, but one of the stipulations of the grant was that we carry x number of copies of a certain political book that was coming out. The rest of the cash was to do with as the library wanted. So we had a lot of copies of a certain book for a long while.

When it comes to music cds the entire collection in my library relies on donations. The library has no budget for buying any music, but has accepted a fairly large number of CDs over the years and has a nice collection.

My library (when I worked there) had a standing policy of not ordering any paperback Harlequin novels because they received a very large number of them in the donation box.

So some of what you see may not be an obvious expenditure. The ebook collection at my library is a consortium of 3 different libraries–which means not every choice was bought by my library. This can result in three copies of the same ebook.

Robert Nagle June 18, 2014 um 9:22 pm

This is a case where David Rothman’s call for a national digital library which can manage checkouts and acquisitions from a centralized body starts to make a lot of sense.

Robin Bradford June 19, 2014 um 9:42 am

You know, there are lots of reasons why books (and other formats) don’t make it to a library’s catalog. The new Eminem CD is NEW. 3 years from now, the library probably won’t have 30 copies of it anymore. Things go missing/damaged and need to be replaced. Sometimes, we don’t know things are missing until someone goes to look for them. Just a thought.

As far as self published books & Overdrive: They have had self pubbed books for YEARS. Years. And they have (had?) been listed right along with the other books. I know because I have purchased them for the library. That being said, this is kind of ridiculous. One day, we’ll get to the point where a book is just a book. Maybe. Someday. Hopefully?

Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 9:55 am

I didn’t know about self-pub titles already being listed in OverDrive; thanks for pointing that out. It just adds to the ridiculousness of separating Smashwords titles.

On a related note, who was the distributor for those self-pub titles?

Maria (BearMountainBooks) June 19, 2014 um 10:15 am

As far as I know, self-published authors have to go through a service that uploads because Overdrive doesn’t allow individual authors to upload. I looked into it a few times and they certainly discourage it–they want services or publishers who can upload a certain number of titles per year. I know authors who had their books in libraries and they are self-published–and as mentioned, not "tagged" or hidden behind a menu. They just chose a different route and that route happened to be handled better.

David Keener June 19, 2014 um 4:37 pm

In the self-help book, The Well-Fed Self Publisher, Peter Browerman provides instructions on how to make books available for libraries. There are definitely some hoops to jump through.

Anne June 19, 2014 um 12:37 pm

"On a related note, who was the distributor for those self-pub titles?"

Some of them might be the ones where agencies are uploading for clients. I’m pretty sure that’s how Courtney Milan gets hers on Overdrive.

Yes for Courtney:

Maria (BearMountainBooks) June 19, 2014 um 12:52 pm

Some do go through their agents who act as publishers (they have many clients so they can upload enough titles to get through overdrive’s requirements). JC Daniels used some service if I recall correctly. I don’t think it was her agent. She uses the Daniels name for her self-pubbed and her other names for her more traditional published works.

I do not know the title/name of the menu. I have an email from my librarian and she mentioned that they had a very hard time figuring things out ("not user friendly" were her exact words). The other librarian thought the whole self-published box was new, but I don’t know if the menu itself was new or not. I felt very lucky they were able to spend time even looking.

Ebook Bargains UK June 20, 2014 um 9:02 am

Ebook Partnership, the UK aggregator, has been supplying self-published titles to OverDrive – both libraries and retail stores (which Smashwords does not) – for a long time. Many have been big hits in the OverDrive retails stores. Not Amazon sales numbers, of course, but respectable.

This is an issue between OverDrive and Smashwords, not OverDrive and indie authors. OverDrive is taking curated selections and no erotica from Smashwords. Ebook Partnership have no such limitations. It all suggests Mark Coker has not done his homework properly, as does a comment by him on another blog where he said this was the first time OverDrive had dealt with self-published title.

fjtorres June 19, 2014 um 10:49 am

Well, that sure makes it sound as if somebody called up Overdrive. Or several somebodies…

Michael Patrick Hicks June 19, 2014 um 12:41 pm

I’ve been checking for my sci-fi book, Convergence, on Overdrive several times since the Smashwords announcement. Looks like I now know why I can never get any hits using both my name and title. I was hoping to reach out to my local libraries about making my book offered, but if Overdrive is making things this difficult I’m not sure it would be worth the hassle. Any idea where this ghetto menu is even at on their site?

Robin Bradford June 19, 2014 um 1:22 pm

Thanks for answering that distributor question, because I had no idea how they were getting there.

I CAN give directions to the ghetto, though! On Content Reserve (the buying side of Overdrive) right under the header there is something that says SHOP. That is a drop down menu and if you click it, I get these choices: "Simultaneous Use, Select Express, Self-published." The default is "One Copy/One User & Metered Access. (AKA Everything else)

Someone mentioned JC Daniels (aka Shiloh Walker) and I just looked up one of her titles and it was distributed through INscribe, Inc. Pubbed by Shiloh Walker, INC. At least, that is how I read that line.

"Blade Song
Colbana Files
J. C. Daniels
INscribe Digital | Shiloh Walker, Inc.
Adult Fiction
Language(s): English
On sale date: 7/18/2012
Street date: 9/12/2012"

Robin Bradford June 19, 2014 um 1:24 pm

And Shiloh is another author (along with Megan Hart and Bella Andre) where they have books in BOTH places, but you’d never know that. There is no hint that, if you buy them through the default side, that you’re not seeing all the books by those authors. If they *must* separate them, I wish they would at least throw a "See Also" reference in so people who are interested in a particular author will know there are other things out there to be found.

Chris Meadows June 19, 2014 um 5:20 pm

Mark Coker’s commented on this where it’s relinked on The Passive Voice.

Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 5:25 pm

I didn’t know it was picked up by TPV. Cool.

Felipe Adan Lerma June 20, 2014 um 7:18 am

Wow, wow, and super wow!

I’m so glad I read all the comments here and saw the link to TPV, and am very glad to see that Mark Coker is active in the comments there.

Now I don’t have to do my own post on this, but am sending my librarians the links to this and Maria’s posts.

It’s a crummy thing to have to go through so many hoops at so many places to get books listed, visible, etc. But it’s really good we can let each other know about this and continue to work our way into the mainstream.

As Robin said in the comments above, "One day, we’ll get to the point where a book is just a book."

Ebook Bargains UK June 20, 2014 um 9:09 am

The inverse of this of course is how Amazon makes it very clear on listings that a title is not self-published by a Big 5 author. As per John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, right below the title and price is the legend "Sold by Random House LLC".

The absence of anything similar on self-pubbed titles tells its own story.

Nate Hoffelder June 20, 2014 um 3:42 pm

Not necessarily. There are a lot of publishers who don’t have that line. Here’s one:

eBooks Distributed by Smashwords Now Showing up in OverDrive's Main eBook Catalog – The Digital Reader October 3, 2014 um 11:13 am

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Steve Kali January 29, 2019 um 5:24 pm

Thanks for the great info.

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