Tag Archives: hybrid collections

School Libraries, eBooks and publishers : relationship status “It’s complicated”

I’ve been inspired I feel compelled to share some ideas about recent developments affecting the availability of ebooks for school libraries – it’s come about purely out of frustration. I feel that school librarians do not have a voice or any medium or forum in which to communicate feedback, ideas and frustrations to publishers in any way that might lead to meaningful dialogue and change.

  • Digital content isn’t an passing fad or an ‘add-on’ for my school – we need material in both print and digital to meet student reading format preferences.
  • We are passionate about making reading & listening easier for struggling or dormant readers and our ESOL students. The technological aspect of ebooks can be an attractive enticement for kids who think they don’t like to read and students significantly behind their peers can read discretely at a lower level.
  • We want to be able to offer more titles than we can physically house in a library space with limited shelf and floor space – we see our library as a virtual one and we want to reach the kids and readers who never enter the physical space.
  • Unlike many other schools we are spending a significant part of our library budget on digital content.

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In my opinion, there’s still a huge disconnect between publishers and librarians due to a lack of understanding (about how awesome we are) and meaningful communication with librarians on the front line of ebook lending in schools. I know Library Leaders from various professional and industry bodies meet with publishers, but there is little ongoing connection between working school librarians and publishers. I’d be willing to provide feedback and answer questions about our purchasing and usage habits after a publisher introduces a new way of lending or pricing. The anecdotal information would bring any statistics provided by distributors to life.

I’m worried that publishers assume and believe that all libraries are similar and that school libraries will use digital content in the same way as public libraries and therefore we need to be offered the same terms, conditions and pricing. This doesn’t really take into consideration the unique role of school libraries, the type of community we serve, our school/library size, and more importantly our unique role in promoting literacy and a love of reading with children and young adults.

Can publishers not see that there is a huge difference between a metropolitan public library or a whole US state or county school district and the much smaller individual school libraries in New Zealand, Australia and Asia or anywhere?

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The key determinant with … library e-pricing is the opportunity for the full and permanent ownership of our titles purchased for their collections, which can evolve into a potentially unlimited number of library patrons borrowing that ebook in perpetuity. Print books, which suffer wear and tear from repeated lending, need to be replaced through repurchase. Ebooks do not. Source: PRH Press Release quoted in the Library Journal Dec 3 2015.

Comments like this have convinced me that publishers truly believe that there will be so much demand for each and every title they publish that their titles will be checked out continually.

How we wish it were so…

for if all the ebooks we offer in our digital collections really were checked out continually, then we might feel less aggrieved and frustrated about the vagaries of pricing and the inconsistent lending models.

As a digital collection grows the older titles are checked out less and less (just like books in our physical collections) – so the argument of ‘into perpetuity’ is less compelling, perhaps more so because the titles are hidden in the cloud and in many ways invisible to patrons. As for replacing print libraries with digital only collections – it’s not an option for us. We still have readers who prefer print, a similar amount who will only read ebooks, and another group who are happily ‘hybrid’ and will read either. Because our job is to encourage kids to read and to love reading we can’t offer books in digital only formats because that would discriminate against the kids who prefer print.

Despite this reality (ebooks, just like print books aren’t always checked out and libraries are often buying the same title in multiple formats), some publishers compensate themselves for the illusion of constant checkouts and never ending demand by charging ebook prices several times that of the print book.  To protect themselves further, they often add in restrictive lending models based on the time leased (not owned), prompting libraries to repurchase an ebook after 12, 24 or 60 months have passed. Combining higher than print pricing and restrictive lease periods means that it’s difficult to confidently offer ebooks within a school library, either from a budget or a collection development perspective. 

Publishers need to balance the term and the pricing combination very carefully – because an unattractive lending term can be made more compelling with cheaper pricing and a premium (but not excessive) price, fits more with the one copy one user model. It is very easy to feel increasingly biased against the publishers with the least supportive terms for digital content, and also to view those publishers with supportive terms very favourably – and this can subtly influence decisions around future digital and print purchases.

There’s an element of publishers shooting themselves in the foot here – if the terms are too restrictive we won’t buy the titles at all, or if the titles aren’t checked out very much within the 26 or 36 checkout limit or the 12/24 month time period, then we are unlikely to repurchase them.

I can imagine the eCard now:

Hey Librarian, you paid a hefty price for our ebook, but no-one took it out, you qualify for another 52 checkouts or another 24 month term, …said no publisher ever”

The advantage of the short term lease period should be that we are able to add extra copies to satisfy short term demand (but at a reasonable price please).  Read what this article says about public libraries trying to satisfy holds for 50 shades of grey here and imagine the same scenario for the latest Diary of a wimpy kid or Rick Riordan in a school situation – it just wouldn’t happen.

