Thursday, September 24, 2015

Libraries Report 2015 Has Been the Best Year Ever for e-Books


The e-reader and consumer e-book industry has hit the proverbial glass ceiling in terms of sales. One of the segments that has been consistently on the upward trend has been libraries.

A recent report by the Library Journal has stated that 95% of all US libraries have an e-book collection. That's up from 89% in both 2013 and 2012, when researchers thought that adoption had plateaued for good. The average number of e-books carried was 20,244 by each library, but that of course was skewed toward large libraries. Medium sized libraries statistically had around 10,434 titles.

Over 10 different libraries in the US and Canada had over one million digital loans in 2014, with two libraries lending out two million e-Books. This number is poised to double in 2015 as Overdrive, 3M and Baker & Taylor gain more market share.


One of the greatest success stories of 2015 has been the rise of Hoopla has being a serious contender in the library space. They started out the year with only 13,000 titles and only a few hundred libraries were dealing with them. Hoopla now has an extensive collection of over 350,000 titles from companies like Disney, DC Comics, Universal Music, and Starz.  Over 800 library systems are doing business with Hoopla, which service over 1,000,000 registered users! Hoopla is signing up 15 – 30 library systems every month and service between 1,400 – 3,000 new users every day!

The Hoopla business model is quite different from most other companies in the digital library space.  They make their entire collection available and libraries only pay when a user borrows the title. Overdrive on the other hand sells each title individually. If you want 10 copies of an e-book, you better be prepared to pay the money in advance.

2015 has been very kind to Overdrive, the undisputed king of the digital library space. Back in March they were acquired by Rakuten, the owners of Kobo. They got a huge cash injection and will be expanding the empire into new markets. Overdrive has the largest footprint out of any company that markets digital content to libraries. They have a presence in almost all of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Hadie Bartholomew, Communications Manager at Overdrive said “Every month we add thousands and thousands of titles to our catalog and recently added hundreds of thousands of Smashwords titles”

One of the keys to Overdrives success is that they are the only company to offer Kindle e-books. They have an exclusive agreement with Amazon to provide libraries with the ability to deliver books to Kindle e-readers and Fire tables.  They also are very active in the international library scene and have a very active blog.

Baker and Taylor has also been experiencing tremendous growth over the course of 2015.  Michael Bills, the Sales Director, Digital Products said “We have well over 2000 Axis 360 customers now and this is up from about 1200 a year ago. Our growth, and our expansion into Canada in partnership with Whitehots, is gaining traction as more libraries begin to realize the advantages of ordering print and digital formats at the same time from a single vendor.”

He went on to say “We continue to sign new supplier agreements, and broke the 1 million mark for e-Books available for library sale this year, along with an additional 50,000 digital audiobook titles. The number of users and circulation are growing year-over-year at existing accounts, and we also are seeing a surge of new patron activation since the release of the all-in-one Axis 360 app earlier this month.”

The 3M Cloud Library has been dramatically improving their catalog of e-books. In 2015 the company now has 587,562 titles in their system, whereas in 2014 they only had 419,358.

Heather McCormack is the  Collection Development and Publisher Relations Manager at 3M. She told me “The most obvious signs of change for us in 2015 are overseas, in the UK and Australia, where we're signing publishers left and right, both Big Five subsidiaries and powerful indies (HarperCollins UK/AU, S. & S. UK/AU, Faber & Faber, Faber Factory, Canongate, Allen & Unwin). In the United States, W.W. Norton joined in August. That's the biggest news on our shores, really. When the American comics industry in the guise of DC and Marcel offers most of their catalogs to libraries in e, I think library patrons will have an excellent level of access. Not equal to print, but more than decent.”

The High Cost of e-books


The companies that are responsible for making sure digital content is available to all libraries are doing brisk business, but libraries budgets are being stretched thin. This is primarily because all of the major publishers have different revenue models, some e-books expire after a certain number of loans, whereas others cost dramatically more than the print edition.

Michael Connelly novel Burning Room costs $14.99 on Amazon, but libraries are paying $106.00 per copy.  John Grisham's Grey Mountain costs $15.99 for a retail edition but costs libraries $85.00.

James Larue of the Douglas County Library system recently said "libraries and taxpayers who support libraries are being ripped off in ways that not only outrageously inflate the payment to publishers (surely their costs are not three times greater to provide the book to us than to the consumer), they also greatly reward distributors. The result? At a time when about half of our patrons use e-readers, we barely offer 10% of our collections to them in their preferred format. When does a vicious price become complicity between publisher and distributor, to the detriment of the public?"

The Digital Content Working Group co-chair Carolyn Anthony told members ALA officials were “continuing to dialogue with representatives from the Big Five publishers,” and that e-book pricing remained a major issue. “We generally believe that the current pricing models are not sustainable, and that libraries cannot develop collections of critical size if they’re paying $90 per title or re-buying titles every year,” Anthony said. However, she added, a number of independent and smaller publishers are proving “much more flexible on terms,” and “much more eager” to work with libraries. “That’s a very good sign,” Anthony said. “Maybe this is an avenue that will help us develop richer and deeper digital collections.”

Wrap Up

Libraries are serving the needs of the community more than ever before. Every branch I have spoken with have told me that 2015 has been the most successful year ever, in terms of their growing collections and the number of checkouts.

"Demand for e-books continues to grow – in fact, it's our fastest growing area of circulation at Toronto Public Library with 3.5 million checkouts last year alone and this figure will double at the end of 2015" said Vickery Bowles , City Librarian at Toronto Public Library.

There are still major challenges facing libraries, such as the high cost of e-books and how to better showcase collections in apps and websites.  Dispite all of this, 2015 has been the best year on record in terms of the companies that serve libraries and the number of checkouts for digital content.

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