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David Lee King

Ebook Vendors at #ALA11



I took some time to visit the vendor booths at ALA11 (the annual conference of the American Library Association – over 20,000 librarians descended on New Orleans this year!), and made sure to visit most of the ebook vendors out there – and let me tell you, they are a growing bunch! Here are my observations on the companies and the products I saw.

3M:

3M Cloud3M? Why is a company that makes sticky notes and self-check machines getting into the ebook business? Weird, right? It might be weird, but they also have an interesting-looking product. What are they doing?

  • First off, they are making their own 3M-branded ebook reader. It’s pretty basic, but it works – e-ink and all.
  • They also have a variety of apps for mobile devices and computers.
  • 3M is calling their new service the Cloud Library System because ebooks are stored in two places – on the device and on cloud storage systems. This is handy – you can start reading at your PC, then get on the bus and continue reading via your iPhone, for example – you just have to log into your account, which remembers what page you’re on across hardware devices.
  • What’s it not work on? The Kindle (though they’re in talks with Amazon to change this). It does work on Nooks and iPads, though.
  • 3M also has some pretty cool touch interface kiosks for ebook discovery.
  • Interestingly enough, they’re using one of my blog posts in their presentations! Cool.
  • Find out more…

Blio:

Baker & Taylor is a pretty familiar company to librarians – they’re a book distributor, and many libraries work with them. They have partnered with Blio, a new ebook service. Here’s what I know:

  • Blio is a creation of Ray Kurzweil (yes, THAT Ray Kurzweil) and the National Federation of the Blind, of all things. Baker & Taylor partnered with them to provide content.
  • Blio will read out loud to you (I assume by a computer-generated voice) and lets you take notes, highlight text, etc.
  • Blio’s big selling point is that they are full-color and provide the same graphically-rich experience you’d have reading a print book with pictures. But when I played with their iPad app at their booth,  guess what? The two children’s books I looked at were text-only. Picture Curious George as a text-only book. Not nearly as much fun. I tried to ask their booth people about it, but they were all  busy with other people at the time, so I moved on.
  • I also tried to attend their quick sit-down presentation at the booth – but the exhibit hall was noisy, and the Baker & Taylor people didn’t turn up the speaker’s microphone. I had trouble hearing them, and eventually left the presentation to poke around on my own. Other attendees had the same problem, so I know it wasn’t just me. Guys – it’s a volume knob. Turn it up next time please!
  • Here’s an article on Blio and here’s their website.

Freading:

Freading is the weirdly-named ebook product from Library Ideas, LLC (Freegal is another product of theirs).

  • OK. Can I just say this – they REALLY need to get their web act together. Right now, Library Ideas, LLC has a one-page website that stretches horizontally – sorta odd, if you ask me. They only useful info? An email address. No links, nothing. They could at least install WordPress and put some information out about who they are and what they do – it’s not that hard. Just sayin. [update - Just spoke with Jim Peterson at Library Ideas, and he told me they plan to have a new, marketing-oriented website up in 2-3 weeks. Much needed, so good for them]
  • Freading is an interesting product that’s very different from other models, just like Freegal. They offer patron-driven purchasing of ebooks – a patron picks a book, then the library is charged (the library can set a fee cap).
  • Freading uses a “token” metaphor for patron checkout. The patron gets five tokens a week to “spend” on ebooks. Popular books might “cost” more than one token, and less popular books might be just one token each. That’s all the patron gets to use for that week. I’m not convinced patrons will pick up on the “token” model very fast – we don’t really use tokens for anything else, so not sure how that model will connect with patrons … [update - the library determines the number of tokens their patrons get for the week]
  • Books are checked out for two weeks, then can be renewed once. Who decided two weeks? Not sure.
  • They’re in talks with larger publishers, but right now have some smaller publishers on board.
  • Glad to see a newer company trying to be innovative in a market that’s growing fast!

Overdrive WIN:

Overdrive has overhauled their interface, and their service … and named it Overdrive WIN. Here are some of the changes they’ve made:

  • They have streamlined the Overdrive product – I didn’t’ really play with it, but it’s supposed to be MUCH easier to use
  • They’re offering support for Kindles starting later this year
  • You’ll have immediate access to the first 10% of many ebooks – even if someone else has it checked out. That’s cool.
  • They’ll have patron-driven acquisitions, and a Want it Now feature that goes to online booksellers like Amazon. Just add a library Amazon Affiliates account, and you’ll make a little money every time a patron buys a book for themselves using that link.
  • There are some ebooks with simultaneous access, so no waiting in a virtual line for these titles.
  • Overdrive is also working to get ebook titles and links into library catalogs, so there aren’t two different places patrons have to go for content, which is a much-needed feature.

I didn’t get to eBrary or Recorded Books. There were probably a few other ebook vendors I missed, too!

So – four very different models of library-friendly ebooks out there. Any one model better than another? I don’t really think so. It really depends on the most-needed features your patrons have been requesting, and which of the different pricing models work best for your institution. And remember – the ebook market is growing like gangbusters – next year, it will look very different from what we have now.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://twitter.com/jenniferchapman Jennifer S. Chapman

    As a patron of the Springfield, MO library I have been frustrated with Overdrive but I figured they must be the best.  As a new MLIS student I think you were wise to talk to and compare all of the ebook vendors at ALA.  Next year I will make that a priority for my time at ALA.  The future will hold ebooks and I want to be on knowledgeable of my options.

