By Rachel Aydt
The behind the scenes workings of lending e-material through libraries is rather mysterious; certainly it’s difficult to visualize. On the one hand, it’s easy to imagine a librarian poring through the latest fall book catalogs from [fill-in-the-blank] publisher, circling appealing titles and putting in an order for a handful of one that’s bound to be popular. The books show up and get catalogued before interested minions pluck them off of the shelves. The books circulate. Okay, no duh — that system is as antiquated in the book world as the old-fashioned egg cream is to PepsiCo, but what exactly does go on behind the scenes between librarians, publishers, and the digital books [or “content”] they loan?
Meet the heavy playa: Ingram Content Group, the largest digital distributor of digital and print content in the world, is fine-tuning their subsidiary arm MyiLibrary, among the fastest growing and most comprehensive digital loaning system aimed at public libraries, higher ed, and soon, K-12 systems. This subsidiary of Ingram dovetails beautifully with their 2006 acquisition of Coutts Information Services, a UK-based company that specializes in supplying content to academic and institutional libraries. Together, Coutts and MyiLibrary can get a huge amount of content into the right hands, whether popular fiction or eclectic and highly specialized academic content.
Driven by What the Publisher Wants
Ingram’s MyiLibrary platform is what savvy librarians are using to update their digital loaning content. Using it, patrons can read content online, download it to their computer, or other digital devices. The cool thing for publishers is that they keep a heavy hand of control over their sales and distribution. “We go to publishers and ask for the right to distribute digitally, so that decision is going to be driven by what the publisher wants,” explains Pamela Smith, MyiLibrary’s Vice President of Library Sales. “I think that MyiLibrary is a platform that both protects the rights publishers while benefitting the end user — the library patron, and the student — to access materials.”
MyiLibrary has signed a contract with Random House to add their titles, a boon to their United States domestic portfolio. “Adding the portfolio of Random House publishers will certainly help us branch into domestic public libraries here in the U.S.” says Smith. Their presence is already very strong in higher education institutions, and they’re warming up to move into the K-12 library sphere. “We’re exploring, but not quite ready to be a major player there, from an e-perspective. Certainly this new partnership with Random House will help us expand into that area.
Every day they sign more contracts with publishers, to the tune of 5,000 new titles per month. That’s a lot of books, adding to the mountain of decision-making that librarians already face. Often, they decide what to purchase title by title, but the glut of content can be burdensome to navigate without help. MyiLibrary has considered this, and has put in place a staff that will help them by recommending and selecting materials. “It’s difficult for librarians to push through the 50 thousand+ titles that are published every year, so we help them to narrow it down to what they need in their community.”
Different Models for Different Needs
Once libraries decide what they want to purchase, they have to choose which purchase model suits their needs and budget. “One issue from libraries was that they weren’t happy with purchase models for ebooks,” says Smith. “They found it difficult to adequately serve their community since there wasn’t a proactive purchase model.” Or in other words, they didn’t always quite understand how many “credits” they should order to serve their patrons.
Now they’ve worked out a new model that both publishers and libraries seem to be flocking to, called the Access Purchase Model. To understand this, it’s important to wrap your head around the first available purchase models.
Publishers are given a choice in determining which of three purchase models they want to make each title available with:
1) The Single User model: Libraries purchase content for a set price determined by the publisher, and there’s one user at a time, in perpetuity
2) The Multi-user model: Libraries purchase content for a set price determined by the publisher. Libraries pay more, but can have up to 3 users at the same time
3) The new Access Purchase model: Libraries purchase a set of access credits for an ebook and can lend it simultaneously to multiple patrons for a set cost, and lending period. “Let’s say I buy a set of 300 credits for The Cat in the Hat,” explains Smith. “During the 12-month period there can be 300 usages. They can all be used on the same day, or throughout the year. When the 300 credits have been met, libraries can either wait until the anniversary when their credits will refresh, or, if they choose to, they can opt to purchase more than one set, meaning 2 sets of 300 credits, giving their patrons 600 usage credits.” Again, the prices for the credits are determined by the publishers, and each publisher also makes the decision of how many “credits” will be available. “One scenario would be that for their front list they put out a smaller number of credits, and for their backlist, they offer a higher number of credits,” explains Smith.
The long and the short of it may be, don’t cut up that library card just yet. The business of ebooks evolves daily, and with MyiLibrary, libraries can finesse their availability on many fronts. “Our mission,” says Smith, “is to help content reach its destination.”
Article has been updated to correct typos.