– By Mark Sexton
Many publishers are slow learners. In spite of abundant evidence to the contrary, they cling to time-honored myths about the $5 billion library market, thereby depriving themselves of substantial revenue. Other houses, as diverse as Doubleday, Wiley and Greenwood Press, have recognized the long-term revenue potential. Their marketing budgets reflect sustained support of direct mail, space ads in the professional library media, attendance at library trade shows and other marketing activities. It’s time that more publishers looked at some of the old myths and noted below and compared them to the real conditions in this giant market.
Recent gloomy news from the retail sector has caused many publishers to think further about hedging their bets in other markets. Many are looking again at libraries, although they are still dogged by widely held misconceptions about this solid, unglamorous but dependable market, worth more than $5 billion in material sales.
Reality: Wholesalers perform a valuable order-consolidation and distribution service but they don’t market individual titles. It’s the publishers’ responsibility to plan and execute a strategy for the library market, just as they would for the trade or for the school and college- adoption markets. One can’t just recycle a couple of trade ads and expect to motivate library acquisitions managers to buy the materials. As with other markets, the publisher must develop recognition of the imprint and then deliver a continuous stream of information about individual publications through several channels – space ads in professional journals, direct mail, trade shows and possibly telemarketing and/or sales reps. Most important of all is a systematic procedure for soliciting reviews and other endorsements to be played back in the firm’s various marketing activities.
Reality: Librarians conscientiously read most of their mail, particularly from small and medium-sized publishers. They know that many original and valuable books and periodicals come from such houses and further more, they don’t like the idea of being dominated by the giant houses. At a recent conclave of librarians and publishers, Juanita Doares of the New York Public Library made a particular point of urging smaller publishers to keep sending brochures and catalogues. She noted NYPL’s interest in their publications and the difficulty in keeping abreast of them.
Reality: As with BEA, much can be done that will pay off in the future for houses willing to take a longer view. Even though orders are rarely written on site at ALA, exposure of the list can generate orders later if the right materials are provided. Further, it’s a chance to find out what’s happening with budgets and about trends in acquisitions; useful contacts can also be made for future market research by phone or through the mail. Publisher exhibits are also perceived by librarians as support for their mission and for their membership organization.
Reality: They are usually very conscious of their public service role and are eager to know about all materials – books, periodicals, video, audio – that might interest their particular patrons. That clientele obviously differs among public, academic, school and special libraries, so publishers should carefully target their marketing activities and provide straight, factual information (including full bibliographic data) to meet the particular needs of a given library sector. Trade-style hype is not only ineffective, it has a definite negative effect.
Reality: All library budgets have discretionary funds outside of acquisitions contracts that can be used to buy materials direct from publishers. Since fill rates of wholesalers are way below 100%, particularly for titles from small and medium-sized houses, acquisition managers often will take advantage of direct-response offers. They also like discounts and special offers as much as everyone else.
Reality: Many librarians see themselves as competitors with, or alternatives to, the local bookstore. They are embarrassed (and angry at the publisher) when the stores have a new book and they can’t provide it for their patrons.
Reality: Many serials librarians have recently overcome their traditional inertia and are culling dead-wood, duplicate subscriptions and “high-priced” science journals more than ever before to free funds for additional purchases. The recent pricing battle (primarily involving a few large European publishers) has actually created new opportunities in some libraries, where acquisitions managers are taking a truly fresh look at the way funds have been allocated in recent years. At the annual meeting of the Society for Scholarly Publishing, some librarians reported that they were shifting funds from the sci-tech area into the humanities and social sciences, having been jarred into the realization that the latter have been slighted.
Reality: Many librarians bend over backwards to cater to public demand, like the one who recently defended her acquisition of the National Enquirer in a letter to Library Journal. Librarians have a long tradition of standing up for the rights of minorities of all kinds – blacks, gays, the homeless – and are not afraid of controversy. The FBI recently discovered their independence thinking when it was told officially by the ALA to stop trying to enlist librarians to track the reading and borrowing habits of certain patrons.
Reality: Format preferences vary among the different sectors of the library market, but even public libraries (where paperbacks are most popular) still prefer hardcover bindings for reference books and many other titles for the permanent collection. Academic libraries still prefer hardcover for most titles and special libraries often have no preference. For example, many corporate and technical collections just want the latest and best research material as soon as it’s available, regardless of format.
Reality: Some city and county library systems buy 50 or more copies of some titles. Individual libraries also buy multiple copies of current interest titles if circulation demand is high or if they want to place one in the reference collection and others in general circulation. Furthermore, library sales are not subject to the devasting returns problem that is so damaging in the trade and to a lesser extent in the college adoption market. Libraries also order more titles at one time and they almost never fail to pay their bills.
Reality: Not necessarily. Librarians don’t want trade puffery because they’re mainly interested in the facts – straight information on which they can make a rational buying decision. But sometimes levity is welcome, as in a hugely successful premium for a school- library supplier, a T-shirt that said, ‘Librarians like it between the covers.”
Reality: Multicopy purchases are common. The Baltimore County system recently ordered 1500 copies of a Danielle Steele novel before publication. Even small libraries buy several copies of high-circulation titles and then may but two or more of a reference work such as a tax guide. One can then be anchored in the reference department while the others are circulated to the public.
Reality: Experience shows just the opposite. Getting exposure through libraries can create demand in bookstores and increase direct ordering from the publisher. Some thrifty buyers want to try out the product before buying it themselves.
Reality: Librarians have good memories for imprints, unlike most general consumers. A publisher advertising regularly in the library media and trade publications wins not only recognition but also respect and credibility. Over time this translates into extra sales, as well as stimulating near-term revenue from specific titles featured in the ads.
Reality: Review managers for the library media and trade publications are evenhanded, and sometimes go out of their way to assign reviews of titles from smaller and less-known imprints, because it is in the interest of the libraries and their patrons to get as broad an overview of publishing as is practically feasible.
Reality: School adoption procedures, including those for supplementary materials, are quite different from those for school libraries, not to mention the substantial differences from public, academic and special libraries. Each sector has specific needs and thus requires different marketing activities.
Reality: Some reference books are still preferred in hardcover bindings to withstand heavy use, but many titles are wanted in paper. It’s partly for economy and partly because the paperback format is preferred by many readers who’ve grown up since “the paperback revolution.”
Reality: This is a misconstruction of the responses to some surveys. Whereas a few very large university libraries have their own “bibliographers,” who specialize in selected disciplines, most colleges and universities don’t. They depend on professors to make recommendations for their disciplines. Even the largest academic libraries tend to seek input from their faculties, if only for intracampus political reasons.
Reality: This is a “partial truth” that can mislead publishers into thinking that the appearance of both their books and their promotional material doesn’t matter. In fact many public and school libraries are now trying to adapt principles of merchandising to their institutions, striving hard to make their “products” appealing to their patrons. Librarians themselves are also quite human and subject to many of the same stimuli as general consumers.
Reality: Although telemarketing has been abused by publishers using illtrained callers who waste librarians’ time, some firms are still finding it effective. Some producers of high- ticket reference works find it useful to qualify buyers, who are then addressed with detailed promotional materials. Others say the key is using intelligent and educated callers who understand that a book is a complex product.