February 9, 2016

OverDrive and Sourcebooks to Launch Ambitious Ebook Data Experiment

OverDrive and Sourcebooks are preparing to launch an innovative and ambitious pilot program whose goal is to clearly demonstrate the impact library ebook lending has on book sales and author recognition.

OverDrive sent a letter today to about 35,000 librarians worldwide and invited them to opt in to a program that will run from May 15 through June 1 and allow all participating libraries to feature simultaneously on their OverDrive home page, at no cost, a single title from Sourcebooks.

The book, Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone, will be accessible simultaneously to all participating libraries’ patrons worldwide during the two-week program, which is called “Big Library Read.”

“We want to demonstrate once and for all the enormous influence of the library demographic, and that when libraries put an ebook in their catalog it serves a valuable role in increasing exposure and engagement with an author’s work,” said Steve Potash, OverDrive’s CEO.

During the 18-day program, data associated with the title, which will also contain a special “Dear Reader” note from Malone (see below), is going to be closely tracked.

Sourcebooks, which has worldwide rights to the book, will chronicle the impact on sales not only for this particular title but also the effect on the other seven books that Malone has published with Sourcebooks. The Amazon rankings will also be monitored (as of today, Four Corners of the Sky had an Amazon Best Sellers Rank of 149,512).

“Steve and I have over the years talked about a lot of different collaborations between Sourcebooks and Overdrive, always focused on expanding the reach of authors,” said Dominique Raccah, the CEO of Sourcebooks. “When Steve called with this idea a few months ago, I was delighted to apply the ‘discovery’ conversation that publishers, authors and retailers are engaged in to libraries.”

“It has always been an assumed ‘given’ that library support helped drive author success, both short- and long-term. Seeing if we can provide data around that assumption is fascinating,” Raccah said.

In addition to this halo effect on sales, OverDrive will provide libraries a free MARC record, will track how many patrons sampled the book, how many checked it out, how many pages were read, and will invite patrons to follow Malone on Facebook and Twitter in order to see how the pilot impacts the author’s social media presence.

Raccah said there is a “deep and fruitful conversation” occurring between libraries and publishers, but this model would move the conversation past discussions of lending and financial models.

“This pilot is of value because it moves the conversation towards what we might accomplish together if we partnered at a deeper level. The world is different now than it was five years ago, and that¹s OK,” Raccah said. “Now is the time for experimentation and innovation in order to make sure that readers have the opportunity to experience the best of new and established authors.”

OverDrive and Sourcebooks will present early results at BookExpo America (BEA) which runs May 30-June 1 in New York City, and Malone will be there as well. LJ  will be reviewing the data following the program.

“I expect the borrowing of this title will be unprecedented because we are going to have easily millions of visits and millions and millions of people sampling it,” Potash said. “It’s going to be interesting to see where this book goes over 18 days.”

“We want to further educate publishers and authors that there is no better friend than libraries,” Potash said.

The program is reminiscent of an idea that was floated in January by Eric Hellman, the founder of Gluejar, where he proposed just such a controlled experiment.

OverDrive is also providing posters and other materials to help promote the event and around which libraries could possibly build local campaigns to spur an increase in patrons.

“It could help change the equation that most people don’t know that libraries offer ebooks,” Potash said.

Here is the text of the letter from Michael Malone that will appear in the edition:

Dear Friends,

I'm thrilled to present my latest book, The Four Corners of the Sky, to you and millions of other library members through this unique global ebook event.

I am passionate in my commitment to public libraries. They are the guardians of both our knowledge and our art, and have always been champions of the faith that reading enlarges our humanity. Thanks to programs like Overdrive, we now have access to the best of world literature in practical, easy-to-use digital formats. That possibility is tremendously exciting to me.

Books are not dead; they are indeed more vital than ever in an age in which ideas and stories can travel across the globe with miraculous speed. By these new means of writing stories and reading stories, we can all travel together, a pilgrimage of strangers at first, but learning that we share a common road through the books we read together. Libraries keep our stories safe for us. Without libraries, the stories end.

I sincerely hope you enjoy The Four Corners of the Sky, and that you take the opportunity to recommend it to friends and family ahead of June 1st, so that they can enjoy it free of charge too. There’s a website with some further information about me, the book, and the Big Library Read at biglibraryread.com, and you can also reach me directly on Twitter and Facebook if you’d like to talk about Four Corners, books, and the truths that literature can bestow.

The deep truths of our literature don’t change. And one of them is the lesson Annie learns in The Four Corners of the Sky: that laughter is a prayer and the worst of sins is the waste of love. We might as well say yes.

Happy reading!

Michael Malone

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley (mkelley@mediasourceinc.com) is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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  1. Will Sourcebooks also show the sales records of a book offered for lending that hasn’t received a heavy promotional boost? WIll it show the sales record of a recent bestseller over the same period? That would provide something to measure the success of Malone’s book. Otherwise, you have one data point with no context.

  2. I’m a bit skeptical, that the promotion will be mainly a campaign by ebook borrowers on improving availability via Overdrive, rather than expressing any interest one way or another on the writer’s work. If it will help expand Overdrive library lending, sight unseen I’ll go to Amazon and add all this writer’s books to my Wish List.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I think it’s also skewed by all of the marketing they’ll be doing for this “event.” If they had just made it available on the library’s sites, maybe even as a new book, on the front page the whole time. This would make it seem more valid to show how library ebook lending can affect sales. As it is, it seems more like marketing for this particular book. Too bad they’re missing the opportunity to show something useful.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Sorry that didn’t quite make sense – I edited in the middle and didn’t go back to review.

  5. Mike Williams says:

    My library system has done a One Book, One City campaign in the past. I was even fortunate enough to be the co-nominator of the inagural book, Friendly Persuasion. At the time I noted there was no e-version of the work available. Many other school and public libraries have conducted a similar program. This effort expands that focus to a far wider audience, and will provide at least some talking points in the necessary ongoing dialogue with publishers, content providers, and libraries. Many would rather see these parties work out the eBook situation without involving legislation as the Urban Libraries Council now has been forced to advocate by publishers refusing to sell their goods to libraries. http://www.urbanlibraries.org/e-books-pages-140.php