May 26, 2018

Sno-Isle, OverDrive Test Demand-Driven Ebook Acquisition

Sno-Isle Libraries LogoAt the request of Sno-Isle Libraries, WA, OverDrive has developed a demand-driven acquisition (DDA) model for popular ebooks, enabling patrons to discover thousands of titles for which the library has not yet purchased a license. When a user checks out one of these titles, Sno-Isle is invoiced, and the ebook is added to the library’s collection in a transaction that appears seamless to the patron.

DDA models are widely used by ebook vendors that work primarily with academic libraries. But due partly to concern about potential budget overruns, public libraries generally have relied on “recommend to library” (RTL) features to gauge patron interest in ebook titles that are not currently in a library’s collection. Sno-Isle decided to ask OverDrive about DDA after an early 2016 customer survey indicated that the library’s patrons believed variety should be a priority for the ebook collection. The project was launched with a strategic initiative fund that, at press time, was expected to be fully used within the next three months.

“Given the choice between more copies of the most popular titles, or a greater variety of titles, the vast majority of [survey respondents] preferred the larger collection to choose from,” explained Michael Hawkins, electronic services librarian for Sno-Isle. Yet the survey revealed that only 20 percent of respondents had taken advantage of RTL features to suggest titles.

“The RTL process is good, to a certain extent, but there’s clearly a barrier to access there,” Hawkins said. “People want their titles immediately.”

So Sno-Isle approached OverDrive with the DDA idea at the beginning of April. “OverDrive was slightly hesitant at first, but…[was] very interested in the idea,” Hawkins said. Initially, OverDrive wasn’t sure how much development would be involved, he explained, but ultimately, the service went live at the end of June.

Keeping in mind the library’s goal of building a long-term collection with the help of DDA, and aware that the library did not have an unlimited budget to spend, Sno-Isle asked OverDrive to set several parameters for the service. The initial collection included a $75 per-title price cap for ebooks and audiobooks. Several licensing models were excluded, including time-limited licensing and pay-per-circ. Preferred terms included one-ebook, one-user, unlimited circ licenses, and metered circ licenses such as those offered by HarperCollins.

“One of the justifications for doing this project was to expand our ebook collection, and have it be a long-lasting collection,” Hawkins said. “We can’t do that if a year or two years later, the material just disappears.”

For fiction titles, there were no restrictions placed on the age of the title, but nonfiction titles were required to be less than five years old, or 12 months or less in time-sensitive nonfiction categories such as travel, current events, study aids, and computer science.

Ultimately, titles from three dozen publishers were approved, surfacing more than 150,000 additional titles beyond those in the library’s collection.

Sno-Isle patrons can have up to ten OverDrive titles checked out at one time on a single library card, and the library has not placed any additional caps or checkout limits on users with the DDA program.

“The whole process, on the patron side, is invisible,” Hawkins said. “Having an artificial cap in there would take away from that experience.”

However, the program is designed to avoid duplicate purchases. Once Sno-Isle purchases a single license to a title via DDA, additional purchases of that title are subject to holds ratios to gauge demand. So, the system won’t result in a surge of purchases for a single, in-demand bestseller.

Hawkins noted that this parameter required some tweaking by OverDrive. For example, shortly after launch, some patrons were selecting multi-volume sets that contained individual titles that were already owned by the library. And many classic, out-of-copyright titles such as Huckleberry Finn are available in multiple different versions, leading to duplicate purchases.

Unfortunately, audiobooks had to be cut from the project after two weeks, due to unexpected popularity and resulting expense. The day after the project was launched—without publicity—Sno-Isle was invoiced for $14,000 in ebook and audiobook DDA purchases. Over the next two weeks, DDA purchases sometimes exceeded $17,000 per day, surprising both Sno-Isle and OverDrive. Once audiobooks were pulled, daily invoices decreased to the $7,000 range, and have since leveled off to about $5,000 per day, Hawkins said.

“We were all set in the first week to promote it to our users, but then we saw how much it was costing, so we pulled back on that,” Hawkins said. “But going into it, our goal was to increase our year-over-year checkouts by unique users. In 2016, up until June [when the DDA project launched] we were seeing a 27 percent increase in unique [ebook collection] users, and a 35 percent increase in circulation over 2015. Since we’ve launched DDA, we’ve seen a 30 percent increase in unique users, and a 40 percent increase in circulation. So it’s exceeding what you would normally expect our uptick to be.”

The library also has been pleased with how well the DDA titles are circulating after the initial checkout period by the original “buyer.”

“A related concern could be that we were buying this book for a patron, but maybe another patron wouldn’t be interested in it. [But] so far we have had a 1.86 turnover rate for the titles [purchased via DDA]. And that has steadily gone up as the program has gone on. So even as we’re adding titles each day, the turnover rate is increasing. We find that number encouraging, and we’re going to track it over time.”

Citing data pulled on August 21, David Burleigh, OverDrive’s director of marketing and communication, told LJ that “The turnover of the newly acquired titles that were added to the collection through the DDA program increased from the first four weeks to the second four weeks:  from 1.5 to nearly two (1.92 to be exact),” he said. “Definitely good news for Sno-Isle, as this program demonstrates long-term value with true acquisition of materials that continue to circulate—and reduce overall cost-per-circ.”

Access to a larger selection of titles is also drawing in new users, he added, noting that “about 25 percent of those who have checked out one of the DDA titles [are] new user[s].”

Burleigh added that OverDrive is open to working with libraries on similar DDA projects, and that in light of this test with Sno-Isle, the company was considering different ways in which DDA models might be incorporated, such as pay-per-circ licenses for foreign language titles.

“We’ve really been looking at this as a test, first,” Burleigh said. “And we’re pleased with the results, and glad that they’re happy.”

Next year, after Sno-Isle’s current strategic initiative funds are used for this project, “we are expecting to have funds again. And we’re going to do a similar project,” Hawkins said. “It will probably be using a lot of the same ideas, but it may not be exactly the same thing.”

Hawkins added: “One additional word of advice I would to libraries considering doing a demand-driven acquisition project is: Be prepared for it to be heavily used by your customers. If you are unable to devote a large portion of your budget to it, consider using DDA to target a specific audience or area of your collection.”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

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

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