Our collection currently comprises almost 2/3 one copy/one user titles and 1/3 licensed titles (either metered or expiring after a period of time).
This ratio isn’t what we were planning when we began selecting ebooks and audiobooks for our digital collection, but it has evolved this way over time. Although we would prefer to buy more content on a one copy/one user model a lot of very popular fiction is only available on a licensed basis and to complicate the ratio further, some of the one copy/one user material is ridiculously expensive.
One of the aims of our digital collection is to entice students to read; and therefore the offering must be as appealing as the physical collection otherwise it risks being seen as only a supplementary, fringe or niche collection. In order to meet the objective of enticement, we’ve simply had to ‘bite the bullet’ and buy a considerable amount of licensed content in order to provide the popular material that students will want to borrow.
The bulk of the metered titles (and nearly 1/4 of the whole collection) are titles sold on the 26 metered model (predominantly from HarperCollins US and UK and their imprints, plus a small number of titles from Disney). I’ve grown to accept and ultimately love this model because although 26 may not seem high (and it’s not high if kids accidentally check ebooks out and then return them without either downloading or reading them…) but it is similar to the number of uses a popular paperback might get. When titles have expired after they’ve been regularly checked out then the decision to repurchase is an easy one. At least if a title isn’t popular and doesn’t go out much it doesn’t expire in your collection until that magic number of 26 is reached! Often the prices are very reasonable and it’s not difficult to feel justified when adding extra copies of titles in high demand.
The 52 checkout/24 month model is one that I initially wasn’t keen on. But now I feel these titles will grow as we can now purchase more content from Pan Macmillan, which has an excellent price point for this lending term. The chart above shows the number of titles (rather than the number of copies we own) so it’s a little misleading because we often will have 2-3 copies of Macmillan titles due to their popularity. Combine the high interest of their titles with a very reasonable price (and one where you do not feel you are being extravagant with the schools money if you purchase extra copies when demand is high) and you can only feel good about the balance here.
However, I do feel that all the publishers offering ebooks on this basis have been a little disingenuous regarding the 52 checkouts. It’s very difficult to consume 52 checkouts within a 24 month period – especially if the favoured lending period by students is 3 weeks. Even if a title is issued as soon as it’s returned, then the highest number of checkouts we might expect with 24 months is just under 35 (104 weeks divided by three). Of course there will be some students who return a book quickly and well before the three week loan period is up – but it is unlikely that any title will be on issue continuously and reach 52 checkouts. Where we have reached high checkout numbers on some of these titles, we have only been able to achieve this by owning multiple copies (so no single copy is responsible for 52 checkouts within 24 months, no matter how popular). The situation may be quite different in a public library and that’s the reason why I keep suggesting that the terms for school libraries need to be considered differently.
The 36 checkout model portion is made up solely with titles from the Non-US Penguin/Random House family – including Australian, New Zealand and UK content. Whilst it looks like we may have given this model a solid endorsement because we have already purchased a considerable number of titles in a short space of time… I’m very much in ‘two minds’ about it. As time passes and I peruse the additional titles I’d like to add, I find that I am unable to make the leap and push “purchase” due to an almost emotional reaction to the pricing. Perhaps 36 checkouts is a little more realistic than 52 within 24 months, but the price point of many of the titles, which will expire after only two years, seems expensive. The mitigating factor is the popularity and desirability of many of the titles and series. However, some imprints from this publisher (think of those nice fat annotated Penguin classics) lend themselves to the one copy/one user model in a school library context in my opinion.
The 60 month (or 5 years) model that represents a tiny sliver in the chart at less than 1% of the collection – is made up solely of the 7 Harry Potter books in both ebook and audiobook formats. These titles, published by Pottermore, are currently only available through OverDrive, but they are extremely popular with students.
Lastly the 12 month time restriction feels prohibitive and dare I say mean; and before I purchase any title under this model, there is quite a bit of soul searching and calculating to try and predict how popular the titles might be to justify the cost over such a short period. I’m also very conscious of buying 12 month titles towards the end of the year knowing full well that they will expire in exactly 12 months and one can only plan and hope that there will be budget available the following year. Despite there being a vast range of content from Simon & Schuster and DK (Dorling Kindersley) available we’ve only purchased 21 titles so far.
If we had only been able to add one copy/one user content then we would not have a collection that is appealing to readers as the one we have built up over 2 1/2 years, but planning for and dealing with the variety of lending models and price points can be rather complicated and exhausting.
Interestingly, if we were to buy exactly the same titles today under current ownership models – then many of those that had been available under the one copy/one user model would now only be available on a licensed basis.
Here’s what the breakdown would look like today:
There are 223 titles that we had previously purchased under the one copy/one user model from Random House Australia, Random House New Zealand and the bulk from Random House Children’s Publishing Ltd (RHCP UK). When I added these to the recent purchases we’ve made from the newly released Penguin and Random House titles they add up to a sizeable chunk of licensed content at 13% of the collection – all of which would expire after 36 checkouts or 24 months.
There were also 48 titles purchased from Allen & Unwin before they switched from the one copy/one user model to the 52 checkout or 24 months model.
Now that our collection has reached the proportions shown in the earlier chart, I believe it’s time to look at formulating a more rigorous digital collection development policy that caps the amount of metered content. This needs to be done otherwise each year a significant amount of our budget will have to be allocated to replacing content (which feels rather unpalatable if it has not been checked out much – no matter how desirable it is to have it in the collection). Some titles might be purchased with expiration in mind – but only if the price is reasonable at the time of purchase and where you anticipate that the title won’t be needed in the future or at least not as many copies.
Note: I’m still planning on writing detailed posts about each of these lending model and ownership types, which I hope will help others come to understand how they all fit together. For some libraries how the collection is made up may look very different to ours and some libraries may find that shorter ownership periods may suit their collection and community better, depending on their requirements. I do believe that all these lending models need to be incorporated into our collection if we wish to continue to offer a wide range of attractive content that mirrors and supports the physical one.