Book Rentals?

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I found a new website that rents books to people by mail. They have my book listed on their site but my publisher says they never ordered a copy. Do you know what’s going on?
-M

I’m getting lots of emails from authors asking about those rent-a-book websites. Basically, they work kind of like Blockbuster. People send in their requests and, if the site has the book (or is willing to purchase it), they’ll send it to the customer.

Authors are concerned because they see their book listed on these sites and wonder how the royalties work.

Since these sites are listing a large quantity of Print on Demand (POD) books, it’s obvious they have access to the Ingram feed. This doesn’t mean they have purchased a copy of your book. It simply means they are showing Ingram’s listings as their own (as if they have all those books in inventory). They don’t. If somebody asks for your book, the rent-a-book company may (or may not, at their discretion) purchase your book and send it to their customer (they can simply tell the customer they can’t/won’t get the book if they want to).

If they did purchase your book from Ingram, that is where your royalty would come into play. You would not earn royalties each time someone “rented” your book from the outfit, just like you don’t earn royalties each time somebody checks out one of your books from the library. Publishers can’t stop anyone from renting/loaning out print books. But, if you think about it, this actually might give your book some added exposure and may increase sales. If people are only interested in renting books, not buying, they may see your book on one of these sites and request it. If the company decides to buy it, that’s one more sale you’d have not made.