Let’s Play Rent-A-Book!

Imagine this, for a sec. What if a publisher … oh, heck – let’s just say HarperCollins … suddenly decided that yes, they were still going to let your library get books from them … but there was suddenly a catch. If too many library customers checked the book out, you’d need to pay more money! In essence, you’d need to actually pay for a single book … more than once.

“Well, David – that’s just silly talk” you might say.

Check this out – Overdrive sent out a Library Partner Update (link via the awesome Librarian by Day blog) to their “OverDrive Library Partners.” Here’s part of what it says:

“To provide you with the best options, we have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher [update – it’s HarperCollins, according to Library Journal]  that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached [according to Library Journal, it’s 26 checkouts]. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).”

Then, from Library Journal – HarperCollins said this in a statement: “HarperCollins is committed to the library channel. We believe this change balances the value libraries get from our titles with the need to protect our authors and ensure a presence in public libraries and the communities they serve for years to come.”

So … HarperCollins is giving us a mere 26 checkouts per ebook … to protect its authors from … um … readers. Nice. Translation = we want more money.

But then, it gets even stranger. OverDrive continues:

“In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.). I can assure you OverDrive is not interested in managing or having any say in your library policies and issues. Select publisher terms and conditions require us to work toward their comfort that the library eBook lending is in compliance with publisher requirements on these topics.”

OK… So … you want to look at them, but not do anything with them? I’m missing something here, I think.

HarperCollins – what changed? We already have your print books in our libraries. To date, they have checked out WAY MORE than your ebooks (I’m sure this will eventually change, but still). But you have never attempted to do this silly rental thing with those books. Or asked us about our card issuance policies (which, for most of us, are readily available online – apparently a new concept for HarperCollins – assuming this was also a lovely HarperCollins initiative).

I get that OverDrive and individual publishers need to look to new funding models, or will need to eventually. But this? Well – it just seems weird to me.

What do you guys think?

Update – Further reading:

pic by Alex E. Proimos

Ebook After Christmas Rush

Overdrive apparently experienced an “after Christmas rush” that has caused their service to temporarily slow down. Here’s what they say about it:

“In the last few days, you and your users may have experienced error messages or slow page loads when visiting your library’s ‘Virtual Branch.’ This temporary slowdown was due to an unprecedented spike in traffic on our library websites following Christmas. While we expected a surge in usage after the holiday, your customers’ interest in eBook and audiobook downloads was greater than anyone anticipated. Many of your websites saw usage double overnight, up from what were already record levels prior to Dec. 25.”

Wow. Ultimately, that’s a good thing – once Overdrive gets the service fully functional again, it means more users. Not a bad problem at all.

But it made me think:

  • have YOU experienced an after Christmas rush? Anyone visit your library with their new ebook reader yet?
  • and was your staff able to help them?

pic by goXunoReviews

Two Pieces of Ebook Silliness

Just came across a couple of posts from The UK Publisher’s Association and from the CEO of Overdrive. Gotta say, it’s very interesting to watch and listen … but it’s a bit disappointing, too. Here’s a couple bits of what each of them said:

From Richard Mollet, Chief Executive, The Publishers Association, in his PA statement regarding our position on library e-lending post: “Ultimately, the activities of selling and lending have to be able to co-exist with neither unduly harming the other. If ebook lending were untrammelled (as some comments seem to propose) it would pose an extremely potent threat to the retail market which in the long-term would undermine the ability of authors, and the companies which invest in them, to see a reward for their creativity.  This would be hugely a negative outcome for everyone, including libraries and their communities.”

What? Did Mr. Mollet just say that if library patrons could download ebooks in an “untrammeled” way (which for them, I think means being able to check it out and download it from home), it would be a huge threat to the retail ebook market. Really? I’d love to see your numbers to back that up.

And how in the world would patrons checking out ebooks remotely “undermine the ability of authors … to see a reward for their creativity” ??? Come on.

Translation – We think ebook lending, if made too easy, will put us out of business. And, he very obviously doesn’t know how the whole checking out an ebook thing actually works (see below for a little more on that). Explains a lot, I think.

Next up: Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, with A statement on the Publishers Association’s position on eBook lending, writing in response to the silliness above: “OverDrive licenses eBooks under a “one-book, one-user” lending model … This model has successfully worked for years around the world, providing libraries with access to premium content while generating revenue for publishers.”

