The Bloomsbury Library Online

We have been working with Bloomsbury for some months to develop a subscription service that they will shortly be launching for public libraries. The project is no longer embargo-ed and a select group of journalists will now have access to the final test version of “The Bloomsbury Library Online”. The initial titles include: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (by Kate Summerscale), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (by Mary Ann Shaffer), The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri, and Burnt Shadows, (by Kamila Shamsie). More titles will follow. The Bloomsbury set, as we have termed it ‘in-house’, will be on full public release in a couple of weeks. The Bloomsbury concept has been to provide a range of the best modern writing and new fiction through a subscription service that will be available to public libraries, and through the libraries’ own portals for reading by patrons who hold library cards.

It has been fascinating to watch this project develop over a period of months (I have not been involved, so I have been hearing about it second hand, and seeing prototypes which my colleagues have been working on with Bloomsbury). Plenty of issues and technical considerations have been examined — don’t anybody tell you that Trade publishers are not devils for detail. They are painstakingly careful and systematic about many fine-grained decisions, I do not think Bloomsbury are atypical in this. There have been a lot of emails and visits! All along, Bloomsbury have been anxious to win the support of their authors and their agents, so we have been also hearing at two or three removes about their concerns and goals.

Bloomsbury have held steady to their target of developing a service for libraries, initially primarily in the UK. It has turned out to be pretty much the project that they explained to us before Christmas. A shelf for libraries of some of the best books, from contemporary authors, which will grow and which will also serve to promote sales of the print books and public awareness of the authors selected. I suppose that there is, in this chosen vehicle, an element of quasi-political support for public libraries – a resource which publishers rightly hold to be key to the flourishing of a literary culture. Nevertheless it is interesting that one of London’s leading Trade publishers should set such a priority on the support of public libraries, and that they should fashion such a service for a market which must be a tiny fraction of the market for their print publications. Some STM publishers sell the bulk of their books to institutional libraries (school and college libraries will also be able to subscribe to the Bloomsbury service) but General Trade publishers surely only sell a few percent of the typical hardback print run to the library market. Bloomsbury have not decided how far they will take their digital development. Or, if they have, they haven’t told us about it. This year all major trade publishers are putting out exploratory feelers for the digital books market. No one knows where we will be with digital books in 12 months time — anyone who says otherwise is a visionary or a consultant with an axe to grind! But they clearly have plans to move things on from the current focus. It will be fascinating to see how that works out. we are not privileged to the Bloomsbury plans, but they have been asking a lot of questions!

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