Monday, 25 March 2013

Conversing with the British Library

As we all know in the self-publishing world physical copies of our work are really a vanity side of our hard labour. We are not likely to sell many paperbacks, with some authors selling 100 e-books for every paperback sale. That isn’t a lot. But despite the dismal sales of paperbacks, if you sell in the UK you are required to submit a free copy to the British Library for their records, called the Legal Deposit. This is a legal requirement. Or is it?

For starters let me explain what happened. I was reviewing my proof of my new release “Ghost Haunts” when someone reminded me of my legal obligation. And when I say reminded, I mean informed. I immediately went into detective mode to find out exactly what I had to do, when I found something interesting.

The legal requirement comes from the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003. The act is fairly straightforward, but it is the wording in the act that got me thinking.

For instance the wording says it is the legal requirement for the publisher and distributor to provide the copy – not the author. Some people may think what is the difference with a self publishing author? But I got my ISBN from Createspace and the ISBN labels them as the publisher, not me. Also Createspace act as the distributor. So technically, under the legal description in these circumstances, I was not obliged to provide a copy to the British Library.

But I wasn’t content with my own reading of the act – I needed more information. So where did I go? Where else but the British Library deposit team!

So I called them and spoke to a very nice lady who said that it is indeed a very grey area and she wasn’t entirely sure, so she would call me back after speaking with her manager.

Within thirty minutes her manager called me back. She was also very nice and this is where I got some very interesting information. After explaining the situation and said I was unsure on whose responsibility it was to provide a copy. She stated it was a legal requirement to provide a copy within 1 month of publication to the British library and a copy each to the other five institutions that keep copies; within 1 year. That’s six copies! But, she relented and said that as the ISBN was provided by Createspace and they were technically the publisher on record, and they were also the only ones distributing – I was not required to provide a copy. And neither was Createspace as they are an American based company.

They were a little disappointed and said that they would still really like a copy of my book if I would be willing to provide it. So, feeling slightly sorry for them I spoke to them about the benefits of being part of the records. And to be honest it isn’t a great deal. Essentially if you place your book in the archive anyone can go in and read your book (but not borrow it) and some bookstores use the catalogue they compile from the records to order copies.

But then came the bombshell I was not expecting. The legislation is changing as of...

6th April 2013!

That’s right; it’s not long until the legal requirement for authors publishing in the UK changes. And this one, in my opinion, is big!

From the 6th of April, all books sold in the UK, whether digital, physical or both will have to be deposited with the British Library by the publisher. Now you may assume that makes no difference, but technically in e-book form, I am the publisher – not Amazon. So I would have to submit my book for the British Library records. But when I asked for more details about this, the manager couldn’t help me any further saying there has been a new department set up to handle this and she had no idea about it. So I thanked her and took a breather.

Then I searched the internet for the number for the other department. I found it pretty easy, and immediately gave them a call. There I spoke to a nice gentleman who was one of the team implementing and managing the new digital archive.

From my conversation with him I could ascertain a number of things. Firstly the legislation will take effect from the 6th April 2013. After that date the preferred (notice the term preferred) method of submission to the Legal Deposit will be digital copies of any e-book that is sold in the UK for small to medium publishers; that includes self publishers, but not anyone who traditionally publishes with a large publisher. Much in the way which the copy is used will stay the same. The method of delivery will be done by an online portal (easier submission for authors and less costly) which they were just testing when I phoned.

I was also able to learn that a similar scheme was used in New Zealand, where it worked well. However traffic was apparently low.

At the end of the conversation I thanked the gentleman nicely for his information and hung up the phone realising that in a few short days – I will be obliged to provide a digital copy of my book.

What are your thoughts on the changes?

Of course my conversations with these individuals should not considered legal advice and you should gain your own in these matters. I am merely providing a summary of my conversations today. I have not mentioned any names as neither provided permission for me to share them (although both were informed I would write a blog post on this) – for the record I didn’t ask them for permission.


  1. Thanks for this. I was confused about what to do - I['m more than happy to provide a copy to the BL but it was the other five copies I wasn't so happy about giving away! So presumably from the 6th I will have to give them an ebook copy as well as the paperback. Or just an ebook now? Still confused!

    1. Thanks Alison for the comments. My contact at the digital team clearly stated that the digital format will be the preferred method of submission. I am assuming that means that the BL will no longer require a physical copy should you submit an e-book version. Which will drastically reduce costs for authors.

      My plan is just to submit digital format.

  2. Wow, thanks for the info. I'll be checking for updates.


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