Not long ago, I wrote about SELF-e, a new program that is connecting indie authors to libraries via a free process created by Biblioboards. While SELF-e provides eBooks to clients free of charge and no royalties are paid to the author, there’s another way that does pay royalties. It’s called eBooksAreForever. This is the brainchild of Joe Konrath and August Wainwright, and they are working hard to keep libraries in the loop on all the exciting changes in the publishing industry. For the basic background of the program, here are some salient points I gathered from their FAQ page.
The goal of eBooksAreForever is to offer a large, curated collection of ebooks to every library in North America at a fair and sustainable price, a win-win in that the library owns the ebook forever and authors make ongoing royalties. Selling a title to EAF does not affect your rights; you still own them, and EAF does not require any exclusivity. Conversely, if you have a book enrolled in KDP Select, offering your books through EAF would be a violation of that. In order to get on the EAF train, you will need to take your books out of KDP Select to avoid penalties from Amazon.
During the current beta period, EAF is keeping prices at a set level, $7.99 for novels and $3.99-$4.99 for shorter works. You cannot sell your books for more than that. The pricing structure may change in the future as the program evolves, but that’s undetermined at this time.
Currently EAF is being offered by invitation only. You can apply through their website, but you may not be accepted. There are many factors involved in the selection process, which we’ll get into in more detail below.
After reading the FAQs, I still had questions. Luckily I had already been in touch with August Wainwright, and he was very willing to go into more detail on my distinctly indie questions.
Thank you for being here, August. Can you give me an idea of the response you’ve gotten since you began taking nominations? Hundreds of authors? Thousands? Can you talk about the vetting process, how you determine if an author/book is good for your program, and the percentage that get through the process?
AW: For the past 8 months, we’ve been building the back-end portion of eBooksAreForever.com, while opening it up to a select group. During that time, the platform was completely closed and we purposely kept things small; we were learning new things everyday and the site wasn’t yet ready for full use. At that time, we were working with roughly 25 authors, 1 small press publisher and 7 libraries.
Since opening the platform to indie authors and other small presses on March 26th, the response (and support) has been incredible. In the first 7 days, we had over 1000 authors request accounts, and that number has continued to increase. We’re also in discussions with a few small press publishers to gauge whether their books are a fit for EAF at this point in the process.
Speaking of “fit”, let me talk a little about curation.
The largest amount of emails and questions we receive – by a sizable margin – are about curation and vetting. This is to be expected and, in a perfect world, curation wouldn’t be necessary. In fact, both myself and Joe Konrath (as co-founders) believe that curation is completely unnecessary in the consumer space. Putting up walls (like some indies are familiar with) and falsifying “best-seller” lists to limit consumer access to certain titles is simply wrong.
But the important thing that we need to continue to convey is that the consumer marketplace and library marketplace are two different entities. There are many things that would be expected when it comes to Amazon/B&N/Kobo/Apple/etc that just don’t work the same way for libraries. Mostly, this is due to the fact that the consumer reader market is growing (depending upon who you ask of course), where as library budgets are shrinking – and they’re shrinking while ebook prices are continuing to climb for them. We’re dealing with far more limitations and completely different needs.
So before we can service a huge number of indie authors, we have to supply a set idea of where things will go. That’s what we’re doing right now. Libraries have asked for something that essentially works the opposite of how Overdrive/3M works. We want to deliver upon that request.
To finish all necessary testing before our official launch later this year, we need to control both quality and quantity of titles, as well as the number of titles per genre. We can’t go to launch with 80% of our titles being mystery titles, or romance titles; which may lead to someone who passes all of the internal criteria we’ve set being temporarily denied at this point. Being denied access now doesn’t mean you’ll be denied in 2 weeks, or 2 months. Overall, there are various factors that go into the curation process, of which number of reviews, quality of reviews, number of titles, whether your books are in a series, estimated sales figures, cover art, book description, current genre saturation, library interest, and overall availability are just a few.
We’ve come across books that are obviously of high quality that have few sales, and fewer reviews. And we’ve accepted some of those titles. We won’t automatically turn you away because of lack of reviews. Unfortunately, though, we also can’t automatically accept based entirely on hitting certain thresholds.
How many books do you currently have available to libraries?
AW: As of this writing (early April), we have 1,050 titles (consisting of mostly full-length novels, and a few shorts and novellas) with another 200 books in the queue for individual review. (We manually review each title uploaded, in the same way we review each author/publisher).
Are you currently connected to libraries across the country? How many? What about Canada?
AW: Right now, we’re still limited in the number of libraries we can access due entirely to the availability of necessary technology and hosting platforms. This is exactly what we’re working to change. In the meantime, we’re working with groups of libraries that have access to their own hosting solution, known as an Adobe Content Server (ACS). We’ve continued to work with our original partners, and we’ll be launching a pilot purchasing program with a national library group in the coming weeks which will bring on another 20-30 libraries, ranging from small rural branches to large metro libraries, as well as community colleges and schools.
While this pilot is going on, we’ll be working to complete our patron apps. Once finished, the patron apps will be what allow libraries all across the country to purchase directly from indies and small presses through EAF.
As for Canada, we haven’t yet brought on a Canadian library as a partner, but we plan to do so soon. One of our original inspirations for the platform was from a Canadian librarian who talked about how she thought Canadian libraries would be best served to simply walk away from ebooks altogether. They just weren’t sustainable and the way the existing vendors and publishers treated libraries made for an environment that, in her mind, was so volatile that it was best to just walk away.
That struck a chord with us. We believe that no library – be it US or Canadian – should have to walk away from ebooks because of lack of sufficient platforms. When we launch later this year, we’re confident that will become a thing of the past.
I see libraries can sign up pretty simply. What’s the response you’ve gotten from them so far, or is it too early to tell? How are you promoting EAF to them?
AW: Yes, the process for libraries is (and will be) incredibly easy, especially after the patron apps launch. Create an account, add titles, purchase, and we’ll handle the delivery of those titles in multiple ways. Then keep them forever; no need to re-license yearly or after a certain number of lends.
The response has been great. The only negative is that, unless your library currently has access to an ACS, which most don’t, then we have to put that library in a holding pattern for now. They can still interact with the site, and we’re taking feedback from them, but they have no way to serve ebooks to their patrons.
Because we’re still in a beta testing phase, our marketing is minimal. This is by design. But we absolutely have plans in the works for some great ways for authors and librarians to come together and make this platform worthwhile. We’re looking forward to the official launch later this year.
Something else I’d like to cover for your readers is, and I hope this becomes an ongoing conversation, is the sheer complexity of what a modern library really is and the challenges they face. Of the criticism we faced upon opening EAF up to indies, most revolved around authors making direct comparisons between libraries and Amazon. This drastically underestimates the issues that librarians have to deal with, of which curation, budgets and purchasing, patron security (keeping user information safe), patron training (teaching patrons how to use devices), DRM issues, and proper archiving/cataloging represent only a tiny fraction. And that’s just for ebooks. Look at how Barnes & Noble has fared over the past few years; libraries are fighting similar battles (I would say far more difficult) and with a sometimes laughably small budget.
No two groups should be more closely aligned than indie authors and libraries, and we at EAF hope to be a part of making that happen.
So there you have it. If this sounds like a good fit for your books, and if you want to help libraries build up a solid compliment of great, indie books, head on over to EAF and sign up!