My friend, Veronica, writes a smashing good blog, Wallflowers and Rakes. She recently posted a very thoughtful piece on indie books and library collections and pinged me in the post. Full Disclosure: I am going to answer this as a former librarian, as an indie writer, and as an indie reader. Hats, I have many.
As a librarian: I remember when we used to talk about the importance of having unique collections. If all you have are 100 copies of the latest Nora Roberts, but you have no Zoe Archer, Bec McMaster, or Vivian Arend, I am a sad, sad lady.* Many of the authors I love, I do not even bother to look for in the library. In my opinion, Indie books seem like a great way for libraries to build unique collections for readers, collections that many readers want, myself included.
Most libraries do not accept indies because their systems and structure (acquisition and cataloging) have not caught up with the demand and they do not have the time or budget to work out of the system. As a librarian, I know this. As a writer, it breaks my heart. There has to be a way to sift through the dross to find the good stuff. What libraries, especially public libraries, need is a Collection Development librarian who loves to read indies and genre fiction to build a deep genre collection. Somebody post that job description right now.
As a writer: My local library is great, but they do tend to only have the big indies (Courtney Milan comes to mind). I asked if they accepted donations of local author’s work and they said yes. All I have to do is drop off my books. As an indie, the hardest thing is getting face time. No matter how nice your cover and how well edited, you still have to get over the wall and it is very, very high. Getting visibility of any kind is grinding work.
As a reader: I read indie books. Most of them, I love. Some of them, regardless of high praise from others, I hate because of bad editing (both grammar and content). However, as a reader, I could say the same for books I have read from big presses too. I want my library to have a deeper genre variety and I could care less how they were published.
In my experience, most libraries tend to get big name, easily categorized books in all the subgenres. What I mean is in Romance they get a ton of contemporary romance, some of the bigger historicals, maybe a few paranormals and that is about it. Fantasy and SciFi are similarly treated. Once you start reading subgenre books, it usually does not take long to get to the edge of the collection. Anything of mixed genre, fantasy romance, steampunk romance, or scifi romance is not well represented if it is represented at all. I think one of the biggest reasons for this is that books of mixed genre also tend to be indie or small pub produced.
I think indie books have the potential to change the depth of collections for libraries. They tend to be cheaper. Most indie ebooks are in the $3-5 range. Traditional publishers price their ebooks in the $7-12 range. A library could get three indie books for the price of one overpriced traditionally pubbed ebook. I do not have any answers, but I do have hope that someone out there has a great idea that will change the conversation completely.
As a former librarian, current writer, and voracious reader, the potential for growth of indie books into libraries is an exciting opportunity, if only we could figure out a way to do it well.
*My local library Harris County Public has Archer and McMaster.