  • Pingback: ALA and post ALA eBook News Wrap Up #ala11 | Librarian by Day

  • Carolyn

    Thanks for sharing your observations.  Could you please explain this statement?

    “You’ll have immediate access to the first 10% of many ebooks – even if someone else has it checked out.”

    Thanks again.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Sure. Overdrive plans to make the first 10% of a bunch of ebooks available without having to actually check the ebook out. That’s pretty handy – for example, if there was an ebook you really wanted to check out but couldn’t because someone else beat you to it, you could still start to read it – because you’ll be able to access the first couple of chapters without having to check anything out.

    Nice, huh?

  • Suzanne Reymer

    Overdrive explained it as a kind of sampling much like Amazon already does. They argued that it might free up some books in the collection because someone could sample a book and decide it wasn’t for her. Then she wouldn’t have to check it out. Interesting, got me thinking about how many people must check out ebooks, decide not to read them but not return them so they’re unavailable for that 2 week period.

  • Sbauer

    Hi David,

    >They’ll have patron-driven acquisitions, and a Want it Now feature
    >that goes to online booksellers like Amazon. Just add a library
    >Amazon Affiliates account, and you’ll make a little money every
    >time a patron buys a book for themselves using that link.

    Unless your library is in California or one of the other states they no longer do affiliates with… :-|

    Blio sounds very interesting, esprcially for libraries that are using Title Source!

  • JNeujahr

    3M’s offering is interesting and I’m all for competition in the eBook market. However, their service sounds a lot like – or really just the same – as Amazon; titles are stored in the cloud and syncs across all your devices with a Kindle app, option to sample the book before purchasing.

    A suggestion to potential developers; Patrons want “single sign on” functionality and libraries do not want to purchase yet another piece of hardware (kiosk). I look forward to the day when vendors learn to play well with others, but I realize I may not live that long.

  • JNeujahr

    3M’s offering is interesting and I’m all for competition in the eBook market. However, their service sounds a lot like – or really just the same – as Amazon; titles are stored in the cloud and syncs across all your devices with a Kindle app, option to sample the book before purchasing.

    A suggestion to potential developers; Patrons want “single sign on” functionality and libraries do not want to purchase yet another piece of hardware (kiosk). I look forward to the day when vendors learn to play well with others, but I realize I may not live that long.

  • JNeujahr

    3M’s offering is interesting and I’m all for competition in the eBook market. However, their service sounds a lot like – or really just the same – as Amazon; titles are stored in the cloud and syncs across all your devices with a Kindle app, option to sample the book before purchasing.

    A suggestion to potential developers; Patrons want “single sign on” functionality and libraries do not want to purchase yet another piece of hardware (kiosk). I look forward to the day when vendors learn to play well with others, but I realize I may not live that long.

  • Rob

    You need to spend more time with Blio.  So far, I have no complaints at all, especially as their selection grows, and I’ll be able to borrow books from my library when it signs up with B&T’s Axis 360 !! 
    I can’t wait for their movies and music content !

  • Nige Atko

    Is it me or did you completely miss the main 3 ebook vendors actually working in the library market at the moment? What about EBook Library (EBL), ebrary, netlibrary? They were all there as I visited them. What were you doing with your time? Eating gumbo?
    And as for Rob (below), save your B&T adverts for those who care.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    I stated I didn’t get to some of the other booths, and mentioned ebrary specifically. But I wouldn’t classify any of the three you mentioned as “main ebook vendors.” My goal was to visit with companies that were making ebook news and innovating. And eat some gumbo in the process… both goals were achieved.

    So … what did you see at the EBL, ebrary, and netlibrary booths that was innovative? Please share.

  • http://twitter.com/ITISlibstudies Tom Avery

    I can see what Nige is getting at but I enjoyed reading about the vendors that are coming into market in the future, so thank you for your coverage David. I think Nige is not saying what was good about the other booths, more that the big vendors that a library could buy into today and start delivering ebooks wasn’t discussed in your blog – but you could find out about their services on their websites. We use EBL and find it pretty good, they have a lot of academic books, we can load all their ebooks into our catalogue and use Patron Driven acquisitions to actually buy the books, unlike ebrary, our users can download them to their compatible ereaders. Would love to try Gumbo one day, we just had a New Orleans style restaurant open up here too.

  • http://libraryunderworld.wordpress.com/ ananka

    David, I am curious if you made it to any of the ebook sessions?  I was particularly interested in the idea of a state consortium. 

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Only to part of Michael Porter’s session on ebooks – he jammed as usual, but
    I’m also a board member for his new nonprofit, Library Renewal – so I pretty
    much knew what he was going to talk about.

    Otherwise, those sessions were at the same time as my other responsibilities
    (speaking and committees). ALA is weird like that.

  • Pingback: Articles of Interest – ALA Annual eBook Wrap-up version

  • http://www.24pagebooks.com MartinEdic

    I’m curious- When I checked out Blio it only worked with IE on Windows. Perhaps that’s why you’re getting text only children’s books on iPad. This was a total deal killer for us because we cannot recommend using any version of IE. Have they changed that?
    One other thing- we’re an ebook publishing start-up and we don’t have a library plan yet. I’d be interesting in hearing what librarians prefer. Martin@ our web site. And because of our format, DRM is not negotiable.

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