April 19, 2018

State Library of Kansas Partners with Total BooX

Total BooX Google Play Store Logo

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 we don’t know which model is going to be the best,” Jo Budler, State Librarian of Kansas and Library Journal’s 2013 Librarian of the Year, told LJ. “Personally, I love the Freading model, and Total BooX is a lot like that,” she added, noting that both platforms offer library patrons unlimited simultaneous access to thousands of ebooks with no upfront fees or maintenance fees.

Available as an Android, iOS, or Kindle Fire app, Total BooX offers consumers a unique payment model. Books from publishers including Elsevier Science & Technology, O’Reilly, Maker Media, Sourcebooks, Other Press, Berrett-Koehler, Open Road Integrated Media, Constable & Robinson, and many others can be added to a user’s app at no cost. Those users—or, in this case, their library—are then charged only for the portion of the ebook that they read, whether it’s one chapter of a do-it-yourself title or cookbook, or a portion of a novel that they do not complete. For example, if a complete ebook is priced at $10, and the user only reads 10 percent of the title, he or she would have $1 deducted from a preloaded account. Content is priced the same for libraries as it is for consumers. And, once content is read—whether through a library’s account or a user’s personal account—it remains on a user’s device for re-reading at any time.

For libraries, this translates into a metered, unlimited simultaneous use model with no loan caps or loan expirations. Although downloaded ebooks never become part of a library’s permanent ebook collection, patrons do get to keep all Total BooX content that they have read, even if their library card expires, or their library discontinues its account with Total BooX.

“If you move to Australia, your books are still there,” in the app, said Total BooX founder and CEO Yoav Lorch.

Describing the company’s model as “a revolution in ebooks,” Lorch argued that the pay-as-you-read model enables better service than the one-ebook, one-user licenses offered by Big Five publishers. And, unlike the unlimited ebook subscription services offered by Scribd, Oyster, or Kindle Unlimited, patrons get to keep what they read.

With a subscription service “the first month that you stop paying, everything goes away. If there is a month when you don’t read, you pay anyway,” Lorch said.

Different model, different concerns

Total Boox ShelvesBudler said that she did not have a problem with the library paying for ebook content that the patron then keeps.

“We just want our readers to have access to what they are interested in,” she said, contrasting the model with one-ebook, one-user licenses. “I wish every publisher would say, ‘We’re going to let you have as many [ebook] bestsellers as your readers want, and we’re just going to charge you for them, instead of saying to us ‘you have to buy 50 copies of the latest [James] Patterson ebook,’” to fulfill high initial demand, only to have those ebooks go unused two or three years later.

Incorporating Total BooX into the State Library’s digital lending program will bring its total number of individual e-reader platforms to eight. Offering patrons access to eight different interfaces would seem to increase the potential for patron confusion, but Budler contends that libraries are often too concerned about this issue.

“From the very beginning, we’ve been trying lots and lots [of lending solutions],” she said. “And people have been saying ‘our users can’t understand, and would never be able to deal with more than one model.’ It’s just not true. People adapt. If they want to read an ebook, they will try all of the different services. And they’ll pick one that’s their favorite.”

Budgeting for pay-per-use services is a point of concern for many libraries, but Budler said that Kansas is taking a wait-and-see approach with Total BooX.

“We always feel like, when we’re [introducing a service], it’s kind of an experiment, and I think our users understand that, too,” she said. “We go into it saying, ‘it’s going to be available, and we may have to adapt.’ We don’t go into it thinking that there will be problems and we need to put restrictions on it. Instead of thinking that we’re going to run out of money, we’ll leave it wide open and let our readers read as much as they want. If it becomes a problem, then we’ll set limits.”

Building success, filling niches

New York’s Westchester Library System (WLS) was the first library to work with Total BooX, announcing its partnership in September 2013. WLS Executive Director Terry Kirchner said that he had been seeking alternatives to one-ebook, one-user models and other restrictions imposed by Big Five publishers, and he liked the Total BooX concept. Although all of the Big Five now sell licenses to libraries, Kirchner said that he still feels that there is too much complexity in the library ebook market.

“It’s no better. It’s more confusing now,” he said. “I feel that the [Big Five licensing terms] create too many complications. From our perspective, I don’t want an ebook [license] that has 26 checkouts that take place over the course of a year. I want 26 checkouts that can happen today, and I’m willing to pay for it.”

Total BooX likely won’t solve this problem with Big Five bestsellers anytime soon. Although the company has met with Big Five executives, and Lorch makes a particularly cogent and persuasive argument regarding the ways in which backlist titles would be a “win-win” for publishers, the platform, and library patrons, the largest publishers continue to be very conservative with their approach to the library lending market, he acknowledged.

“I think publishers would be really, really smart to let [libraries] have access to their whole inventory, because I think they’d make more money,” Budler agreed. “Our readers are pretty voracious, but for us to pick things out for them, we’re really shooting in the dark—we’re not positive of what they want to read. If they had access to the entire inventory of a publisher, they would find much more than we would be able to pick for them. I think that would make us buy more.”

However, Total BooX has a growing number of other publishers on board, and in addition to indie fiction, its collection is particularly strong in areas like computer manuals, science, and DIY titles, among other topics, Kirchner said. “One of the great advantages, from a reader’s perspective, is that the type of content that we can provide in Total BooX fills a lot of niche markets that aren’t filled through OverDrive or other major [providers] at this time.”

Total BooX includes dashboards and tools that enable librarians to check their library’s remaining budget with Total BooX and view anonymous, aggregated data and timeline trends regarding the number of registered patrons, number of total checkouts, average reading times, and downloads by title, genre, and other categories. Observing these trends at WLS, Kirchner said that usage of the platform had been growing steadily since launch. And Total BooX has been working with SirsiDynix to integrate with eResource Central, which will make ebooks available through Total BooX discoverable and downloadable during a WLS catalog search.

Kirchner said that he does monitor how much is being spent from the library’s Total BooX account, but WLS has not yet needed to place any caps on usage. Most downloads, he said, have an average cost to the library of 25 to 40 cents per title. “If they complete a whole book, obviously it’s more, but especially with the types of materials that are being used, like computer books, they want a chapter. They don’t necessarily want the whole book,” Kirchner said. Since the September 2013 launch, WLS has spent just under $7,000 on content, and based on usage, they have budgeted $10,000 for the service for 2015.

“The amount of money that we would spend on [comparable] print materials would be way more if we were to add all of that up.”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com, @matthewenis on Twitter, matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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