March 18, 2018

OverDrive: Ebook Checkouts Up 33 Percent

OverDrive logoPublic 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.

Mobile device ownership continued to mount steadily during 2014, leading to a broad-based boost in demand for e-content of all types. Reflecting this trend, desktop computers accounted for 36 percent of all visits to OverDrive sites (down from 48 percent in 2013) while tablets and smartphones accounted for 64 percent of visits—doubling compared with last year—and 52 percent of all e-content checkouts. OverDrive officials said that the record growth for library ebook circulation was due to factors such as improvements in app design and ease of use, enhanced compatibility with devices such as Google Chromebooks and Amazon Kindles, and the growth of OverDrive’s overall catalog, now that all of the “big five” publishers have agreed to license content to libraries.

The Toronto Public Library and the King County Library System (WA) each surpassed two million digital checkouts, leading all North American public libraries in digital circulation via OverDrive.

Several libraries also logged more than one million OverDrive e-content circs for the first time in 2014, including the Los Angeles Public Library, which saw its OverDrive circulation expand by 56 percent. The New York Public Library and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County each saw 42 percent growth to top the one million loan mark. And the Seattle Public Library, Hennepin County Library (MN), Cleveland Public Library, Calgary Public Library (AB), and Cuyahoga County Public Library (OH) each increased OverDrive checkouts between 25 and 35 percent to exceed one million loans.

These libraries were already some of the highest circulation systems in North America, but OverDrive outlined several additional characteristics that the libraries shared, including the provision of new releases in multiple digital formats (including audiobooks and ebooks) on a single website to streamline the user experience, marketing efforts that target children and teens, and multilingual website interfaces.

OverDrive Read Adoption Rising

OverDrive Read, the company’s browser-based ebook reader, also demonstrated substantial growth in 2014, accounting for 15 million checkouts—a 124 percent increase over 2013. The company has placed a significant focus on the HTML 5–based, platform agnostic ereader during the past year. HTML 5, the most recent revision of the World Wide Web Consortium’s markup language for the Internet, includes features for incorporating audio and video within other content without requiring third-party browser plug-ins or software such as Adobe Flash. This has enabled the production of a new line of fixed-layout ebooks, which display digital pages as they were intended in the print version of the book, along with features such as embedded audio, which allows professional narration to accompany a text without the use of an app. These features have been particularly important to publishers of children’s books, where art and text must align.

“There were many publishers that didn’t want to go into ebooks at all, because EPUB was the prevailing format, and EPUB would re-flow everything,” OverDrive Director of Marketing David Burleigh told LJ. “The publishers that wanted to retain the original design and layout, this now works for them, and the result is that it adds a lot of new ebooks to the catalog.”

Last month, OverDrive added forty Dr. Seuss titles from Random House Children’s Books to its ebook catalog. The company has announced plans to enable use of audiobooks in OverDrive Read this year as well.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

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

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  1. Fascinating article about the growth of download numbers via Overdrive. Streamlining the user experience seems to have made a positive difference in getting and maintaining readers attention. As a ‘consumer’,it is nice to see all the choices one has and all in one place.
    Thanks for keeping us informed about all this.
    Would love to see an article on EBSCO and see if they are enjoying the same rate of growth.