Marketing to libraries can be a challenge for independent publishers. For starters, many make the mistake of believing there is a single library market. That is not the case. Public libraries evaluate books differently than academic libraries. Furthermore, large public libraries behave differently than small public libraries, and community college libraries conduct their affairs differently than four-year and research-oriented colleges and universities.
Public libraries must constantly balance the demands of patrons who thirst for good fiction, but who also need access to books on starting businesses, getting jobs, and running their lives. Undergraduate and community college libraries build their collections largely to support classroom work on campus. Larger university libraries are more focused on supporting faculty research.
The first step toward successful library marketing is a careful assessment to determine which types of libraries best fit the books you publish. For instance, well-written popular fiction may click with public libraries, but they will almost surely fall flat with academic libraries. Research monographs are appropriate for academic libraries if presented correctly, but they will most likely be unsuitable for any but the largest public libraries. Some textbooks may sell only to community colleges, and perhaps not well even to them, while other textbooks may sell to larger academic libraries if they can be used as references beyond the classroom. Fitting your list to the right library market segment can be confusing.
As with marketing to any other prospective buyers, you need to produce effective, well-written promotional materials to get librarians’ attention. But you need more than strong promo materials to get libraries to consider your titles for purchase. It helps to understand how librarians select new titles, and who within the libraries is in charge of the various collection development and acquisitions pieces.
In a public library, Collection Development librarians recommend books for purchase. In academic libraries, Reference Librarians evaluate and select published tools they will use, while Subject Specialists select nonreference titles for the general collection. If you produce e-books and send new-title information to the Electronic Resources Librarian in an academic library, you are probably wasting your time. In most cases, people with that job title concentrate on licensing issues, not content acquisition.
The Best Tools to Use
For all libraries, positive reviews from sources librarians trust are the most effective marketing tools. Endorsements of a book by objective, respected third parties carry weight in the library world, especially in an economic environment where libraries have to pick and choose among an overwhelming array of new titles.
Public librarians, community college librarians, and small-college librarians use review sources like Library Journal, Choice, and the New York Times Book Review to help them select books to acquire. Librarians in large academic institutions count on reviews in the same journals that their faculty members use to drive their research. If you are publishing books for the academic research library market, it will be helpful to understand the world of high-impact journals—those that are rated as the most influential in the relevant discipline or disciplines. A positive review in the right journal, even one with a relatively limited circulation, can significantly influence academic library sales.
Along with reviews in the right places, you can use marketing programs offered by wholesalers that serve libraries to boost your chances for sales. Ingram and Baker & Taylor have programs designed to reach public library buyers. Academic wholesalers like YBP (owned by B&T), Coutts Information Services (owned by Ingram), and Blackwell provide approval-plan services that drive sales of new books to larger academic libraries. Discussing your options with various wholesaler partners is well worth the time and effort involved.
Familiarity is another asset when you want to open doors to library sales. If your publishing company is not well known in library communities, consider producing a regular email newsletter for librarians that provides information about your company, its titles, and its authors. For regional publishers, becoming actively involved in state library associations can be beneficial. Exhibiting at the American Library Association’s annual conferences can be useful, though that can cost thousands of dollars by the time you add up all the expenses. Sending press releases to library associations can be useful too, but as with all press releases, there is no guarantee they will be used. Making contributions supporting the association’s events can raise librarian awareness of your press and its publications. All library associations, from ALA to state chapters, have liaisons who can provide you with specifics of the ways you can contribute to and participate in their events.
Sometimes little things can help drive sales. If you send your catalogs to libraries, be sure to develop an order form that’s appropriate for them (see a sample order form for libraries below). Libraries need complete bibliographic details to generate an order. They also need spaces to write in locations/branches for which each book is being purchased, as well as fields for the assignment of funds, and the initials of the selector. Sending libraries the same order forms that you use for bookstores tells librarians that you don’t really care about their particular needs.
Get in Sync with the Cycles
Lastly, take time to understand library fiscal-year cycles and the effects they have on purchasing patterns. Public libraries frequently operate on a calendar fiscal year. Most U.S. academic libraries have July–June fiscal years. Canadian academic libraries operate on April–March fiscal cycles. Federal libraries’ fiscal years run October–September.
These cycles dictate when libraries will be given new funds for making book purchases and when they will be ramping up or winding down their new-title acquisitions. For obvious reasons, approaching library selectors when they are focused on purchasing, rather than when they are closing accounts for the year, can make marketing efforts more successful.
For publishers willing to invest in understanding the various library markets and providing the kinds of materials librarians need, the rewards can be significant. And contrary to popular belief, selling a book to libraries tends to drive up consumer sales of that same book, not cut into its sales. Done well, marketing to libraries can help independent publishers weather today’s trying economic conditions.