Ebooks Corp., an Australian-based provider of electronic books to consumers on its retail site (http://www.ebook.com), has launched a new e-book lending platform called EBL (http://www.ebl.ebook.com) that is aimed at the academic and research library market. The company worked closely with the library, technology, and publishing communities to develop EBL, which is said to offer a pioneering approach to lending. Functionality includes multiple concurrent use, online and offline access, read aloud, chapters for reserve circulation, short-term circulation, and document delivery solutions. The collection focuses initially on recent publications in science, technology, and medicine (STM). Some key academic publishers that have signed on to EBL include Taylor & Francis, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Kluwer, and World Scientific Press. EBL is currently in testing, with the full launch expected near the end of July.
International advisers in the development of EBL have included: CERN-European Organization for Nuclear Research (Switzerland); Yale University Library; Curtin University of Technology (Australia); North Carolina State University; R2 Consulting; Dawson Books (U.K.); Blackwell's Book Services; and the Consortium of Australian University Libraries. Ebooks Corp. seems to have listened carefully to publishers and libraries, based on the features, functions, and access model it is introducing in its new product for a completely new market.
Kari Paulson, general manager of EBL, said: "We are confident that EBL will be a valuable resource for academic and research librarians, in large part because we have developed it in collaboration with such a committed and creative group of advising institutions. We are fortunate to have a brilliant technical team in Perth, who have packed EBL with functions that will delight library patrons and librarians."
According to Paulson, EBL has some key differentiators that set it apart from the competition and answer some specific requests from librarians. Most obvious is the new access model EBL introduces, which allows for multiple concurrent use. The company calls its system Non-Linear Lending and says it surpasses the traditional print model of limiting access to one patron at a time, which is what netLibrary does. Non-Linear Lending limits the total number of lending days per year per title to 325 but enables multiple-concurrent access. (The 325 was a somewhat arbitrary choice, admitted Paulson, who said that this could change, but for now it accommodated the trepidation of some publishers in trying something new.)
In addition, patrons can browse all books and use full-text search within the browser, accessing titles online through EBL's PDF-based reader, and not have it count as a loan. For offline use, patrons can download e-books to a PC, laptop, or PDA.
Using virtual photocopy technology, EBL can produce chapters on the fly that can be purchased by students, used for reserve lending by libraries, and for inclusion in ePack coursepacks. This use does not affect the yearly lending count. In addition, EBL offers a pay-per-use option in case a library doesn't want to purchase a book or as an alternative to interlibrary loan.
Another key difference in the new platform is pricing. The purchase price for an e-book is a one-time purchase charge that provides perpetual ownership. According to Paulson, librarians told them they did not like to pay ongoing fees for e-books. So, she explained: "Our aim was to ensure that the price of the books was clearly delineated from the price of the platform."
The platform price is comprised of a one-time platform fee ($5,000 if paid upfront or $6,000 if paid incrementally) and an annual maintenance/hosting fee (due a year later; $1,000 if paid upfront or $1,500 if paid incrementally). Andrew Pace, head systems librarian at North Carolina State University (NCSU), one of the development partners in EBL, said that this gives libraries the option of self-hosting. The bottom-line difference is that libraries do not lose access to titles they have purchased.
The prices of e-books in EBL will be determined by the publishers, but Ebooks Corp. recommends to publishers a price point analogous to that of the hardcopy of the book. For consortia, EBL offers discounted platform and annual hosting fees and negotiated volume discounts on e-book purchases, but e-books bought within consortia may not be purchased as a shared collection. EBL does not offer bundled collections nor does it allow shared access.
According to Paulson: "Our pricing structure is fair and rewards those libraries who purchase larger volumes of titles without punishing those who wish only to buy smaller numbers of titles. Our prices are extremely competitive with other e-book library offerings."
NCSU, which was an early adopter of e-books, now offers access to more than 30,000 titles, many of them from netLibrary, as well as from Dekker and Knovel. Librarians and some researchers at NCSU are currently testing EBL. Pace said that EBL worked with good partners in the development, offers many desirable features and functions, and provides an alternative to the netLibrary access model (though EBL does not match the broad range of content in netLibrary). When I asked Pace about ebrary and its database model as an option, he said it was analogous to the current reaction to Elsevier's pricing: "Libraries are tired of bundled content and want to buy title by title."
EBL comprises around 8,000 titles at the moment and the company expects to have 10,000 to 12,000 titles by the end of this month. Its retail site, ebooks.com, has roughly 30,000 titles and represents 150 publishers. Paulson noted: "We have a long list of publishers that are ‘intending' to make their titles available and are working through the distribution terms in the contract. I expect the title list to grow rapidly over the first year."
Ebooks Corp. also announced an agreement that names Blackwell's Book Services as the exclusive North American-based distributor of EBL. Development is in progress to integrate EBL e-books into Collection Manager, Blackwell's Web-based collection development and acquisition system. This integration will enable Blackwell's customers to browse and purchase e-books along with print books or other materials. Ebooks Corp. has a similar partnership with Dawson Books in the U.K.