“Successfully worked” – if that means that libraries subscribe, then ok. But if it means our customers get it, then not so much. This statement sorta reminds me of the automotive industry CEOs, when they say “going to the gas pump is a time-honored tradition.” Hmm…

And I found this statement weird – maybe I’m not understanding it: “In 2009, visitors to OverDrive-powered library websites viewed more than 401 million pages. Among unique visitors to these download library pages, 80 percent did not check out a digital title, yet still visited 13 pages on average.”

Is he really saying that lots of people visited Overdrive’s service … but a whopping 80% didn’t check anything out??? Cause that’s what it sounds like to me. And if so … Well, that’s because Overdrive is SO VERY HARD TO USE.

Here’s an example from my library that happened last week. Topeka is currently participating in the Big Read, a grant-funded community-wide reading program. We picked The Maltese Falcon as our Big Read book – it’s available in paper and in a digital audiobook version from Overdrive. One of Topeka’s library customers (who happens to be the general manager of a local TV station) decided to checkout the digital audiobook version … on his Mac. After an hour of frustration on his part, he called the library for some help.

Were we able to help him? No, not really. For some reason, his web browser didn’t like the Overdrive website (he tried Google Chrome and Apple Safari). He wasn’t able to download the “unlimited use” version of the digital audiobook, because it was in the Microsoft Windows-based wma format. Although he could download the Mac-friendly mp3 format, it was checked out and therefore unavailable … which of course didn’t really make much sense to the patron.

Our library customer ended up frustrated at Overdrive, at the library (and told us so), and had a bad experience with our digital content.

Overdrive, Publisher’s Association guys, etc – you can do better than this.

Pic by Dick Rochester

Library eBooks can be Frustrating!

Overdrive for iPhoneFirst – go read this – I am a frustrated eBook (non) user, by Sarah Houghton-Jan (you do read her blog, right? It rocks). Then come back, and let’s discuss.

I have to admit, I had a VERY similar experience with the iPhone Overdrive app. I spent a goodly chunk of time trying to figure it out, and gave up (planning to get back to it eventually). Instructions on use? There are some, but they didn’t make sense to me. I’m sure this one’s my fault, since I don’t usually listen to audiobooks … but still.

I was finally able to “successfully” check something out. But I guess it was already “checked out,” so I didn’t immediately get the book. Nope. I had to wait for 3 days, then received an email saying my download was ready. I was busy, so missed my window of opportunity to download the book… so now, I need to start over again!

My questions –

  • Why is Overdrive that hard to use? If Sarah and I can’t easily figure this thing out, our patrons won’t be able to, either. They’ll try once, then go use something else.
  • Thinking of my library here – normal books? Easy to check out. Videos in our Mediabank DVD dispenser? Easy as RedBox or an ATM machine to use. Overdrive? Hard enough to use that we set up a special PC right by our Reference desk so we can help patrons figure the thing out.
  • Check out the pic to the right – it’s the iPhone app. Help is prominently featured, front and center, right over the iPhone’s Home button) . At the least, that sends the wrong message. Why can’t there be something like “3 easy steps to downloading?” when you turn on the app for the first time, then have Help go under a secondary menu? If you really need Help on the main page, you probably need to redesign.
  • It’s a digital file – why can’t I access the ebook when someone else has it “checked out?” That doesn’t make much sense to me.
  • Why doesn’t the app have me make a connection to my local library the first time I use it? The process goes like this: download app, turn app on. Read Help. Click a link … that takes you out of the app, and onto the web. It would be much better to at least keep me in the app.

I know, I know – DRM. That’s the problem, right? I’m not completely buying that. At least SOME of the problem is on the design and usability end (of at least Overdrive). But there HAS to be an easier way to manage DRM concerns, like allowing someone to check out stuff, but then adding one extra step or something that makes you “prove” you’ve deleted the file? Netflix’s digital downloads and the movie rental part of iTunes are similar (except for that whole for-profit thing) to a library setup. They also deal with people “borrowing” their stuff, some of it even digitally. But it’s easy. Why can’t our library vendors (Overdrive, Netlibrary, etc) also build something easy to use and manage?

ALA Annual’s coming up. These are GREAT questions to start asking there.