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Toronto Public Library’s Catalogue Now Points Users to

A new retail affiliate program gives TPL a cut of book sales made through its website.

No endorsement of this book should be inferred, but we hear it’s pretty good. The red outline has been added.

Search for a book using Toronto Public Library’s online catalogue and you’ll notice something new beneath all the bibliographic information: a little box that instructs you to “buy your own copy and support the Toronto Public Library.”

The deal is more or less what you’d expect. TPL’s administration has entered into a “retail affiliate” relationship with Indigo. The library gets five per cent of the cost of every purchase made through its catalogue. The program was approved by TPL’s board last June [PDF], but it only launched last week.

This is part of a broader push to open TPL up to new revenue sources. Beginning later this month or early next, the library will begin printing advertisements on the backs of its due-date slips, for a six-month trial period. The library is also investigating the possibility of running ads through its public wi-fi service. A spokesperson tells us those would debut, at earliest, near the end of 2013. The library board would still need to give them final approval at some point before then.

In all likelihood, none of this is going to be obtrusive enough to bother the average library user, but the returns, accordingly, aren’t expected to be that great. The due-date slips are expected to bring in about $20,000, which is minuscule relative to TPL’s operating budget. There’s no reason to expect that the Indigo partnership will bring in a lot of money, either. Library staff studied other jurisdictions with similar programs and found that the proceeds were “modest.”

Hat-tip to Quill & Quire.


  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Don’t people get library books because they don’t want or can’t afford to buy them?

    And what happens if profits from this soar, will their budget be cut further on the evidence that people aren’t using the resources sitting on library shelves?

    • yaz

      For books like Twilight, Hunger Games, 50 Shades, etc, libraries end up buying a ton of copies to try to meet demand, which means wasted $ on books that dont have ROI a year from now. I’m sure all 50 111 copies of Twilight are not in use anywhere.

      Also during high demand, as a reader your option is to wait for a book to become available (months sometimes), not read it, or buy it. For those that choose to buy (a small percentage), with this option at least the library makes a profit.

      I don’t think the libraries’ profit will soar, most people choose to wait.

      • OgtheDIm

        The idea of ROI on a book from a library is rather weird.

        That and about 1/3 of the Twilight books are out on loan right now, with 5 holds. 1/2 of them are available, with the other 1/6th lost, being mended, or in transit.

        • yaz

          I see ROI as this: if the money is spent on 400 copies of a specific book (Hunger Games in this example), that’s money you’re not spending on other authors, etc. Diversification goes out the window if your budget goes solely to trying to relieve customer demand for a single title.

          • Conservative Astroturf Brigade

            Regardless, the library is there to serve the public. I do agree you need to balance popular media with breadth but the bread-and-butter will always be the popular books that will see heavy circulation for six months then drop off.

            If you had to pick 20 copies of Twilight or a copy of a coffee table book on 18th century Kazakh Opera, which one would better serve popular demand? The latter has a place in an academic library (and I bet there would be a copy of it lurking somewhere in the depths of Robarts), but not so much the public one.

          • yaz

            Agreed. However, if you can relieve the demand for some of those bread and butter books, why not? (Aside from the Indigo/Chapters is evil argument)

          • OgtheDIm

            So what you are saying is if people (in this case tweens and teens) demand something, the library shouldn’t provide it in the quantities they demand because somebody else might have something more esoteric they are not getting?

            That’s a one way ticket to being seen as elitist.

            If the people want it, bring it in. If that’s what it takes to get tweens and teens reading, pay the price.

            Frankly, at 400x $25= $10000, the amount of money involved in bringing in that many books of a title is small potatoes compared to the whole library budget. (I’m assuming the costs of inputting and administering a copy of any title stays the same).

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            The fact that there’s a wait list means TPL already does this. The alternative is to run out and buy a new copy whenever all existing copies are checked out.

            Why shouldn’t the library be able to recommend something similar if the desired title isn’t available? Elitism be damned.

