Maybe Publishers Should “Love” Libraries a Little Less?

From my first real job as a below-minimum wage teenage Page at Mount Vernon Public Library to forcing libraries onto Digital Book World’s program in its second year to the past 10+ years engaging with and advocating for libraries in a variety of roles — I probably take the publishing industry’s relationship with them more personally than is professionally healthy. I even have a Ta-Nehisi Coates quote tattooed on my forearm: “I was made for the library, not the classroom.”

In the midst of the various challenges libraries are facing these days — public and school, specifically — from fighting for their financial lives every year to expensive and restrictive ebook licenses to the recent waves of politically motivated book challenges to a highly dysfunctional trade organization, they need more support from everyone who claims to believe in their societal value and fundamental mission of providing free, equal, and equitable access to information in all its forms.

In that context, it’s truly amazing how publishers who routinely claim, “We love libraries!” every summer at ALA Annual — the conference many of them hope will replace their own failed Book Expo America — find it so much easier to fight those same libraries in court, on multiple fronts, rather than figuring out how to come to the table and negotiate in good faith with such a critical partner.

  • School and public libraries have a broader reach than B&N and all indie bookstores combined, multiple times over.
  • They spend hundreds of millions of dollars on their books every year; market them for free, often with no involvement from publishers, and regardless of when they were published; and they never return any of them, even when they don’t circulate.
  • Much to their chagrin, libraries also offer the consumer-friendly alternative to Amazon and piracy publishers desperately wanted back in 2010, and have since fought to constrain every step of the way.

Librarians also write a significant percentage of the professional reviews every major publisher relies on to boost retail and consumer interest ahead of publication, not just in library trade publications, but also anonymously for Publishers Weekly, which doesn’t use bylines. They’re OG influencers who frequently get ignored in favor of every new shiny intermediary (blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc), despite often being early and active adopters of every new platform before publishers even realize their potential value, because unlike most publishers, they’re directly engaged with readers on a daily basis.

And now, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) is backing an anti-library coalition with other association partners, even pulling in other media industries, too?

The initial members of the Protect the Creative Economy Coalition include the American Booksellers Association, Authors Guild, Association of American Publishers, National Music Publishers Association, News Media Alliance, and the Independent Book Publishers Association, as well as the Copyright Alliance.

If the American Library Association had a spine and any real power, they’d be pushing back hard against this coalition, starting with not allowing any participating publishers to exhibit this summer at their Annual Conference, and making all of their books ineligible for awards.

That definitely won’t happen, of course, so once again, individual librarians will be left to fend for themselves, and publishers will continue to show their “love” for libraries by abusing them in court and whisper networks, while gaslighting them everywhere else. #cmonson

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