Think that public libraries are dying out? Not so fast: the Pacific Standard’s Anna Clark believes that “the best-kept secret about America’s libraries is that they are wildly, deeply, and incontrovertibly popular. They are as actively used as ever, if not more.”
The American Library Association and Pew Research Center have the stats behind this claim: according to ALA, public libraries circulated 2.46 billion materials last year—the greatest amount in 10 years. Circulation for children’s materials increased by more than 28 percent, and 60.5 million children attended library-hosted programs. Pew Research Center confirmed these numbers: they found that 94 percent of 6,200 surveyed believed a public library improved quality of life. A full 81 percent said they prized libraries for the book access—not just for the free Internet.
Clark encouraged readers to take a stand for libraries, so that these bastions of culture and learning have the funds necessary to stay alive: “Again and again, libraries have been there for us,” she writes, “to the point of becoming almost an invisible part of the civic fabric … It’s our moment to stand up for our libraries: to count them as essential to civic life, and to make sure that those making funding decisions in our community know it.”
If book publishers’ latest scheme is successful, growing demand may remove any final worries for the fate of the library—or it may bring a severe blow to their business. The Atlantic Wire reports on the latest “trend,” or hopeful trend, for the book business: “…Book publishers are looking to make “binge-reading” a thing. Call it ‘a TV approach’ to publishing, as editors at St. Martin’s Press did to the The New York Times. While developers and companies looked for the ‘Netflix for Books,’ the real contribution of Netflix to the book publishing world has been its all-at-once rollout.”
This would mean “closing the gap between book releases”: releasing series over the course of a few months, rather than a year (or longer). This would enable fans to get hooked, and stay hooked. “With the speed that life is going these days, people don’t want to wait longer for a sequel,” Albuquerque bookseller Susan Wasson told the New York Times.
This scheme is an interesting study in venues and audiences. While Netflix may inspire the development, a book is different from a TV series, and a library different from an instant-watch website. With the caveat that writers’ style and quality should not suffer (due to the pressure of speed), it’s not a bad thing to release books in quick succession. It seems a wise and marketable scheme. But while all-at-once rollout may foster book buys, it may favor online sales over library or bookstore visits. If you want to buy the next book in your teen vampire series, will you wait for your local library to buy the latest copy—or will you grab the Kindle edition from Amazon? Netflix has drawn audiences away from the traditional television by offering endless hours of entertainment without the hassle. An onslaught of binge-targeted titles may have a similar effect on libraries.
The books and shows referenced by the Wire were largely geared toward older readers: Fifty Shades of Grey was perhaps their primary example. Thus, it seems this speedy supply idea caters more to adult audiences than children (who can “binge” read Dr. Seuss just as easily at their local library). If the ALA’s numbers are correct, it seems that libraries are successfully targeting younger audiences and families. Also, those who still make libraries a priority in this digital age seem unlikely to leave them now.
Is there a way in which libraries could leverage the binge trend in their favor? It seems accessibility and speed would be libraries’ greatest ally: if they make a point to procure titles immediately upon publication, and market that fact, they may garner more book-crazed readers. It will be interesting to see if the trend develops.