GoodEReader sat down with Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, and Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, at this week’s BookExpo America event to talk about the early results of their joint experiment in ebook lending, the Big Library Read. This experiment made one Sourcebooks title, The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone, available simultaneously to all patrons of over 3,500 OverDrive partner libraries.
“OverDrive has been working with a lot of very forward-looking publishers and for many years has appreciated the important role of the public library with connecting readers with books and authors,” explained Potash. “We’ve had a few major trade houses that claimed there wasn’t good information, there wasn’t enough experience, and I felt for many years that was wrong. It’s been now ten years that public libraries have been lending ebooks from HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, Harlequin, and Sourcebooks.
“There are a lot of so-called industry experts who don’t know the library market and don’t the value that libraries bring to authors. I said ‘Let’s try an experiment.’ I naturally called Dominique, who is an entrepreneur on 360-sides of this book business. I came up with a check list to demonstrate very quickly how libraries are helping readers connect with authors and get authors discovered.”
There were some key considerations for the Big Library Read. Potash approached Raccah for an author who had an established book, who had other titles available, and for whom Sourcebooks had worldwide rights. It also depended on finding an author who was willing to give up a lot of potential income from letting so many readers access his work at once. Potash believes that Sourcebooks’ involvement in this experiment was akin to a donation of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Tens of thousands of people have read this book, and the libraries and patrons got it at no cost, thanks to Michael Malone and Sourcebooks,” said Potash.
“Michael did an incredible job,” said Raccah. “He’s a remarkable guy. Michael really got it.”
Raccah pointed out that the speed of developing the project ended up hurting the participation in the project, estimating that only roughly one third of the libraries invited to participate actually did so. But from OverDrive’s perspective, that only added to the value of the data.
“Not every library book is going to get a two-month pre-release marketing campaign with press releases and posters,” said Potash. “This book just showed up, and I’m trying to show that just by being there and being merchandised on the libraries’ home pages that this book got over seven million cover impressions (views), and from that we’re getting over ten thousand people a day looking at the title detail page and the description. We’re getting thousands of people looking at the free sample. Even people who don’t have a library card.”
That last consideration is vital in this experiment. Not only did patrons discover an author through the Big Library Read, individuals who found the title online due to increased traffic and sharing went to their local libraries and requested cards, increasing overall library traffic.
Was the project a success? With over 40,000 public library patrons currently reading the title, it would seem so. Libraries are already ordering a copy of all of Malone’s other works, but Potash predicts that sales to libraries are going to take off.
“I want to be very clear,” said Raccah. “Fundamentally, you’re not going to see an uptick right away. If you see one, it will be after the promotion. We’re already seeing an increase in sales, but the big increases are from a very small base. I’m more interested in seeing what happens at the end of the promo, and what happens in an on-going basis. That’s what we’re looking for.”
For now, a few things are fact. This title had modest weekly sales before the promotion, and its ranking on Amazon has gone up due to patrons purchasing the book or sharing the information about the book. The author, who had a very limited social media presence, has seen a significant increase in fans. Most importantly, the libraries who participated are all now being invited to participate in future projects of this kind and to serve on advisory panels for how lending needs to extend its reach.