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Publishers should realise that if a public library purchases a single copy of an ebook it may very well be checked out continually (especially in large public libraries or consortiums with populations in the hundreds of thousands or even millions)…however, in a school library with a much smaller population and a decent sized collection of both recent titles, backlist titles and classics; and where the librarians main mission is to convince kids to even TRY a book and to start reading (so that they become readers and dare I suggest it…book buyers), it’s more likely that anything other than the most popular titles will be only be checked out a handful of times in a year at most, regardless of format.

Because of the business they are in, publishers should be more aware than most of us about how demand for existing titles wains with every passing year – especially when so much new content is continually published and released. This is why I believe it is unfair to ask school (or public) libraries to pay big money for backlist titles (in some cases publishers are having ‘their cake and eating it too’ by hitting us with premium prices for frontlist titles and recent releases and charging inflated or higher than print prices for their backlist titles as well). Publishers need to consider that unless we can purchase digital copies of “oldies but goodies” (and those ‘no longer popular but worthy’ books that librarians recommend to kids), then their authors and their backlist may eventually get weeded from the physical shelves and will not be discovered by readers. In my library, shelf space for fiction is at a premium and we almost need to weed a book for each new title we buy. We can’t always afford to replace the weeded print copy with a digital version – especially if it is only available with limited time ownership.

I believe we are providing both authors and publishers a valuable service by keeping their titles in front of readers regardless of format.

In an ideal world publishers could offer more than one type of purchase option for each title e.g. copies at a slight premium to the print price for one copy one user perpetual access and a cheaper price for short term lease (anything from 2 months to 2 years) to satisfy new release demand and provide the opportunity for schools to purchase multiple copies as classroom novel sets.

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I admit that being able to instantly add new and extra content to satisfy demand, and not have to cover/process it, circulate it, generate overdue notices or replace books chewed by dogs or damaged in backpacks by food and drink is an advantage and it’s one that I don’t mind paying a small premium for. However, I do not want to feel penalised for this as in most cases we are also buying the physical copy and sometimes an audiobook too. Especially when taking into account that promoting digital content can feel more time consuming than promoting physical books (which you can at least hold in your hand while you are teaching and it’s on a shelf facing out to the world) – it takes time to manage the metadata, curate digital content, physically represent the intangible on shelves and in displays and to promote what isn’t seen.

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Example of promotional material produced using Word, Photoshop and Canva.com – this was placed inside a DVD cover as a place holder on the shelf using the cover image provided in OverDrive metadata. Once our collect grew we didn’t have the shelf room for these.

Publishers need to also be mindful that those of us with ebook platforms that have a substantial annual hosting fee, as we are already paying a considerable premium to even be able to offer digital content. 

It would be wonderful if publishers would consider the substantial investment school libraries and librarians have made both in time and money in order to present their authors works to our almost captive audiences. Add in our skills in reader advisory and promotion and really it’s us who are providing publishers and authors with a service!

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Despite my pessimistic introduction there have been some fantastic developments in the past twelve months and on the whole the possibilities for ebook lending are looking positive.

For schools who have resisted adding digital content there has never been a better time to start. The content that has become available in the last year is a game changer and if this content had been available when we first started our collection I suspect the makeup of content and titles of our digital collection would be quite different.

It sometimes feels very much like one step forward, two steps back with buying ebooks. The step forward being the increased and immediate availability of much wanted content; the two steps back being the feeling of being beaten and robbed over some of the pricing and the restrictive lease terms.

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GIF shows covers from of a selection of new content that we have added to our OverDrive collection. Many of these titles have been on our digital ‘wishlist’ for a long time.

Here are the significant developments from the last 12 months which have significant implications for digital collection development and affect how we can deliver content, support literacy in our school and maximise space in a Modern Library Learning Environment (where student and collaborative spaces take precedence over physical shelves and book storage).

Throughout the year: titles purchased on the 26 metered checkout model from HarperCollins expire. They’ve been checked out 26 times (and only rarely by mistake) and many titles have ‘earned’ the right to be repurchased based on genuine demand. Some books reached 26 checkouts in less than 12 months others have taken up to three years to get there. Where we had purchased extra copies to satisfy short term demand and the subsequent holds, we’ve let them quietly expire leaving us with one or two copies in the collection (e.g. Divergent). Other titles have only been checked out a few times but they’ll remain in our collection until that 26 checkout limit is reached. Interesting that the introduction of this model had librarians ‘up in arms’ but most are now used to and comfortable with this model.

