June 23, 2011

eBooks and The Library


We're aren't going to our first ALA Annual event, in New Orleans this year, for the gumbo. Though we won't turn any away.

According to a recent Paid Content article the Library eBook lending industry has only arrived at a 15% share, which to be honest, seems rather healthy. As noted in a previous MobyLives piece, the realm of the eBook consumer is quickly appearing to be filled with people that desire cheap and easy over quality and quantity. By cheap read: .99 cents and by easy read: DRM free. So the .99 cent eBook crowd might be finding the free but DRM’d loan of a eBook from a library just too much of a hassle to deal with. Especially when you can download the first volume in Ted Wargson‘s new epic fantasy trilogy for free and then grab the subsequent volumes for .99 cents a piece.

The real player that threatens libraries is the hardware providers themselves. Amazon has no love for libraries and nor does Barnes & Noble. With interactivity becoming a necessity for a new dawn of social reader, libraries and their static loan programs may find themselves outgunned. As Kindle and Nook embrace loaning and social media structures, libraries are being increasingly left out.

That 15% share though…  It is usually spun as small and insignificant, but it speaks to me of a real desire for a not-so-small group of early adapters to use their public library as a secure source for eBook borrowing. And such a figure can grow.

OverDrive, the industry leader in library eBook services, is improving their service with the alacrity that librarians themselves expect of technological innovation. At this year’s ALA Annual in New Orleans, Melville House‘s first ever by the way, OverDrive is unveiling this expanded list of services and innovations which will include:

-Offer support for Kindle Library Lending coming later this year, in addition to every major operating system, reading device, and mobile platform
-Add hundreds of thousands of in-copyright e-book and digital audiobook records with free “E-Book Samples” for immediate access on reading devices and platforms
-Enable patron driven acquisition, an opt-in program that will allow readers to immediately borrow a title, recommend to a library, or “Want It Now” from online booksellers
-Provide new “always available” e-book collections for simultaneous access of romance, self-help, young adult, children, and other fiction materials
-Launch “Open E-Book” titles, free of DRM

And that’s a great start. The “Want It Now” feature is wonderful indeed. As much as I love the interaction of the inter-library loan program (hey, stop snickering!) a service that allows a library user to request and download a book via their library’s site, in real time, with the publisher getting paid for the sale and the author their royalties is simply amazing.

The downside is the death of library discharged book sales. Virtual books sitting on a virtual shelf will never need clearance. All that said, confidence in the library community and their knack for managing information technology is exactly why we’re going to the ALA this year…to learn a thing or two.

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.