Postcapitalist Libraries — Outline

The Proposition: Readers establish LIBRARIES. Cooperative libraries select and purchase holdings of e-books from writers’ houses, duplicating and distributing free copies to their members.

  • All library holdings are e-books, eliminating the need for physical locations.
  • Instead of lending books, each local library enables members to download their own copies of any books in its holdings, for free and without limit.
  • Each local library acquires the right to distribute e-books freely to its members by purchasing a single copy of the e-book from the writer/publisher.
  • Collectively, the network of local libraries establishes standards by which books are deemed worthy of inclusion in the libraries’ archives.
  • Each local library is responsible for curating and acquiring its own collection of e-books.


E-books cost nothing to print, warehouse, ship, or shelve, making it possible to distribute copies freely to any and all. No longer burdened by financial obstacles, readers can take an active role in widely disseminating e-books they deem worthwhile. Only the writers of e-books incur costs. Instead of buying books one at a time as commodities, of which the writers receive a small percentage as royalties, reader-controlled libraries collectively and directly become patrons for writers, buying from them the right to distribute copies of e-books freely in local areas.

Challenges and Opportunities

Acquisitions. Some sort of system must be established for evaluating and selecting books deemed worthy of archiving in the libraries. Instead of every reader buying a copy of a book, each local library must pay for only one copy, which it can then freely distribute to members. In the aggregate, the overall cost to readers is reduced significantly. However, the local libraries must find the money to buy its holdings. Membership dues can be cumbersome to administer. Perhaps individual members can become library “patrons” by buying one or more books for the local library collection.

Writer compensation. Without the middlemen taking the lion’s share of revenues, writers receive a greater percentage of each library’s purchase of e-books. However, only the libraries purchase books; their members can obtain their own copies for free. Matching even the current low levels of writer compensation can be attained only if a fairly large number of local duplicating libraries acquire holdings.

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