November 20, 2014

Penguin, 3M Test Ebook Pilot at NYPL, BPL

Big Six publisher Penguin Group, the New York Public Library (NYPL), the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), and 3M Library Systems today announced a pilot project to make Penguin ebooks available to patrons of The New York and Brooklyn public libraries six months after initial publication. The program will begin in August and, if successful, could roll out across the country. The move comes four months after Penguin pulled out of its contract with OverDrive.

David Shanks, Penguin Group (USA) CEO, said in a statement, “We are hopeful that this experiment will be successful. Our partnership with 3M and the New York Public Library is a first step toward understanding the best means of supporting the growing digital missions of our great library institutions.

Anthony Marx, NYPL president, called the partnership “a powerful first step toward libraries and publishers working together to build a model that meets the needs of our ever-changing society.” He continued, “As ebooks grow in popularity, libraries nationwide have faced diminishing access to that content. As such, the library is determined to work together with publishers and authors to craft a fair way to ensure ebooks are available to libraries and their users.”

At the American Association of Publishers (AAP) annual meeting this March, Marx had offered the NYPL as a pilot testing lab for virtually any ebook distribution model any publisher would like to test, on any scale and time period. “We can assess it up the wazoo; everything you’re concerned about, we can test,” said Marx.

At the AAP meeting, Marx even offered to wall off bestsellers or to add friction to the process by requiring patrons to physically come to the library to download ebooks, but Penguin didn’t take him up on either offer. Nevertheless, the publisher did impose restrictions: in the initial phase, as noted above, ebooks will not be made available to the libraries until six months after initial publication and availability will be for one year, with renewable terms. Patrons will be able to access ebooks remotely using “library compatible reading devices.”

That means Nooks, iPads, and Android tablets, but no Kindles, at least for now–3M doesn’t support them yet. However, “We are in active discussions with Amazon,” Matt Tempelis, global business manager for 3M Cloud Library, told LJ. Penguin may well appreciate the chance to have input on those discussions while they’re still in progress: the publisher had objected to the way OverDrive and Amazon handled Kindle lending.

“We are delighted to be collaborating with Penguin and the New York Public Library in order to find an ebook lending model that works for all sides,” said Tempelis in a statement. “The 3M team is dedicated to bringing the best content to our library partners in ways that work for both the libraries and publishers. This is a great step in that direction.”

Tim McCall, VP of online sales and marketing at Penguin, told the Wall Street Journal that all 15,000 of its titles will be available. “The pricing is expected to be aligned with the retail pricing. It’s not going to be a library edition price,” Christopher Platt, NYPL’s director, collections and circulation operations, told LJ. Of course, consumer ebooks don’t expire. The model offers an interesting counterpoint to Random House, which sells unlimited ebooks to libraries at much higher prices than consumers pay, and HarperCollins, which has a 26-loan cap on the number of times a title can be circulated. The Penguin model is most similar to what J.K. Rowling did with the Harry Potter titles, which have a five-year lending limit.

Platt told LJ that the plan is to evaluate the pilot every three months and make course corrections; if Penguin is comfortable with how it’s going, “in four months they will roll it out to other libraries,” Platt said, “That’s a decision Penguin and 3M would make; we just want to prove that libraries are a supportive partner and not a competitor in this.” He added, “Penguin has told me that ultimately they will also roll it out to other platforms.”

McCall told LJ, “The NYPL test will last one year.  If the pilot is successful, we may extend the program to other libraries more quickly and we may extend the time frame.”

The Journal quoted Queens Library spokesperson Joanne King as saying that Queens hopes to join the pilot, pending passage of the city budget.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.

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