          • torontothegreat

            I think you’re mixing up populist with elitist. Ford, is that you?


          yaz: you can spend money on more diverse books, but if no-one has heard of them, relatively few of them are going to be borrowed, thus defeating the point of buying them.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            If it isn’t popular, the library shouldn’t carry it? So much for all those non-fiction books on boring old science, history, political theory, obscure art movements and such.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        What this tells me is the library is spending too much time and money trying to capture fads and finds itself left holding the bag when people move on.

        • yaz

          Can’t disagree with you.

          Devil’s advocate argument: if you don’t pay attention to the fads, there’s a belief that people will stop reading and using libraries.

          • torontothegreat

            Just to add to that (and this is totally anecdotal) I’d imagine with the new teen-reading fad, libraries have seen a huge increase in demand.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            There’s more to literature and libraries than the Young Adult Dystopian/Supernatural Fiction subgenres and Oprah’s latest endorsement.

        • Joe Clark

          Restricting the number of copies of a work because you personally disagree with it or the proposed number of copies not only is no way to run a library system, it positively is not the way TPL is being run or will be run at any point in our lifetimes.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            If the library is finding itself cluttered with books that were in high demand for a short period – as yaz, not me, posited – then yes, there’s a problem with how the library tries to meets demand and what it does with those titles when demand falls.

            Where did “personally disagree with [a book]” come from, Joe? I never said anything to that effect.

          • Joe Clark

            Libraries buy popular and unpopular works in broad proportion to their degree of popularity and unpopularity. Every branch weeds out little-used items (preserving some for other reasons) so there’s enough space for new arrivals. You may not notice it, but it happens. As such, what you believe is an excessive number of copies of a work you (again) personally disagree with is easily handled by existing protocol. Thanks for sharing, but nothing’s going to change.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            Do work on your reading comprehension, Joe.


        Speaking from personal experience: 50 Shades is still *very* much in demand, I had to wait nearly six months for my copy. And that’s with 262 copies in circulation right now. There’s 727 holds on the first volume as of this morning, and that’s even with the library wisely buying as more of the first in the trilogy as the second and third put together (only a small proportion of readers go on to read the second and onwards books of a popular series, as a lot of the demand is curiosity-driven).

    • Testu

      Welcome to the future of Toronto, everything is for sale.

      If it doesn’t sell, it’s because nobody wants it and that means it gets cut.
      If it sells well then it can be shifted to the private sector, no reason for the city to be funding it.

      This is what Ford promised us and it’s what we’re going to get, sooner or later.

    • torontothegreat

      “Don’t people get library books because they don’t want or can’t afford to buy them?”

      Those are pretty stringent pre-requisites for using a Library, dontchya think?


      If I was to buy every single book that I could possibly be interested in, I’d be broke, and barely have room in my house. The library allows me to sample work I wouldn’t otherwise try. If I don’t like it, no problem. I just return it for someone else. If I like it, I go out and buy it, and possibly others in the series. I bought the Catching Fire trilogy because I had read them first from the library, and I knew myself and the rest of the family would enjoy (re)reading them.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        You aren’t disagreeing with me on the first point. You go to the library for books you aren’t going to buy for whatever reason – maybe you only need a few chapters of it for research, maybe you’re trying out a new author or series, either way those are books you aren’t buying sight unseen (so to speak). Whether you then go and buy a copy after is irrelevant, the library has played its role.

  • Danno

    This is sad.

  • dsmithhfx

    Not really a fan of Heather Reisman’s politics, and I don’t like to see my tax $$$ providing a retail venue for it.

    • HotDang

      She’s the one who wants to close down every mom-and-pop book store. Seems like a shared goal of the library.


        Hardly. Libraries encourage and celebrate reading. Bookstore owners who grouse about libraries stealing their trade (if they exist) are truly myopic in their short-sightedness.

  • Brent

    Presumably there is no way of knowing whether I decided to buy the book INSTEAD of borrowing from TPL, or if I was going to buy the book from Indigo anyway and just did it through TPL so they could get the kick-back…?

  • SteelesAvenue

    doesn’t indigo fund very bad things tho? tpl what are you dooooing? also what kind of portion is %5? thats basically nothing.

    • yaz

      Not sure who else can provide a service like this in Toronto. Like Danno said, sad.

