Editorial by Jonas Lennermo, Publit
STOCKHOLM, Sweden: The emerging digital ecosystem is a jigsaw with half of the pieces missing. One of the most important things when developing those missing pieces is to realize that the library is a marketplace for the publisher. The more money the publisher makes on the back of the work being done by libraries, the more books libraries will get from the publisher. To make this happen, a neutral meeting point for publishers and libraries is crucial. That is why today we are proud to announce a new company that promises to “radically change the conditions for the lending of ebooks at the library”: Atingo.
Atingo is co-funded by the Swedish publishing service Publit and the technology provider Axiell. As the fifth biggest company in the world in the library sector, working with more than 1000 public libraries and 3,000 school libraries throughout Scandinavia and the UK, Axiell has vast experience with creating and managing large-scale digital infrastructure projects. Combined with the innovative service design at Publit, Atingo will further develop the Swedish model for e-lending in libraries.
The ecosystem is bridging the gap between the two cornerstones of literate society: the writer and the reader. Every player in the publishing industry, regardless of motive and method, is mediating between the reader and the writer.
For print books it works quite well. Since the advent of the modern printing press an ecosystem has been established, with key institutions like publishers and libraries existing side by side. For digital assets, on the other hand, this relationship doesn’t work at all. Ebooks are essentially different. They are easy to copy, easy to distribute and they won’t wear out. Because of this the existing business relationship between libraries and publishers doesn’t work efficiently with ebooks and has often brought libraries and publishers into conflict.
Publishers look at e-lending as a threat to their business, arguing that it might cannibalize print sales or even block the rise of a commercial ebook market altogether. Libraries on the other hand, may lose their role altogether if they lose access to ebooks. The only thing that is bigger than their mutual fear, is the mutual opportunity for collaboration.
The library has the potential to take the lead in the creation of a new digital ecosystem, by setting the requirements for the development of the infrastructure for it. For the publisher, on the other hand, the library is a market place and needs to be treated like any other retail channel. As the founders of Atingo, we strongly believe that the emerging digital ecosystem needs a neutral technology provider that is able to bridge the gap between the publisher and the library. That is our offering.
In Sweden, Publit has been instrumental in trying out new collaborative initiatives. As an example, Publit has helped Stockholm Public Library to become a publisher, by digitizing and making the literary heritage of the late spouses Gunnar and Alva Myrdal available to the public.
Learning from the open source-movement, Publit has developed a model for the library to digitise the publishers’ backlist, which has been dubbed dual licensing.
Simultaneously, Axiell has developed a new e-lending infrastructure, the eHub. Instead of pushing the patron away to a third party site to be able lend the book, as with current market standards, the eHub makes it possible for the local library to keep the reader at their own web site. It gives the local library valuable insight about its digital community and how to develop it further.
Based on the knowledge gained from these projects, Publit has developed an interface that connects the publisher with the library directly. Thanks to this common dashboard, now used as the technological platform at Atingo, publishers and the libraries are for the first time free to negotiate price and availability in real time.
As brick-and-mortar bookstores are shrinking in numbers, libraries become ever more important as a place dedicated to the encouragement of reading. The libraries’ skills in curating books, inspiring and helping the reader to discover new titles and old authors, will become increasingly important, especially with an ever-increasing competition from other media.
With quiet reading rooms and extensive event programs, the library becomes a window for browsing for books and finding unexpected reading opportunities by serendipity. This brings real value to a publishing community that are focusing on frontlist, where sales are shrinking, by adding a backlist centered economy.
Adding to that, the library has a deep understanding of its community. They know, probably even better then the publisher, who reads what and why. As sales moves away from brick-and-mortar stores and towards online shops, the landscape of retail is changing dramatically. This change gives the publisher the opportunity to sell their books directly to the readers. As we have written at Publishing Perspectives previously, this means that the publisher has to be relevant, accessible and honest. The library has the opportunity to help the publisher to do so by reaching out to its community, whether it might be with support, business intelligence or curating books in relation to local interests. As the publisher rises to the cloud, the library stays on the ground.
There is no coincidence that new collaborative e-lending solutions arise from Sweden. As opposed to bigger markets, like the American market, the small language area of Sweden has made otherwise unusual collaborations possible. Commercial as well as non-commercial entities are pooling resources together for the benefit of everyone. A long tradition of building community based cultural infrastructure that is controlled in full neither by the state nor by private interest, with the Swedish Film Institute as one of many great examples, is leading the way for the future. The Swedish model has set the stage for cooperation rather than antagonism.
Compared to the North American market, there are many more similarities between Sweden and the rest of the highly differentiated European market. In Europe, no one is big enough to make it on their own. To create an efficient digital ecosystem, collaboration is inevitable. Based on the idea of ebooks as a service, the Swedish model seems to be well on its way to radically pioneer the whole library sector. With Atingo we will further develop the Swedish model for e-lending in libraries.
Jonas Lennermo is the CCO of Publit.