Thursday, July 14, 2011

We Need More Competition in the EBook/Library Vendor Market

There are quite a few vendors selling eBooks to libraries. In my previous post, I asked for suggestions regarding all those that are currently available. Of the ones on that list, how many offer downloadable materials from popular authors? It didn’t seem like that many, Overdrive is probably the leader in this, getting materials from most of the publishers that are offering e-books at all. Ingram was doing this too, as will be Recorded Books, Baker and Taylor, and 3M. It doesn’t feel like there is enough competition to go to another vendor if I don’t like the one I have. For databases, I have a pretty good selection of vendors from general content, auto repair, and even languages. I don’t feel the same is true for e-books. Most of this post details what I would hope to see and possible issues with libraries delivering e-books to patrons.

Strengths and Weaknesses
3M’s entry into the market is the first real threat to Overdrive. They intend to provide both e-book and downloadable audiobooks and they have the same agreements with publishers as Overdrive, providing 60,000 titles available at the time of their launch to libraries with 200,000 available within a year. They are also going after Overdrive’s big weakness, the ability to download books inside the library. With 3M's download station (which is much cheaper than I thought it would be), a patron can walk in to the library and download a book more easily than with Overdrive. Honestly, Overdrive’s biggest weakness is the interface and it will be interesting to see if this competition in the market will force them to make it easier. Another aspect is the entry of Recorded Books into the market. Even though they seem to offer only downloadable audiobooks at this point, the service is cheaper and offers another option for libraries. This is the benefit to the consumer, competitors must improve their product to get your business. However, there is another aspect to this market. 

A Problem with Too Many Vendors
If more vendors enter the market, there could be an issue with rights to e-books. I would compare the e-book licensing with the audio book licensing.. Many audio book providers rely on exclusive rights to a book to gain an edge. Recorded Books is one of those vendors. In order to get a book that is exclusive to them, you would have to sign up for a standing order plan. Even though the books are of quality, it’s sometimes not what the patrons want. I end up overpaying for that one book. This practice may carry over into their downloadable audio book service. This exclusivity can breed confusion. 

Currently, most library e-book/downloadable audio books have their own platform. MARC records are available, but it is far easier to go to the platform and find what you need. With vendors have exclusive rights to books; patrons would have to search on multiple platforms just to find the book they want. Libraries, of course, can place everything in the catalog, but that can create a problem of expectation. When a patron searches for books in the collection, isn’t it an expectation that it is a paper book? Current catalogs don’t seem sophisticated enough to make that distinction clear to patrons, and current patron perceptions are libraries=books, paper books. Many vendors would be a good thing, but if there are too many exclusive rights, it can resemble the audio book market (which in a library with physical material, the patrons doesn’t see that).I also enjoyed this brief article about this problem with the future of e-books Alice in Library Land by Iris Jastram that speaks to this issue better than I.

Overall, it's fascinating to see all the changes in the e-book market. What I ultimately hope for is a time where library materials can be received cheaply and easily. When I see a book I want to read, I can get that exact book from my local library instantly. (It would also be nice to do the same for Music, Movies, Games). I hear the Ranganathan Five Laws of Library Science: Books are for Use, Every reader his or her book, Every book its reader, Save the time of the reader, The library is a growing organism. It will be a messy time getting there, but it's really part of a renaissance in reading that's going on now. It's fun to watch the change.

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