Matt Weaver, a Library Renewal board member (who also contributes to infoDOCKET), has written an interesting and discussion provoking report about ebook borrowing.
The report is titled, Struggling to Satisfy Demand and it’s more than worth a look. You can find the full text report along with a sidebar listing “key dates” in libraries and ebooks (2011-June 2012) on the Library Renewal web site.
In a nutshell, Weaver analyzes ebook borrowing statistics made available by five U.S. public libraries:
- Robbins Public Library (MA)
- Santa Monica Public Library (CA)
- Omaha Public Library (NE)
- Topeka Shawnee County Public Library (KS)
- Westlake Porter Public Library (OH)
to report (with charts) on general ebook usage over time including:
- Unique Patrons With Checkouts
- New Patrons Per Month
- Kindle Share of Ebook Checkouts
- Checkouts of Titles from Big Six Publishers
- Percentage of Total Cardholders Borrowing OverDrive Titles
- Unique Patrons With Checkouts as Percentage of Cardholders Over the Life of Libraries’ Contract With OverDrive
Two items about the report that Weaver notes:
While this paper hardly qualifies as “big data,” the snapshot that it captures presents insights into usage that have not been shown in other reports, surveys or studies.
For this report, only data for Overdrive was used. Why just Overdrive? While competition has increased in the ebook market, Overdrive was by far the largest player in the market during the scope of this analysis.
The present ecosystem for ebooks in libraries does not represent a value for our members. While competitors to Overdrive have emerged, this competitive environment does not drive prices down, as prices are controlled not by vendors, but by publishers. Without the ability to own ebook content, library ebook collections are fleeting, bound to vendors; and not only expensive to acquire, but also to sustain. If libraries cannot migrate content, then they cannot benefit from the arrival of new competitors in the marketplace. An environment in which access to as broad a range of content as possible is secured for patrons, and affordable to libraries, will not emerge out of the current environment.
A Few Thoughts and Questions
- What this report shows (and Matt Weaver points out) is that the lack of awareness of ebook services Pew Internet reported last December appear to be accuarate. In other words, while the library community is ebook crazy, most library users do not know about or use ebook services. Is this only a marketing issue? The report offers a look at what it calls user-loss.
- If more and more users began using ebook services can libraries afford to buy more titles or additional copies of titles already owned to satisfy demand? If not, are people willing to wait to gain access to the titles they want? Do we explain why waiting is often necessary? We’ve all seen reports about long wait times at some libraries. What does the inability to access one or more titles when browsing or searching mean for how users view the ebook lending services? In other words, do long wait times eventually cause people to stop using the service? Does it stop some from trying the service especially if a friend or colleague tells them about the problems/delays they encountered? Yes, people often need to wait for print titles but many don’t understand (and it often goes unexplained) why an unlimited number of titles are not available from many ebook providers.
- Will providing access to self-published titles help satisfy demand? The jury is still out on this one. Can libraries/librarians help users discover and make choices on what to read given the volume of material that becomes available everyday. At the same time, do they have the tools to make informed decisions about what to acquire?
- As we’ve asked before, what will Netflix-like services mean for libraries and ebooks? Will they be able to better meet the needs of library users who can afford them? Should we be providing access to these services? What does this mean for collection development on the local level?
- We’ve talked about this many times. Although not mentioned in the Library Renewal report, what does the ability to access materials on a Kindle via the Amazon.com site do to the library professions reputation for protecting reader privacy? This doesn’t mean stopping the service but it does mean that we need to make it clear to users what’s going on (Amazon knows what they borrow). Are we forgetting that privacy of what one reads is something that the library profession has a well-deserved reputation for protecting? Are we tossing it aside to simply provide access to ebooks for a few users? Is this a good idea? When does doing the right thing begin? Are there legal issues at play here? What about ethical ones?