$4 to $1: Why not just use a publisher?

Last week, I introduced an IndieGoGo campaign to assure the completion of–and presell copies of–$4 to $1: Public Library Benefits and Budgets (2013-14).

Here’s the post (and maybe Independence Day wasn’t the ideal day to post this).

Here’s the campaign itself.

After an initial mini-burst of publicity (on my usual social networks), I realized that I hadn’t directly posted to Facebook’s ALA-TT group, of whom very few probably get my own status updates.

So I did, on Saturday, July 6, and got a few comments. Including this one from Jules Shore (following comments from Henry Mensch who noted that this wasn’t as sexy as LibraryBox but also that it was important stuff that can be useful in advocacy work, which is a primary goal):

Maybe we need a better explanation. I don’t like to compare your project to LibraryBox, but that example has already been presented, so…
1) I’ve heard of Kickstarter, but LibraryBox was the first time I donated. I’ve never heard of IndieGoGo. I didn’t recognize it as an equivalent.
2) I thought the point of producing a reference work, as I interpret this project to be, is you get a publisher to publish and make money from the sales. I imagine every Public Library system in the nation would want a copy of this report, so sales are almost guaranteed.

Why are you funding this project via IndieGoGo, instead of going the regular publisher route?

I offered a quick response this morning (July 8, 2013), but maybe I should say a little more.

Why IndieGoGo rather than Kickstarter?

Fewer projects, less emphasis on GOTTA HAVE THAT VIDEO PLUG, no approval process: slightly lower fees (4% rather than 5%: not a biggie).

The point of producing a reference work

I must admit that I’d never heard the theory that the point of producing a reference work is “you get a publisher to publish.”

I thought the point of producing any work (and I think of $4 to $1 as being more advocacy and current awareness) was to create something that others would find worthwhile.

But let’s get to the broader question: Why not just use a traditional publisher, especially since “I imagine every Public Library system in the nation would want a copy of this report, so sales are almost guaranteed”?

  • Speed. Since this is intended to be useful for advocacy and as a reasonably current overview, I looked for timeliness. It will appear the day after I finish editing–I’ve set mid-October as a deadline for the whole project, but I’d hope to have the first part (Libraries by Size) out in early September and maybe earlier. Based on past experience, I think it highly unlikely that I’d be able to get this out through a traditional library publisher within six months of completion–actually, I’d be surprised if I even had a contract by mid-September.
  • Price. I’d especially like smaller public libraries–which typically don’t have their own marketing staffs or statistical experts–use this, and for those libraries, $45-$65 is a real barrier. (That seems to be the general range of prices for books from library publishers these days, although some go for a lot more.) The IndieGoGo model, if it succeeds, will mean no more than $9.99 for ebook versions (and maybe less), and a modest price (probably well under $20) for paperback versions–and even a modest price for ebook versions explicitly permitting multiple access over a campus, library or statewide server. It’s not that library publisher prices are too high (given the small market and the costs of professional everything, I don’t think they necessarily are), it’s that I can do it a lot less expensively.
  • Realistic sales projections. There are roughly 9,200 public library systems (including single-branch libraries) in the U.S. Most of them are very small. (How small? For FY2011, 46% served fewer than 6,000 people, 66% served fewer than 14,000, 76% served fewer than 23,000–and 23% served fewer than 2,000.) Most of them won’t buy this book; most of them will probably never hear about it. I would be delighted to reach 10% of America’s public libraries. I believe all 40-odd library schools should have copies of these books, but my believing that doesn’t make it so. To be honest: I don’t believe either of the traditional library publishers I normally work with would touch this project–I suspect it wouldn’t meet their break-even criteria.

So what’s the point?

Going the Indiegogo route may be peculiar, especially since ideally most sales should go to libraries (or Friends groups) rather than individual librarians.

It’s an experiment. I think the project’s worthwhile–a considerable improvement over a previous version, which sold just enough copies to make a new version intriguing but nowhere near enough to make it worthwhile for a traditional publisher.

The publicity problem

I’m personally disinclined to go into a daily drumbeat of publicity for this project; that may be a fatal error.

I’m confused enough as to PUBLIB guidelines so that I have not posted anything about this (trying to avoid what can be viewed as a commercial plug), although I think others could do so. Maybe. (If/when I do a special C&I issue promoting this, I’ll announce that on PUBLIB as usual.)

I’m not regularly part of any Friends list, so haven’t really gone there.

I’m not an entrepreneur by nature, which is a problem.

I think this is worthwhile. Only others can decide that for sure.


And, hey, I think A Library Is… will be an intriguing and possibly inspirational little collection (not that little: I’m just past the halfway point and up to 900 mottoes and slogans, although I may trim that somewhat)–and I currently have no plans to offer that book on its own.

Take a look. If you think it’s worthwhile, I’d appreciate your help–both in signing up and in publicizing the project. The quick URL to the project is http://igg.me/at/4to1/x/3751677



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