Monday, March 17, 2014

Public Library in the Marketplace: The Business of Digital Content

The afternoon session Public Library in the Marketplace: The Business of Digital Content came at the time I needed a nap, but there was a tension in the room that kept me awake. Librarians still have issues with ebook publishers and the vendors that provide their ebooks. So the Q and A between librarian Vailey Oehlke of Multnomah County Library and the duo of Skip Dye from Penguin Random House and Steve Potash of Overdrive was of great concern. Everyone on the platform was well behaved, if not in agreement.

Everyone seemed to agree that the library ebook situation is better than two years ago. Dye posed that all of the major publishers are now selling to libraries, but Oehlke reminded us that a couple of these publishers were doing so in a very limited way and only selling to a few select "test" libraries. Dye did agree with librarians that some of the pricing was too high. He and Potash both suggested that market factors would eventually bring prices down.

Potash said that the past two years have been great for adult readers of fiction ebooks. He added that the next two years will focus on increasing the availability of children's ebooks. Books for youth have lagged as few schools have adopted ebooks for instruction, but he and Dye both think that is about to change as publishers work out models for leasing many copies of curriculum titles for simultaneous use.

Dye praised the Library Reads monthly booklists campaign, saying that it is a loud voice that publishers hear and appreciate. He thinks it will bring publishers closer to librarians, making the point that libraries make or break new authors. It is easier to discover a new author at the library than online.

Dye also thinks that Lonely Planet's model of providing ebooks to libraries through Overdrive has been noticed by other travel book publishers who are now contemplating lower prices and better terms to libraries. He thinks this is a sign of the future, but warns that there will still be numerous pricing models tried before the market settles.

Potash believes that Overdrive will be helping libraries load local and self-published works onto their ebook platforms in the near future. His statement, however, was not a 100 percent promise. Potash also said that he believes that Amazon will in the near future make all of its publishing available to Overdrive. He pointed to Scholastic's new contract with Overdrive for low cost metered access as a sign that more publishers will be cooperative.

The room became a little tenser when Potash spoke about portability of titles when libraries leave the Overdrive service. He said that Overdrive will gladly transfer the titles if publishers let the company do so. But he also pointed to its contracts to protect publisher's content, saying the publishers have to be satisfied that whatever platforms libraries provide meet their copyright protection concerns.

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