SUWANEE -- The Gwinnett County Public Library's bookmark advertising project has been suspended amid board member dissension and concerns about its ultimate profitability.
Board member Dick Goodman proposed the suspension of the undertaking -- which allows local businesses to place advertisements on the back of bookmarks passed out at library branches -- following scheduled business items during Monday's library board meeting.
Citing a status report issued by the library's business services division, Goodman said the program, which officially began in March, is actually costing money.
"It works out that for every dollar in sales, this bookmark initiative costs the library $3," Goodman said. "In other words, tax money is subsidizing commercial advertising. Which I don't think is fair to the taxpayers of Gwinnett County."
The status report studied the first three months of the bookmark program, finding a "net revenue" of just over $5,000. That number, however, did not factor in staff time devoted to the initiative, which was valued at over $15,000 in the same report.
Board vice chair Betty Atkinson seconded Goodman's motion Monday.
"My concern is the amount of time that the staff, which is stretched so thin right now, is having to spend on this versus the return," Atkinson said.
Board chairman Phillip Saxton, clearly caught off guard by Goodman's proposal, went along with motion to suspend the project until a business plan showing its economic viability is presented to and approved by the board. That's not to say he agreed with it.
"It is my considered belief that this is a mistake. This is a serious mistake," said Saxton, who originally proposed the idea. "Just as we were beginning to get started, before we had given ourselves an opportunity for it to work, we're now being asked to suspend it."
The original proposal made by Saxton called for businesses to pay $300 to have their advertisement or coupon printed on a run of 5,000 bookmarks, which were estimated to last for about two weeks. Clients were able to choose which branch (or branches) their bookmarks were distributed at.
According to status report given to board members Monday, 16 advertisers combined for 19 total orders between March and May.
Goodman said that model -- which was never presented as a formal business proposal -- just doesn't work, despite Saxton's insistence that the goal was to grow interest in the program before raising advertising prices.
"If that's the business plan, we'd like to see it," Goodman said. "And we'd like to see at what point we would possibly make money."
Board secretary Babs Wagoner nodded in agreement.
For now, the bookmark advertising project has been suspended until, at the earliest, a July 23 meeting at the library's Suwanee branch. Saxton scheduled that new meeting Monday, despite Goodman and Wagoner saying they would be out of town.
The board chair charged the library staff with creating a business plan before then, one "showing that we're no longer losing money."
"It is vitally important that this organization begin to work on non-tax revenues," Saxton said, before adding: "Failure to do that will mean further cutbacks, further reduction in hours, further decrease in benefits and further decreases in staff."