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Digital Lending Goes into OverDrive
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Posted On August 2, 2010
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I'd been hearing some buzz this summer about various improvements made by OverDrive to its services for libraries-more content, mobile apps, simplified procedures, etc. OverDrive is a full-service digital distributor of ebooks, audiobooks, music, and video that first launched its online digital warehouse in 2000. So, I caught up with the company's vice president of marketing, David Burleigh, for an extended conversation on what's new and what's coming. While OverDrive offers publishers a secure, web-based, wholesale distribution service for the sale and delivery of digital media, I didn't get into the details of that side of the business. Our discussion focused on what OverDrive offers libraries and their patrons.

I was surprised to hear that OverDrive currently provides digital download services for more than 11,000 libraries worldwide, including institutions in New York City, Singapore, Toronto, and Taipei. Burleigh says most of its customers are public libraries, but it also serves the academic, K-12, corporate, and military library markets. Its digital content comes from more than 1,000 publishers including many trade press outlets.

OverDrive offers more than 450,000 titles and claims to be unique in providing multiple formats on the same platform. Most of its titles are available under a single-user at a time lending model, the same as for print titles. Libraries can set the lending period and can vary it by format. It can also offer patron-defined lending period options, such as 7, 14, or 21 days. OverDrive creates and hosts a website customized to look like an existing library website-or "virtual branch"-and integrates with a library's ILS for easy authentication. It offers MARC records for adding to OPACs. It also provides automated collection development tools and training and promotional support.

OverDrive features a large collection of iPod-compatible audiobooks for libraries. Audiobooks, music, and video use the OverDrive Media Console, which is based on the Windows Media Player. OverDrive titles work on many devices, including Sony Reader, nook, Zune, iPhone, Android, and MP3 players from SanDisk and Creative. Ebooks are downloadable in DRM-protected PDF and ePUB formats and are read and managed using the free Adobe Digital Editions software. Burleigh says the company will also be offering DRM-free ebooks in the near future. OverDrive is also introducing a series of apps for mobile devices, to enable wireless downloads. It has already launched apps for audiobooks and the ebook apps will be coming soon, first for Android, then for iPhone and iPad.

This year, OverDrive beefed up its content with new publishers, new languages (now up to 37 languages), and new types of content, including manga and comics from Marvel and TOKYOPOP. It recently launched a new accessibility program called Leap-Library eBook Accessibility Program. The company partnered with Bookshare for the text-to-speech capability, currently available for PCs and Macs. OverDrive also simplified the check-out process by eliminating steps. "We're continually working on improving the user experience," says Burleigh.

The company is also making things easier for librarians. It recently introduced the beta of a new reporting tool called OverDrive Dashboard, a desktop application that provides real-time access to traffic, circulation, holds, most popular titles, etc., without having to log in and generate a report.

In November 2009, OverDrive announced LibraryBIN (Buy It Now), an online digital bookstore offering a comprehensive selection of ebooks for instant purchase and download. Participating OverDrive partner public libraries link to LibraryBIN from their OverDrive-hosted websites, encouraging patrons to click over to this new digital book retail destination. When readers buy an ebook, a portion of proceeds goes to the library. In this way, OverDrive builds on a well-established user base, directing patrons interested in download media to acquire and purchase ebooks. Retail outlets such as LibraryBIN reinforce that library sales do not come at the expense of retail sales-rather, library availability enhances retail sales. Earlier this summer, OverDrive published a white paper with data demonstrating the impact of ebook lending, "How eBook Catalogs at Public Libraries Drive Publishers' Book Sales and Profits."

OverDrive is also working on a new "Library Device" certification program that will provide defined specifications for manufacturers of ebook readers, and would provide a kind of stamp of approval for compatibility with library use.

Coming this fall will be availability of a new service-OverDrive's Front Line Tech Support for patrons. Currently, a library gets the first round of patron questions and OverDrive answers the ones the library can't handle. The new service will allow libraries with staffing problems to opt for OverDrive to provide all customer service support. Pricing has not yet been established.

Finally, OverDrive has a "Digital Book Roadmap" with a few more promised developments-watch for announcements of availability.

  • Interactive ebooks from Disney Digital Book
  • DRM-free ebooks, premium and free through partnerships with Project Gutenberg
  • Popular music from a recent agreement with EMI
  • New program called LibTunes, that will offer MP3 music downloads by track

OverDrive also operates the Digital Bookmobile, a high-tech 18-wheeler traveling North America on behalf of public libraries to raise awareness about free library downloads. First launched in New York in August 2008, the bookmobile has been around the entire country twice and is starting its third trip. It serves to create excitement in communities, draw media attention to libraries, and allows OverDrive to train staff and patrons.

To see if a public library is a member of the OverDrive network, visit http://search.overdrive.com.

To follow news and developments at OverDrive, check out its Digital Library Blog.

Open Library Lending

But, wait! There's more. The Internet Archive recently announced that it has integrated digital lending into its Open Library. Part of that update includes cataloging all the PDF and EPUB ebook titles currently available at OverDrive-powered library websites and linking to the title page on OverDrive Search.

The partnership will serve to increase the discoverability of an OverDrive library's download website. In fact, the site is already the second highest referrer to OverDrive Search.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

Email Paula J. Hane
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