The Power of One

Bryce Courtenay who wrote the popular novel The Power of One recently died. His New York Times obituary mentioned that when greeted on the street by someone he would write down their name and address and send them a signed copy of a book. He gave away thousands of book recognizing that people would recommend his book to others. He realized that the repeated power of one gift gave him a greater base of readers.
Recent reports show that in the ereader era people still discover books through personal recommendation. More people decide what to read through personal interactions despite rampant social media and like-buys from Amazon algorithms. A Digital Book World blog mentions a recent study by Bowker that ”amid all the change in how readers read and discover books, one thing has remained constant: in-person, personal recommendations are the No. 1 way people discover books, no matter who they are or how they read.” Bryce Courtenay was on to something which authors should heed, publishers address and libraries trumpet.
The Courtenay example of giving away books is not counter to an author’s goal of selling more books. In fact it creates a wider base of readership and adds a personal touch that strengthens the connection between story and reader. Isn’t that what every writer wants, a stronger connection to their audience that will keep readers returning for more? Author’s sometimes take issue with the first sale doctrine and the ability of library to circulate their titles. Some would like to get paid for every circulation. Maybe they don’t realize that by circulating their titles libraries are providing the same Courtenay practice of reaching a greater audience.
Publishers also have this blind spot. In the current stand-off of access to ebooks and DRM restrictions they aren’t realizing the potential exposure libraries provide to customers. Their concerns about unlimited file sharing would concern anyone, but to cut off ebook access to libraries as some publishers have done is cutting an important avenue of discovery for their customers and therefore their bottom line. It’s been proven in many studies that library patrons will buy books they discovered from libraries.
Libraries are fighting an endless battle with publishers. As long as publishers feel threatened by unlimited access to ebooks via libraries they’ll balk in providing content. Libraries might see better results by focusing on author’s concerns. The previous paradigm of independent bookstores championing overlooked or new authors creating a groundswell of interest is over. Most of those bookstores are gone. Libraries are the only viable option left for authors to get that in-person exposure across the country. Librarians and staff are in effect their new booksellers. Authors should be insisting publishers sell their ebooks to libraries. In-person options of book discovery are disappearing but libraries will remain an author’s essential advocate.

About john schoppert

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