‘Frictionless’ ebook lending from public libraries

The Sieghart review of ebook lending  talked about the need to introduce ‘friction’ into ebook lending from public libraries-in essence so as not to challenge the current business model of publishers. They fear that easy (‘frictionless’) ebook lending from public libraries will threaten their business.

Tim Coates of Bilbary will have none of this. In a recent blog he says: “There are other ebook models for libraries which do not require this ‘Friction’ – but no one seems to be exploring those. Not in the UK anyhow. In these models a library can offer all the ebooks in the world – with as little friction as they can manage- and a payment is made to publisher and author each time the book is read.”

At the recent (May 2013) Westminster Forum on ebooks Tim outlined what he sees as a better approach to that advocated by Sieghart. It follows a model well known and adopted widely in academic libraries -‘Patron (or Demand) Driven Acquisition (PDA). What follows is my explanation of PDA not Tims.It’s based on work I have done for the Jisc and individual university libraries. In essence what happens in academic libraries is that a large collection of records, representing a wide range of ebooks, is loaded into the library catalogue.  Sometimes libraries ‘profile’ the records to excluded certain ebooks. Nonetheless the basic idea is that there is now a *very* large collection of ebooks presented to users- far more than the library actually owns.For public libraries this would immediately overcome the problem of the often pathetically small collections of ebooks on offer. I did some work on ebook provision in Scottish public libraries recently and most libraries had no more that around 1,000 ebooks. If I remember correctly, Tim’s words at the Westminster Forum were: “every [public] library in the country could have a catalogue of a million ebooks at no cost”. The collection as a whole is not purchased by the library.  The library does not actually pay for the ebook until the *user* ‘demands’ it. There can be some sophistication in how this operates –the library sets the parameters. For example  the first few user ‘demands’ might be delivered for free or incur a relatively small fee — paid by the library (to the provider of the ebook collection) . A trigger might be set that, say after three satisfied user demands, the library ‘buys’ the book. These mechanisms help the library to mange its budget and requests  for very low demand titles can be met without buying the book.  Evidence from academic libraries has shown that users rarely make frivolous choices and there is further evidence that users make better stock selectors than librarians.

The other elements that Tim believes are important are:

A national service:

Ebooks are digital creatures that can be delivered anywhere from a single repository. There would be significant cost savings in removing the duplication of the many separate ebook platforms that exist across UK public libraries at present. The basic infrastructure for a national public library catalogue of course already exists. Another advantage of the scale inherent in a national service is the business intelligence/analytics that could be made available. This has considerable value to all stakeholders, not least publishers, so could be a factor in determining the ebook lending business model.

Payment to publishers/authors.

This would align the interests of libraries and their users with publishers and authors. It not clear at this stage how the payment would be calculated or paid but this should not beyond the wit of the stakeholders to figure out.

These are the bare bones of the idea. Of course there is a lot of detail that will need sorting out. When it was presented at the Westminster Forum in May in got, as I recall, positive reactions from both publishers and librarians.Maybe it will be a focus for one of the ‘Sieghart’ research projects?

Ken Chad http://www.kenchadconsulting.com

2 thoughts on “‘Frictionless’ ebook lending from public libraries

  1. Pingback: Libraries News Round-up: 26th July 2013 | The Library Campaign

  2. Pingback: Round up | Alan Gibbons' Diary

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