    • torontothegreat

      Considering 32 million items are borrowed each year, 2 dollars on a 40 dollar book is more than nothing.

      It will also open access to people wanting to borrow books that others may not want to wait for – while subsidizing the cost of that book.

    • Spork63

      Umm, Indigo has a charity that gives money to fund school libraries. I wouldn’t call that a “very bad thing”.

      • SteelesAvenue

        I was talking about how they give $ to the israeli army. its kind of controversial considering the whole palestine thingy.

        • Spork63

          Ahh, understood. Except that’s not true.

          • SteelesAvenue

            its a scholarship program where the prerequisite is that you have served for the Isreali army. Everyone needs education, but pretending that this is politically benign is nonsense, its very political.

          • Spork63

            Absolutely, it can be seen as political, just as giving donations to World Vision, or Greenpeace can be. I’m not saying these groups are morally equivalent, just that there has been enough protest and criticism of them that any donation can’t be seen as politically neutral. About 70% of Israelis serve in the IDF, and this program is to provide scholarships to some of those who exit the service and have no family in Israel to support them. This is also a key point – the money is only used to support people who are FORMER members of the IDF. If you disagree with this, fine, but here’s another fact: Indigo has never donated a penny to this program.

            How do I know this? I looked it up on the interwebs. Why do I know this? I used to work in the Manulife building, and the most convenient exit for me was through Indigo. I was regularly protested at by a bunch of folks waving banners out front, and being open minded, I took some of their literature. But, since I’m open minded, I looked into their claims.

            Indigo has no association with and has never donated to HESEG. Schwartz and Reisman do that as private citizens. What I don’t get is the exclusive Indigo hate. If, as I heard some of the protesters say, it’s fair to boycott Indigo because it has an association with people who have an association with a foundation that helps people who had a former association with an organization that is doing “bad things”, then where does it stop? And why only limit it to Indigo? I don’t see the protesters outside Cineplex theatres (owned by Onex, which is owned by Schwartz), or refusing to receive mammograms from machines made by Carestream Health (owned by Onex). It seems that Indigo is the target because it’s easy.

            I respect your right to disagree, and if you think Indigo should still be boycotted, then I would suggest that you have a LOT of other companies that you need to be boycotting as well. But I stand by these facts, which show that some of your statements are simply not true:

            Indigo doesn’t donate to HESEG.

            Even if it did, HESEG is in no way a part of the Israeli army, so the statement “they give $ to the israeli army” is not true.

          • SteelesAvenue

            regardless of the semantics, do you think that it is appropriate for the tpl to be partnered with this organization?

          • Spork63

            With Indigo, a company whose only charitable venture is funding libraries in poor schools, and that supplies not one cent to the organization that you have an issue with? I think it’s entirely appropriate.

            Knowing the facts, I honestly don’t see the problem here.

          • SteelesAvenue

            and then also what they did to a lot of the small bookstores all across Canada, and how as a result they basically single handedly can control what books most people have access too. that also.

          • Spork63

            Okay, S. Ave., I’m not an apologist for Indigo, I just happened to see a statement I knew from experience wasn’t true and I corrected it. You’ve completely ignored my post, and dismissed facts as “semantics”. Now you’re changing topics, because your first line of attack has been shown to be false. I’m trying to be polite here, but seriously, did Heather Reisman poison your cat of something? Because it looks like you’re trying to attack Indigo no matter what.

            Alright, this could be fun. I’ll play. Armed only with logic and Google, I’ll be your Devil’s Advocate.

            What exactly did they ‘do’ to small book stores across Canada? As I understand it, they opened stores and legally competed for customers. Is that somehow intrinsically bad? I just went on their website and found this:


            Now, sure, it’s coming from the company itself, so you may dismiss it as all lies, but it says how Chapters was the biggest book retailer in Canada six years before Indigo bought them. If you have an issue with a rampaging behemoth of a corporation, then it would be Chapters, pre-Indigo takeover. But lets assume the transitive properties of corporate sin, and say that everything that Chapters did before Ms.Reisman bought it can still be blamed on her. What, specifically, did these companies do to small bookstores across Canada, and why is it bad? I ask why is it bad because I’m old enough to remember when my only option for books was a Smithbooks, and it was tiny. I think it’s great that I can get lost in a big Indigo or Chapters and never run out of books to browse (if I can get past the candles and tea – but that’s another issue. As I said, I’m not an apologist for Indigo or Reisman).

