With a capital T, and that rhymes with B, and that stands for Books! Books that could be exercising and growing imaginations, but are being upstaged by virtual reality TV shows and video games – passive entertainment that is bombarding and blinding brains with high decibel, eye straining special effects – spoon feeding pre-visualized adventures! (And I call that sloth!)
Books with beautiful blurbs and eye-catching covers, but that can’t be shifted – no matter how they’re formatted – nor how authors use social media or blogs or 99-cent sales! But in our efforts to promote our magnum opus, have we neglected a large market segment? One that offers potential exposure to not dozens, nor hundreds, nor thousands, nor millions – but BILLIONS of pairs of eyes:
The humble public library.
Now there may be some who are thinking: That stodgy old place where folks borrow books to read for free?
Well, let me tell you, my friends, if you give away freebies at A Major Online Retailer, you may have given away lots of books – to folks who may never read them – and even if they do, they won’t willingly pay for another copy. But you sell a book to a public library – a book which can be read by lots of people, who may like it so well, that they want to have their own copy, to keep – and they’ll pay for it.
And if we think libraries are lackluster settings for our works, we need to check the expiration date on our library cards: They may need renewing, and while we’re doing it, we may learn something new about the place that so many words call “home.”
On the other side of The Hundred Acre Wood that separates it from my neighborhood, there lurks my town’s public library. It’s the most user-friendly library I’ve ever patronized.
- They hold Jeopardy! tournaments.
- They celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day, complete with costumes, Calypso music, all-day pirate movies, and food.
- They stage theatrical presentations in their auditorium.
- I’ve lectured there about genealogy (to a standing-room-only crowd).
- They host cooking demonstrations by my son, the Chef.
- It was my attendance at their book discussion club which tipped off the Muses that I was ready to write Irish Firebrands.
- I held a book signing there (catered by the Chef, of course).
- My poem collection garnered 2nd place in their First Annual Poetry Competition, this year.
- The Old Farts On Guitars teach music lessons there.
- Downstairs, the Friends of the Library screen weekly free film showings, with free pop and popcorn.
These are just a few of their Adult patron programs. They have a full slate of offerings in their YA and Children’s departments, too.
According to the US Census Bureau, in 2008 there were 9,221 public libraries in the United States, to which patrons made 1,504,861,000 visits. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) says that by 2011 the number of libraries had decreased to 8,956, but visits had increased to 1.53 billion: more than 4.2 million visits per day. This is an increase of 23.0% over 10 years ago, although in-person visits have decreased by 3.9% since FY 2008, and per-capita visits averaged 5.1 times per person, a decrease of 3.6% from FY 2010. However, the IMLS doesn’t count virtual visits, and public libraries circulated 2.44 billion materials, including a rapidly increasing number of e-books.
How might we go about targeting the library market? This IMLS graphic from their FY 2011 Survey shows a higher density of libraries in the eastern half of the country. That could be our focus, although there are significant metropolitan concentrations in the west – and might not isolated rural library patrons also enjoy having increased access to Indie books?
Alternately, the FY 2011 distribution of per capita visits and circulation show a northerly concentration, which is supported by the distribution of total program attendance per 1,000 people. Are they attending Talk Like A Pirate Day, too? Are they borrowing books about pirates?
The numbers indicate a lot of potential exposure for our works, and for US writers, whatever the trends may be in your state for library expenses and revenues, I’d be willing to bet that library acquisitions committees statewide are still interested in showcasing homegrown talent. This could mean the sale of a bound copy, an e-book, an audiobook, or even all three. For all writers worldwide, if you sold a copy of your book to each of only 1/3 of the libraries across the United States, that would make a tidy year’s income, after which any subsequent sales to library patrons would be gravy.
And wouldn’t that be swell?