Update on Ebooks in Libraries

Back on June 27, 2012, Smashwords and Califa, a consortium of 220 California libraries, formed a partnership to distribute Smashwords eBooks in libraries. The agreement also called for giving the member libraries the ability to let their patrons publish eBooks through Smashwords.

At that time, Library Journal explained the self-publishing process this way: "A patron will be able to use the Califa interface, being built with VuFind, to upload their manuscripts to Smashwords, which then will make the books available to its retail partners." It also called for notifying Califa that a patron had uploaded the title and see if Califa wanted to purchase the title for its collection."

The deal called for Califa to buy 10,000 of Smashwords’ bestselling titles. Those works would be available for checkout from the writer’s local library, as well as for sale through the Smashwords distribution network.

Libraries and Ebooks

I wondered how that worked out. Although I couldn't find a report that gave statistics on any benefits to those Smashwords authors and any downstream effects of the ebooks being offered to the California Library system.

I did however find a blog post on Califa Products about the limitations that plague their vision. According to the January 6, 2014, post: "Despite the recognized benefits of and increasing patron demand for innovative library programs, limited connectivity often prevents librarians in the California State Library System from offering programs and services they perceive would be of value to their patrons."

The libraries just don't have the unlimited wireless access and bandwidth they need for live streaming and many other innovative programs they'd like to offer. Offering wide access to ebooks is just one part of what they'd like to do. In a state that's always in the news for their economic woes, this is hardly surprising. There is an effort underway to secure funding, but it remains to be seen if it will be successful.

Future Potential

Although the lofty goals of this library deal don't seem to have been realized, that doesn't mean that those goals won't one day be accomplished. Kindle books can be bought for library systems as can the aforesaid Smashwords. Overdrive says they have 600,000 totals available to libraries. The real question is where is the data that show how many library patrons are checking out these books?

As an author, of course I hope that sales to libraries nationwide will one day be commonplace, but many problems face libraries that want to offer ebooks. The ebook library market is split between vendors and devices. Costs of content and administrative fees are increasing which can make ebooks more expensive than print.

The jury is out on what the future may hold. One can read as many optimistic forecasts as pessimistic. For now, if you're interested in getting your ebooks into libraries, you have limited choices with distribution via Smashwords channels about the only direct one for indie authors.

Of course, there's Overdrive which some indie authors are trying to navigate, and you can always work with your local library system to get your ebooks offered.

Takeaway Truth

Library ebook sales can only grow, but I have to admit that I hope libraries never reach the point where print books disappear.


  1. Heck, I'll email you circ' stats on Overdrive ebooks from my library. Romances made up 40% of the circ's last time I did a thorough look at the stats. Drop me a line. lmdir@mwfls.org

    Gerard Saylor
    Southern Wisconsin

    1. This is great news! Yes, I'll email you later. Would love to see the stats. Thanks, Gerard.