            The second part of your statement is that “they basically single handedly can control what books most people have access to.” That is, on it’s face, ridiculous. The article that prompted this is about libraries, for Pete’s sake! Pretty much every town’s got one. But let’s assume you’re talking about books you want to buy. These days you have to WORK to avoid stores that sell books. Loblaws, Costco, Walmart, and now Target all have book selections. My local is a Book City, which is small, but they’ve ordered everything I’ve ever asked for. And speaking of ordering, have you heard of Amazon? Even if you’re too poor to own a computer, or a cell phone with a data plan, and even if you live in Arviat, Nunavut, you can walk on down to the Donald Suluk Library, ask to use one of their computers for 5 minutes, and Amazon will deliver pretty much any book ever printed!!!

            Look, if you hate Indigo regardless of any, you know, real world truth, you hate Indigo. You’re entitled to your opinion. No skin off my nose. But as Mr.Moynihan said, “you’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.”

  • IronWes

    I buy a
    number of books but don’t tend to use the library, this allows me to help
    support others who can’t buy books and instead use the library. I am struggling
    to find any negative here, maybe if public and corporate politics get muddy but
    so far I am open to the idea. Five percent from a price of a book is a new way
    to fund a good public service; good for the folks running this in thinking
    outside the box. If in the end it does not work out as planned then adjust it
    or cancel it, hopefully with no harm done.

    • OgtheDIm

      So you are going to go to the Library website to order something?

      • torontothegreat

        “it only launched last week”

        I for one, knowing this, will absolutely buy books via the Library website, as it’s quite good.

    • IronWes

      What I meant to say here was I don’t visit libraries but I support them and think by buying books through their website is good way to help them financially so yes I will be looking to buy books from their website.

  • torontothegreat

    Maybe I missed it, but it’s good to note that “Additional retailers will be added shortly.”

  • tommy

    I’ll support this if an equivalent reciprocal link is added to back to TPL.

  • OgtheDIm

    For this to really work, the TPL could do some serious SEO tweaking to compete in the google rankings for searches on book titles etc with the likes of Amazon and Indigo.

    • torontothegreat

      Based on traffic that would be futile and impossible, especially with Indigo PROVIDING the books. Unless of course you don’t actually understand how SEO works, which is clear by your comment.

  • Brandon Leal

    Its good to see TPL moving forward on this. sure it provides an outlet for retail to find a market but it’s a simple button link to a page to purchase the book. It’s completely harmless. To those who say this will kill small business, I highly doubt that.

    Firstly, it is impractical given the large order of small business retail without a proper online catalogue to access and the impracticality of those small business giving up 5% of their revenue when that 5% of revenue is far more important for them to remaqn open than it is for Indigo.

    Secondly, the library, like it or not under this administration will see reduce funding levels. This is a fact. RoFoCo are doing their utmost to “hold the line on spending” so new sources of revenue are needed to sustain the fantastic system we have now.

    Lastly, not all people go to the library because they cant afford to buy a book. some go to read a book chapter for research and may become interested in the rest of the book and want to buy it. I realize that a sizable portion do go to the library because they cannot afford to buy the book and this will in fact help them because for what little or large amount of funds the library does receive from this, there will be more money to purchase new books for the system.

  • David

    I don’t buy many books. We have a library if I want a book to read.

  • Russ Schaeffler

    I worked in a public library about 20 years ago in Orlando Florida, and was amazed with the amount of new books the library would received to fill all the requests orders. I saw palettes and palettes full of Danelle Steel and Sidney Sheldon novels stacked 4 feet high. The thing is after the books had been returned there was no space left for them on selfs so they went into storage on the top floor, where they would sit for years.

    I couldn’t believe the public library would try to sell them to raise funds, but a long time person on staff told me they couldn’t do that because of some deal with the city and tax funding.

    I hope the Toronto Public Library isn’t doing the same practice here, if so, it is a huge waste of materials and tax money.