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January 2015: Although they have been available in OverDrive for some time, we buy our first “Fixed layout” Read-a-long or narrated ebooks (an ebook and audiobook combined) to use with ESOL students, our youngest readers and a few older students who are struggling.

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May 2015: PanMacmillan, Macmillan Australia/UK titles become available for purchase (lease) by both public and school libraries in NZ and Australia, via OverDrive (previously available through Wheeler’s eplatform). An initial order of 50 titles is required and the term is 52 checkouts or 24 months – whichever comes sooner. Prices are reasonable and content is available on the same day as the print publication is released without a lag or wait period. Students are delighted to have Andy Griffiths in multiple digital and print copies.

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September 2015: Faber & Faber titles are now available in OverDrive marketplace. The ebooks are available on a 52 checkout/24 month lease (whichever comes sooner) at very reasonable prices.

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October 2015: Simon & Schuster etitles are extended to school libraries in NZ and Australia via OverDrive (previously only available to public libraries and not yet available to school libraries in Wheeler’s e platform). The titles are available for a 12 month lending period. Prices are similar to the NZ print price. The 12 month lease has implications for when titles are purchased and so far we’ve only purchased some of the most popular titles we have in print. I’ll be purchasing more at the start of the school year so that students get a full year of exposure and use.It’s likely that only the most popular titles will be ordered with this lease term.

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December 2015: New lending terms for ebooks in Libraries are announced in the US for both Penguin and Random House etitles which will be available on a one copy/one user model with a reduced maximum price cap of $65 US (versus $85 US) from 1 January 2016. Previously Penguin titles had been available on a 12 month lending model and Random House titles on a OC/OU model but with pricing of latest releases at up to 300% above the retail print price. Some of these US Random House titles are available to NZ/Australian libraries if the worldwide digital rights are held by the US imprint. We have only purchased a few of these titles in the past and I’m waiting to see what changes are made to prices.

December 2015: The news we have been waiting for…It is announced that both School and Public libraries in NZ and Australia can now purchase Penguin UK/RHCP UK/Penguin Australia/ RHNZ/RHA titles. The full catalogue of titles will be available for 36 checkouts or 24 months whichever comes sooner (this is a bit bewildering given the previous announcement in the USA regarding the one copy one user model but it highlights the huge divide between the ebook situation for libraries in the USA vs the rest of the world).There is a 90 day lag or wait period between the publication of the print book and the availability of the ebook. Pricing varies and latest releases (after the 90 day lag) seem highly priced in my opinion, and the NZ Australian backlist titles are more expensive than I think they should be – this pricing will influence future purchases and repurchases after expiry.  I note that some announcements stress that this is a two year ‘trial’.

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December 2015/ January 2016: The first titles purchased (leased) from Allen & Unwin under the 52 checkout or 24 month lending model in our collection expire. Some titles have NEVER been checked out, and some only a handful of times. Allen & Unwin titles are priced higher than those from Faber& Faber or Macmillan which use the same lending model. Which is a shame because students and librarians LOVE their books! Interesting to see the level of purchasing with each publisher because of this (A&U had been on a one copy one user model but after they switched to 52 checkouts our purchasing dwindled). I decide to only repurchase those that have been checked out more than 6 times in 24 months. The titles no longer held are still visible in our collection and should there be future demand (demonstrated by holds placed) I’ll consider repurchasing them.
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January 2016: I ask myself “Will 2016 be the year we are able to offer ebooks from Scholastic and Hachette to our students?” These are the last two major publishers missing from our digital offering.

But more importantly could…2016 be the year when publishers consider partnering with school librarians or at least softening their purchasing terms?

More details on each of the ‘issues’ and developments highlighted above will be the focus of future posts. I’ll talk about specific titles and series from each publisher to demonstrate the issues and implications, pluses and minuses of their pricing and lending models and give plenty of kudos to the publishers who are great to work with.

Background info:

While these are my own views it’s important to note that the school where I currently work utilises the OverDrive lending platform for both eBooks and eAudioBooks. We use other providers and platforms too, but this is our major platform for recreational digital reading.

  • Currently we have 3280 titles (plus duplicate copies) of both eBooks and eAudioBooks in our OverDrive collection.
  • We started buying digital content in OverDrive in May 2013
  • Our school is a BYOD environment with a mixture of iPads, smartphones, tablets and laptops in use.
  • Our school size is 1600 students and covers years Kindergarten to Year 13 – although most digital content is checked out by students in years 4-10.
  • On average our school community checks out 770 digital titles through OverDrive each month (lowest 357/highest 1133).