Leading library ebook distributor OverDrive was sold to Rakuten on March 19 for $410 million cash, more than 16 times OverDrive’s annual earnings of $25 million. The purchase from private equity firm Insight Venture Partners, OverDrive’s majority owner since 2010, is scheduled to close in April. OverDrive will become a subsidiary of Rakuten USA, the U.S. arm of Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten. CEO Steve Potash will continue to lead OverDrive, and its headquarters will remain in Cleveland, OH.
After three columns in a row about the ebook situation for libraries, I thought I was finished with the discussion, but then I got an email from an ebook vendor. He pointed out that his ebook publishing platform did all the things I had said I wanted from library ebooks, and asked, very politely, why, then, hadn’t my library bought any of them? Here is my answer. It probably doesn’t apply to every library, but it applies to some of them, especially some of the larger ones.
Officials at Amazon believe subscription-based ebook consumption is an inevitability, and will continue to invest in and build the company’s Kindle Unlimited service as part of an effort to stay ahead of the emerging trend, Russ Grandinetti, senior VP, Kindle, at Amazon explained during a candid general session interview on January 14 at the Digital Book World Conference and Expo 2015. In a separate panel, publishers expressed enthusiasm for Oyster and Scribd as discovery platforms.
Public and school libraries that are part of OverDrive’s global network circulated 137 million ebooks, digital audiobooks, and other digital media in 2014—a 33 percent increase compared with 2013, according to statistics released by the company. Ebook circulation rose 32 percent, to 105 million, while digital audiobook circulation grew 38 percent, to 32 million. The OverDrive network also recorded 401 million visits to public library and school library websites powered by OverDrive, a 77 percent increase.
The State Library of Kansas this month has soft launched a partnership with Total BooX, the pay-as-you-read metered ebook platform, building on a statewide digital lending program that offers library patrons access to the 3M Cloud Library, Freading, Enki, OneClickdigital Audiobooks, TumbleBooks, BookFlix, and Britannica E-STAX. “We’re pretty committed to finding different [ebook] models, and […]
In my last two columns I explored what I called the “mess of ebooks” and explained what I want from library ebooks. In this column I want to discuss a possible future that could be good for libraries and for publishers. Right now everything is in flux. Publishers are understandably wary of selling Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free ebooks to libraries, and the patron driven acquisition (PDA) model some libraries want might not be sustainable for publishers. Libraries are struggling to buy books at all. The library ebook market is in a state of flux. There’s opportunity in chaos, though, and the opportunity here is to create a future that’s good for everyone, from publishers to library users.
Simon & Schuster (S & S) last week announced that it will no longer require libraries to offer a “buy it now” option with the publisher’s ebook titles. In theory, these buy it now links enable patrons to avoid long holds lists while ensuring that a small percentage of their purchases went to their library, rather than to an online retailer such as Amazon. However, many libraries and municipalities have policies in place prohibiting this type of arrangement, and others simply find the library-as-retailer concept objectionable or even unethical.
Ninety-five percent of public libraries currently offer ebooks to patrons, up from 72 percent in 2010, and 89 percent in both 2012 and 2013. However, money remains the biggest impediment for libraries looking to add ebooks or expand collections, according to Library Journal’s fifth annual Ebook Usage in U.S. Public Libraries report, sponsored by Freading.
My last column addressed some of the tensions that underlie the idea of “not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good” in library leadership, and at the end I promised that my next would deal in a similar way with trying to balance the occasional tension between problems that are truly important and those that are merely “noisy.” However, an issue has come up in the meantime that is more timely and urgent, so I’m putting off the “noisy vs. important” column until next time. This month I want to address the issue of patron privacy in the context of the recent revelations about privacy incursions in the latest version of Adobe Digital Editions.