The little startup from Melbourne, Australia, Booki.sh is joining the rapidly growing Cleveland-based OverDrive, the leading distributor of ebooks and digital audiobooks to libraries. While they are separated by some 10,000 miles, the two companies are in sync in terms of developing ebook services for libraries. This acquisition is part of OverDrive’s long-term strategy to build a range of services for libraries. Since 1986, OverDrive has been focused on becoming a leading multichannel distributor of ebooks, digital audiobooks, music, and video.
Overdrive has been in the news recently as they are caught in the middle of the library-publisher war over providing libraries access to ebooks from the group of publishers known as the Big 6. As the major distributor of ebooks to public libraries, OverDrive has had to face many irate librarians who are currently unable to license or buy any number of important fiction titles in electronic format. ALA and other library organizations have jumped into the fire trying to negotiate a deal that would enable public libraries to license or purchase e-versions of the most popular fiction books and enable those libraries to loan copies to their patrons.
Here is a case where technology has long surpassed the copyright or fair use practices. There is mounting frustration in the library community with publishers that are refusing to sell their econtent to libraries as a class of users. Many publishers are afraid that the public library lending program will severely undercut their sales. Rather than try to accommodate the libraries, most of the Big 6 have just refused to sell to them.
Maybe the purchase of Booki.sh will help drive that discussion. Booki.sh is a developer of a cloud-based platform for distributing, selling, and reading ebooks. Booki.sh is a product that was developed by Inventive Labs, a web development house founded by Virginia Murdoch and Joseph Pearson who along with Peter Haasz are joining the OverDrive Company. I caught up with Peter and asked him about the other products and services developed by Inventive Labs. From his response, it seems that there are additional announcements coming regarding the remaining assets of Inventive Labs.
It is not surprising to see innovation coming out of small development operations or small businesses. In the library community, many of the most creative products that are active in the marketplace today have been created by a small cadre of very talented individuals. The library community would not have EZproxy without Chris Zagar, SFX without Herbert van de Sompel, and Serials Solutions without Peter McCracken and his brothers. Let’s hope that Joseph, Virginia, and Peter have created a product that the library community will come to depend upon as much as these other creations.
According to OverDrive chief executive, Steve Potash, Booki.sh has created “a fresh, direct, and immersive reading experience that uniquely services the mission of our libraries and schools.” Part of that fresh experience will be integrating Booki.sh HTML5 and EPUB reading technologies into the OverDrive library and school services.
As technology marches forward and offers information in new formats and packaging, I cannot help but wonder if the publishing community is ready to accept this brave new world. I attend the large Book Expo in New York City and at the May 2011 meeting in the Javits Center in New York City, it was clear to me that many publishers are still behaving like they are living in a total print world.
Many of the sessions are about print distribution, printing, shipping, and mailing and there is almost a collective feeling that if one can hold their breath long enough, this e-format distraction will certainly pass and we can get on with our comfortable world.
Well, there is a new sheriff in town and Amazon and Apple are turning the publishing world upside down. Before they are finished the brick-and-mortar bookstores, the traditional book publishers, and the library sales strategies are going to be shaken and stirred. The Big 6 publishers need to address their sales strategies to libraries. The STM publishers are selling their ebooks to libraries and the systems in place work reasonably well. Most libraries are not against paying a fair price for an ebook nor do they expect one book to circulate to a thousand users simultaneously. Publishers must work out a license deal that is fair and manageable.
Perhaps OverDrive will help lead the way with its acquisition of Booki.sh. Maybe the industry needs a cloud-based platform for selling and reading ebooks. But my sense is that libraries have the technology in place to service their readers. What is missing is the license that will allow that technology to bloom. OverDrive with its current services restricted by publisher licenses is going to find similar restrictions from publishers when they try to deliver ebooks via the cloud-based platform.
Overdrive is rapidly growing and has started building a world headquarters in Garfield Heights just outside Cleveland, Ohio. This acquisition is a smart move on their part. I fully expect to see more acquisitions. OverDrive seems to be focused on ebooks and ebooks services and they are on the march.