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.