Since libraries offer borrowed books either freely to their community or at a low membership cost, do authors make money from libraries?
Is it even worth getting your book into a library? Wait, how do libraries make money? 🤔
Your concerns and queries are definitely valid- this is one that baffles many! So let's break it all down for you now.
I get it; you've been to the library and borrowed books; chances are that this thought has popped up in your mind at least once every time you took a book home with you.
You’re not really paying anything for all these books, and you’re sure the librarian isn’t secretly paying for all these books out of her own pocket - so who is paying the authors for their work?
We've all paid a late fee or two (I know I certainly have), but that can't count for much, can it?
Do authors even make money from libraries at all?
The answer to this question is simple: yes, authors do make money from libraries.
It is not the primary or the largest source of income by any means, but they do receive remuneration for the borrowing cycle their books go through in libraries.
I know what you’re thinking:
How do they make money from libraries?
Does the library pay them every single time someone borrows their book?
Does the library pay a monthly fee?
How do libraries make money in the first place?
Don't worry, I am getting to all of that, and more...
Lets start by addressing how libraries make money.
how do libraries make money?
Libraries make money in a variety of ways:
- They rely on government funding, private donations, grants, and endowments.
- They charge fees for things like membership, late returns, copying, and printing.
- They often generate income from renting out meeting rooms and facilities.
- And believe it or not, many libraries still make money from the sales of items like DVDs and physical audio books.
- They also and sell books and other materials that are no longer needed or used.
The biggest contributor to a libraries revenue is all in the name, [public] library; the government! Libraries are government-funded businesses open to the general public for the enrichment of society.
Now that we have cleared that up, let's move back over to the authors...
How do authors make money from libraries? The Exact Process.
Authors get paid a royalty every time a library buys a copy of their book from the publisher. In most cases, libraries will buy a single copy of your book, getting you one unit of royalty payment (which does not amount to much).
However, if your book turns out to be quite popular among readers, the library may order a lot more copies to satisfy the demands of borrowers.
Despite this, it may seem a bit unfair to the author that at times hundreds of people will read your book without having to pay for it.
Imagine the amount of money you could have earned if these same hundreds individually bought your book on Amazon, Waterstones or Barnes & Noble!
This realization has pushed some countries to support authors in more ways when it comes to the use of their work in libraries.
For example, The Society of Authors in the U.K. campaigned and successfully convinced the government to enact a ‘Public Lending Right’ in 1979 that allows authors to be paid a small amount every time someone borrows their book from a public library.
This payment is relatively small (about 8.5p) but has enabled authors all over the country to earn up to £6,600 every year based on how many times their books were borrowed.
In Canada, a similar system exists in which authors receive a check annually that pays them an amount proportional to the number of times their books were borrowed.
In this way, in-demand books fetch more revenue than books that do not get off the shelf more than once.
How much do authors earn through libraries?
There is no fixed answer to this question, as how much an author earns through libraries depends on several factors. Foremost is the contract agreement the author has signed with the publisher.
This determines the royalty amount (as a percentage of the total retail price of the book) the author will be paid for each book sold. The higher this amount, the more you will earn with each copy sold to a library.
Note that libraries and retail stores pay different prices for each copy of your book. Libraries often pay twice or thrice the amount an individual buyer would have to pay at a retail store.
This could be because libraries order sturdy and robust copies that have reinforced covers to withstand the demands of time and repeated borrowing.
Because they’re ordering a limited number of copies (often just a single copy), libraries do not get large discounts, unlike retail stores which get up to 55% discount because they order copies in bulk.
What all of this means is that you will get a higher royalty payment if your book was purchased by a library than if it was sold in a retail store.
Where do libraries get the money to buy books?
If you’ve thought carefully about why they’re called public libraries, you would know the answer to that already. If you don’t, get ready to be taken by surprise.
What if I told you that when you take a book home for reading from a public library, you’re not exactly doing that for free? Public libraries are funded through your own taxes, and this funding is used to buy the books that populate the shelves.
So in a sense, you’ve already paid for the books you’re borrowing from the library if you’ve paid your taxes! Think of this as a prepaid service.
How is it legal for libraries to lend out the same copy to so many readers?
We (thankfully) live in a world where the idea of copyright protection exists and is taken seriously. This means that you cannot reproduce or disseminate a product or service that is not your own.
How is it then that a library can buy a single copy and give it out to so many people?
This is possible because of the ‘First Sale Doctrine’, as it is called in the U.S. This doctrine says that once someone has bought a copy of a product (such as a book) legally for the first time, they have full rights to do whatever they want to do with the physical copy (sell it, rent it, or give it away for free) as long as they do not change the contents (or the text) of the book.
This is why it is perfectly legal for libraries to lend out the same copy to so many readers.
How do libraries manage eBooks?
In today’s age, no library can get by without embracing and keeping a good stock of eBooks. However, these are not like their physical counterparts that occupy shelf space and cannot be copied so easily.
If you have a digital file, you can copy that file as many times as you want without putting in any effort.
This creates a special problem: if you allow people to download eBooks, even if you make them pay for downloading it once, there’s no saying that they won’t upload it somewhere else on the internet and share it with everyone they know.
Add to this the ease with which anyone can do a simple google search and find a free downloadable version of the eBook – and now you have an author who will not get any payment for his efforts.
For this reason, libraries and all other companies distributing digital publications have turned to Digital Rights Management (DRM).
What is Digital Rights Management?
DRM has emerged as the primary way for preventing copyright infringement and piracy of eBooks and other digital publications over the internet.
The idea behind DRM is that instead of allowing people to pay to download copies, you make them pay to get legal/licensed access to eBooks which are stored on a central cloud server and can only be downloaded to authorized devices.
This is how ‘borrowing’ works when it comes to eBooks in a library. Readers interested in an eBook get a licensed key that allows them to access the eBook instead of possessing a downloaded copy.
Once they have returned the book, i.e. their access period is over, they can no longer read the eBook again and will have to ‘borrow’ it again if they want to.
How do authors and publishers earn from eBooks in libraries?
This brings us to an important problem that is also a controversial issue today. A physical copy of a certain book gets worn over time and needs to be replaced, for which a library will need to buy a new copy.
Similarly, the library will have to buy new copies if a book is in-demand and constantly being borrowed out.
In each of these cases, the publisher and author are getting paid every time a new copy is bought.
However, with eBooks, they cannot get worn out and technically, they can never be so popular that there aren't enough to lend out, right?
In some cases, this is true; the library only needs to buy the license for accessing the eBook once and then it can administer that license to as many interested readers as it wants without ever having to buy eBooks again.
Of course, this practice has angered a lot of publishers, and rightfully so. Publishers actually started blaming libraries for eliminating their real eBook sales and affecting their business, which is neither here nor there.
However, this alone has also led publishers to change the terms on which they sell eBooks to libraries.
Many publishers, like Macmillan, are now requiring libraries to re-buy eBooks after these have been lent out a certain number of times.
For example, once 30 people have borrowed an eBook, the library will have to pay the retail price of the eBook again to allow another 30 people to get access to it again.
Others have put in place a bi-annual billing system in which regardless of the number of times an eBook is borrowed, the library must make a payment twice a year. This payment is often multiple times the actual retail price for a single eBook copy.
Authors have been selling their books to libraries for decades now, and they do so not to earn lots of money, but to increase public interest in their work and thus increase their sales.
I hope my article has helped you understand the relationship between authors and libraries. If you’re an aspiring writer, you should definitely consider having your book inside libraries.
And, whether publishing through Ingram Spark or Amazon you can rest assured that libraries will have access to your books.