Friends, Romans, Librarians: Lend Me Your E-books (Part 2)

In Guest Contributors, Resources by Guest Contributor

Yesterday, in Part 1, Erik Christopher looked at the e-book models offered to librarians by the United States’ two largest e-book retailers, and Barnes & Noble. Today, he considers the model offered by Overdrive and the future of lending as seen by the Open Book Alliance’s Peter Brantley.

Google eBookstore

By Erik Christopher

Despite the user-friendly devices and what they can offer from the e-book retailers, when it comes to the academic market, Amazon and B&N would do well to look at what the vendors and aggregators are doing if they wish to streamline their systems to work more closely in tandem with the systems already in place for libraries.

An example of one such company is OverDrive, which works with a variety of library systems, most notably in the public library arena, as well as with K-12 and higher education. “Our model is a one copy for one user at a time,” said David Burleigh, Director of Marketing at OverDrive. “We use Adobe Digital Editions for DRM and patrons can copy, print, paste, within limitations. On the admin side of it the librarians can set the lending period however they want — seven days, fourteen days, and so on.”

OverDrive offers this functionality for Sony Reader lending setup. This offers one advantage over Amazon and B&N in so far as the library can choose the amount of time a title is out. OverDrive also offers an app for iPhone and Android phones that also works with both PDF and ePub files.


Burleigh said that publishers can opt to go DRM free and the company is “dabbling in the multiple user/simultaneous use model” that other academic aggregators are using. “We have one publisher on board and others have expressed interest, but it’s new and we’ll take it slow.” With this type of model libraries can expect to see a cost increase per title, but a per user cost will be less. What that pricing structure will be, Burleigh didn’t say.

In regards to the current model in place he said: “OverDrive is trying to play Switzerland in this scenario. We’ve heard both positive and negative about the model, which is expected. We also have to work with both the publishers and authors and the rights they grant us, just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it’s out there for all without limits.” He believes that Google Books and the cloud-based model is challenging, but ultimately for the good. A project that OverDrive is working on is what they call OverDrive Certification Standard, a standard for device manufacturers to adhere to if they want to work with OverDrive and libraries.

The Answer May Be in the Cloud

Peter Brantley is Co-Founder at Open Book Alliance and Director, Bookserver Project at Internet Archive. He feels that OverDrive is getting it right though and trying to work with libraries the correct way., thought added that several things still need to change to facilitate easier and more efficient library e-book lending. “Downloading a file is too messy and Adobe DRM is too complex,” he said. “I see moving away from that and a better option would be to download from the web.”

Brantley believes that browser based lending and a moving to ePUB will make things easier. “Tech time and having to download e-books along with user frustration make it difficult. Open systems like the Android platform will help things move forward. B&N using the Nook wants to do more, but they have restraints imposed by the publishers, they are doing the best they can with those restraints. Hardware is a closed system and this will move to more software based.” He feels a network based authentication system is better.

Ultimately, Brantley says that publishers are going to need to talk with libraries, meet with them and form a partnership for e-book lending to really take off. In the academic world, publishers like Springer are doing some things that could work in the trade world. In the end, things will change and people need to keep an open mind as alternative systems come online and publishers move increasingly into “digital first” publications.

E-book lending for libraries is a complex issues. The models exist and libraries have options, yet none are quite ideal. A big part of this comes back to rights, especially in the trade market. Authors in particular may not be keen to see e-book lending take off. Author Marcus Sakey, has said, “As an author, I make my living when people buy my books. For that reason, it’s hard for me to come out gung-ho for lending. I don’t mind it as a way to sample my work, but ultimately I hope you choose to buy. Here’s the upside, though: e-books are cheap, and getting cheaper, which I love.  My preference would be to do away with digital lending, and instead continue to lower the price point of e-books.”

We have to remember that in the trade world the author wants and needs to be paid, as does the publisher. And the question remains: if e-books are increasingly more affordable, will libraries buy more copies? Most librarians want to be able to lend a book to multiple users at once and some librarians have already stated, they’ll pay more for more the privilege to do so.

None of this will be decided by retailers and aggregators simply taking an approach and saying, “This is our model, take it or leave it.” We need to be innovative and understand also that what is an e-book is also changing. If we move to a browser based model, in the cloud, where we have device agnostic environment, then things will truly get interesting. All we can ask for is patience; if you are a library, contact the trade publishers, if you are the publisher, start talking with libraries -– not to them but with them, get inside their head and use them to advise you. What’s the worst that could happen? That we figure this out?

DISCUSS: Is E-book Lending Bad News for Authors and Publishers?

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Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.