Over the next two weeks, Mohawk Valley Library System patrons will have the chance to enjoy a single work of fiction with thousands of other e-book lovers across five continents.
“Libraries have been doing regional book clubs forever,” said Member Services Coordinator Sharon O’Brien. “Amsterdam and Schenectady both have All City Reads programs. This is just taken up a few notches.”
The program is called The Big Library Read. O’Brien laid out the details:
All Mohawk Valley libraries, along with thousands of other systems around the world, get their e-books from OverDrive Read, a middleman company easing digital traffic between publishing houses and the public. From May 15 through June 1, OverDrive is offering a digital title, “The Four Corners of the Sky” by Michael Malone, to all its library customers for unlimited use.
“The Four Corners of the Sky” details the fictional life of Annie, a Navy combat pilot who was abandoned by her grifter father at the age of 7.
It’s getting good reviews in important literary places like the Washington Post. O’Brien hasn’t yet read the book, but hopes it’s good since the patrons of more than 7,500 libraries in 10 countries will be able to read it for free.
As a member of the literary industry, she said the idea of so many people reading the same prose about the same characters over the same few weeks is inspiring. Even so, literary enjoyment isn’t The Big Library Read’s sole purpose. According to O’Brien, it’s as much about data collection as character development.
The Mohawk Valley Library System operates its own e-book browser, launched at the beginning of last year. Over 2012, roughly 41,000 e-books were borrowed through the system. These days it averages roughly 4,000 downloads a month.
“Our e-book site looks a lot like Netflix,” she said. “It’s a different kind of discovery, and people don’t have to leave their houses.”
It might be popular, but the e-book system is expensive to maintain. So far, the digital books are handled like hard copies, with just one person at a time allowed to read.
“Publishers are worried if people can get an e-book free from us they won’t buy their own,” she said.
As a result, some publishers won’t sell e-books to libraries. The ones that do attach convoluted contracts. For example, Harper Collins e-book titles have to be re-purchased after 26 reads.
Random House books can be purchased without loan limits, but cost much more.
“I just bought three digital copies of Dan Brown’s new book ‘Inferno,’ ” she said. “They cost me $85 apiece.”
OverDrive hopes to change the industry with numbers gathered from their Big Read. O’Brien said they hope to show reading a free book won’t diminish, and might actually promote, sales of other e-books.
“They have a result in mind,” she said. “Hopefully, the numbers will come out in their favor.”
Whether OverDrive convinces publishers to ease up on libraries, anyone with a Mohawk Valley library card will be able to read “The Four Corners of the Sky” for free until the beginning of June.
The e-book can be downloaded onto any digital reading device at mvls.lib.overdrive.com.