Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Options for Library eBook Lending Expand Rapidly


The library ebook lending market is getting increasingly competitive, and diverse.  At this year's ALA Conference in New Orleans, major new ebook lending schemes, product improvements and new business models have been announced by a variety of players.

3M officially unveiled their comprehensive new ebook lending service offering, and is in the middle of a battle over whether libraries that have been OverDrive customers are contractually allowed to move their already-purchased ebook collections to 3M or other vendors. (Permission is required from the publishers in any event. The Kansas Digital Library Consortium is the system testing this provision, and they say their proposed contract renewal from OverDrive "would have raised fees nearly 700 percent by 2014" according to Library Journal.)

OverDrive has previewed enhancements to their long-established program, including a patron-driven acquisition model, and collections of "always available" ebooks in certain genres. They announced that publishers participating in that collection of books for unrestricted lending include Thomas Nelson, Encyclopedia Britannica, Crabtree Publishing, and Lonely Planet, and eBook supplier Liquid Comics.
Baker & Taylor has also entered the market in a significant way with their Axis 360 digital media circulation and management platform. For librarians who already order print products from B&T, the new system bundles physical and digital content in the same shopping cart. On the ebook side, Axis 360 uses the Blio platform, naturally, still only available for the Windows platform, but it looks like that will be changing soon.

They have a special promotional relationship with Barnes & Noble, in which the bookseller will promote "awareness" among Nook customers about the availability of ebooks from public libraries, and Axis 360 will promote the Nook line as "featured devices"--so Blio books will be ready to run on Nook's android devices--and link through to for product purchases. And this fall they will incorporate EPUB and spoken word audio titles.

The newest entry was announced today, from Library Ideas, which already supplies digital music, games and other material to 500 library systems worldwide. Their Freading service (for free reading) promises a collection of over 20,000 titles on a different business model: they charge a pay-per-use fee, instead of "selling" ebooks with lending restrictions. They also offer "tools to allow libraries to control their spending over the course of a budget year."
The company says 16 publishers have agreed to supply titles, including Sterling Publishing, Sourcebooks, Andrews McMeel and Regnery. Their pitch is that it allows libraries to make a substantial ebook collection available without upfront cost. In the release, Sourcebooks ceo Dominique Raccah says "Library Ideas has put forth an innovative model that we're excited to explore and which we believe could make sense for publishers and libraries alike."

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