Sunday, July 14, 2013

Exclusive Editions = Bad News for Libraries

Today Ally Carter announced that if you buy a hardcover edition of United We Spy from Barnes and Noble, you'll get an exclusive epilogue. It's only available from Barnes and Noble, and only in print (it won't be in the Nook version.)

My first thought was all about me-- I tend to chafe at being told where I HAVE to buy something. I buy at several different book sellers, but I don't have that option for this one. Plus, Ms. Carter has done several events with Politics and Prose bookstore (my local indie fav.) over the years-- how much does this screw them (and other indies) over?

But my second thought was for the library users. And I tweeted back that exclusive content like is a bummer for libraries and the people who use them.

Ms. Carter tweeted back

Ah. Yes. Libraries can choose to buy that edition. Which highlights some stuff a lot of people don't know about the backroom workings for libraries.

I tweeted back:

After tweeting that, I did some research to get some numbers. Buying the exclusive Barnes and Noble edition at a brick and mortar store would probably cost list price-- $17.99. Ordering online is currently $14.29.

But libraries don't buy from bookstores. Libraries buy from distributors-- the same people who sell to bookstores. And for a new YA hardcover, libraries typically spend $9.01. So yes, a library could choose to buy the exclusive edition. If they do it at the store, though, it's twice as expensive. Libraries could get 1 copy of the exclusive edition, or they could get 2 copies of the regular one (or 1 of the regular, and a copy of something else entirely.) If libraries order online, it's a bit cheaper, but it's still significantly more expensive. (Libraries can buy 1.5 hardcover books for the price of the Barnes and Noble version if they order online.)

In this time of super-tight budgets, that's not a hard decision to make.

But, it's also not a decision that can be made-- most libraries are government entities. Most governments have very strict rules about who you're allowed to do purchasing from-- this is why no-bid contracts are always a local scandal. So, even if libraries had the money to spend on the exclusive edition, many are not allowed to buy books from anyone outside their regular vendor.

So yeah, it's not actually a choice. Libraries do not have access to this content.

Which means that the only way teens can get this is if they can get their own copy at Barnes and Noble. Which means they need access to a Barnes and Noble (to read in the aisle or purchase) or a credit card (to buy online).

I spent almost 7 years working in an underserved community. We had a TON of Gallagher Girl fans who used my library. Many came from homes that, even if they had the extra money to buy a book, they didn't have a credit card to do it. The closest Barnes and Noble is only 4 miles away, but it's across state lines. To get there on public transport will take 70 minutes, will cost $7.90 and involves walking half a mile, two buses and two trains.

So... it's not really an option for them.

Ms. Carter's response was to my above tweet was:

Yep, it's an extra. A bonus. One that libraries can't offer their users. One that only certain fans can dream of having access to. (Ok, let's be honest-- it's one that is just begging to be downloaded illegally. I'm against that professionally and personall, but in cases like this, I do understand it.)

So, here was the last tweet of the conversation:

I feel like a jerk for calling Ms. Carter out like this because it's not like Gallagher Girls is the first series to do this. And I'm pretty sure a lot of the decisions were done by agents and publishers, not by her personally. (And because of the politics of how national chain bookstores work, Barnes and Noble in particular, there's probably a lot at play here to get better display space and placement for all Disney-Hyperion books or other considerations.)

I'm a huge fan of her work, and I once had a lovely conversation with her at a Printz reception here in DC a few years ago and she was really nice and wonderful.

But when I talk about the teens who can't access this exclusive content, they're not hypothetical. I'm talking about specific people. I have faces and names in my head as I write this.

Exclusives like this might be good for bookstores and publishers, but they're pretty shitty for actual teen readers.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.


Anonymous said...

Well said. That is unfortunate. Good for you for being on the ball.
I have yet to read any of the series, but I can easily imagine feeling in the position of not being able to receive the extra content. Bonus content makes any fan eager, and I agree it only sets it up for illegal downloading.
I do my best to get a lot of my material from the library in order to keep my children visiting and reading themselves. Many times I have to join the wait list, and even if the library could get their hands on a bonus content copy, imagine the wait. If that one person manages to damage or lose the copy, would they even replace it with the same?

Great post.

Jennie said...


My guess is that if a library were to get the exclusive edition, that's the only version they'd get. But good point about replacement copies-- and what happens when it comes out in paperback? Will the B&N paperbacks have the content or just the hardcovers?

It's frustrating.

BUT, I highly recommend the series to everyone. It's excellent fun with lots of action and great characters and plot lines. The first one's a bit light and fluffy compared to the rest, but I love them all. This last one blew me away. CANNOT WAIT for the next one (Which is the last! *sob!*)

Sarah (Escaping Through Books) said...

I am really not a fan of exclusive special editions available only get through certain vendors. For example, for Cassandra Clare's City of Lost Souls, there FOUR different exclusive editions... one for B&N, one for Walmart, one for Costco, and one for Target:

It made me really mad that the publisher decided to do something like this because it came across as plain greedy... and if you chose to get it from the library, an indie bookstore, or for your e-reader, then I don't think you got any special content.

Jennie said...


That's why I feel like a jerk for signaling out Ally Carter, because it's not something exclusive to her. This just happens to be the one I caught. The Cassandra Clare thing is egregious-- 4 different editions and one only available at a store you need a membership to, BUT when you look at the end of the post, it was edited to add that after 3-6 months, all of the exclusive content would be online, so it was still (eventually) accessible to all readers.

Carol said...

My feelings are that Ms Carter (or whoever writes these Tweets for her) is having a Marie Antoinette moment: Let them eat cake... I would have hoped she could have at least been willing to look into this for library purchasers and offer a solution. Seems a little blase to say "It's your choice" since you and your readers don't have a choice.

Jennie said...


Yes... and no.

Yes, because being a little sympathetic would be nice.

No, because I don't think a lot of people realize that it's not a choice. Not a lot of people realize how library purchasing works.

I also realize that a lot of this is out of her control and hands-- this is more agent/editor/publisher territory.

Sonetka said...

I'm surprised that a professional author wouldn't have at least an inkling how library sales work; surely they must account for a good proportion of her royalties? I knew about it because I used to be the one unpacking the Baker & Taylor boxes and double-checking that they had in fact sent everything they were supposed to.

I really dislike this trend. It's true that there are plenty of books which I really want and which my libraries don't have and can't borrow, and I can't buy them myself. It sucks, but on the other hand, a library isn't obliged to carry every single thing my heart might desire; just because I want Pamela Gross's biography of Jane Seymour doesn't mean that there's enough demand to justify dropping academic-textbook money on it. That's just one of the breaks. But Gross's biography wasn't written in the hopes of appealing to the largest number of young people possible. In a series that is, presumably, marketed to a demographic which doesn't have a ton of its own money and will be in demand at the library in consequence, it just seems like shooting yourself in the foot. Yes, there's the short-term gain in which you make a bit more in exchange for "exclusivity" but I'm pretty sure that will disappear once people begin to pirate it. Which they will.

Jennie said...


Know something about it yes, know how big the price differential is, no. (I mean, as I'm not the one who actually does the ordering, I didn't even know what the exact price differential was-- I had to ask.)

Also, I don't expect people to know about the purchasing restrictions (another thing I actually didn't know until I was talking to some colleagues. It's one of those things that when you hear it you think "duh" but not something people will realize on their own.)