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BEA 2012: Libraries Still Draw the Short Stick
Posted On June 11, 2012
BEA, or Book Expo as it is better known, was at the Javits Center June 5-7, 2012 and the 30,000 attendees filled the exhibit hall with more excitement than in past years. Many of the exhibitors were pleased with the foot traffic. With more than 1,300 exhibitors and more than 600 authors available for autographs, the hall was filled to near capacity. In the midst of the positive atmosphere, there was still some controversy among publishers concerning the Department of Justice (DOJ) action against Apple and the fear that Amazon is getting much too powerful. Amazon, already the largest supplier of print and electronic books, became the largest publisher of self-published books in 2011. The company just announced its latest acquisition of Avalon, another print publisher as it continues to build up its imprints.

On the other hand, libraries do not have much to celebrate other than their copyright win at the Georgia State University and even that win may be short lived as the publishers have requested an injunction to stop certain types of usage of reserve material.

At BEA, a group of 70 library systems including NYPL from the U.S. and Canada issued a joint statement, the ReadersFirst Initiative, which is demanding improved ebook services for library users. While at first glance the list of demands appears to be obvious common sense requests, actually satisfying the libraries demands is going to be exceedingly difficult in practice for a variety of reasons.

The unfortunate truth of the matter is most of the Big Six (publishers) still do not even sell their ebooks to libraries, so addressing the common format problem should be a secondary concern to most libraries. Libraries would like to be able to buy an ebook and read it on any platform, as well as have their ebook records integrated into their discovery tools. They are asking the distributors to change their business models but fail to recognize that publishers tie the distributor’s hands so that they lack the ability to provide tailor-made ebook deliveries. At the present time, distributors such as OverDrive are unable to meet many libraries demands due to the license agreements they have with publishers. The ReadersFirst demand has four major principles stating what libraries should be able to do. Libraries want certain freedoms of platforms and devices with their ebooks.

Publishers are concerned that libraries who loan ebooks will negativity impact publisher sales. In this age of disappearing brick and mortar stores, publishers want to make sure that selling ebooks to libraries will not destroy their business. Research has shown that device owners are far more likely to buy an ebook than they are to borrow. Publishers are not anxious to have their books loaned at the expense of sales. So, the industry is at an impasse and that situation is not likely to change until further negotiation is conducted.

Libraries did find some good news at BEA this year, especially with 3M Library Systems expanding its 3M Cloud Library eBook Lending Service. 3M has been building a number of new partnerships with Inscribe Digital, Smashwords, and The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group to expand their title offering to more than 200,000 titles from more than 300 publishers. The 3M Cloud Library is a turnkey system for digital reading, offering libraries an easy-to-use system that provides digital content and in-library hardware.

The 3M system allows patrons to browse, checkout, and read the ebook anywhere and on a range of devices except, and this is always an issue, the Kindle family. For libraries, the system offers a Discovery Terminal and the library can acquire the 3M e-reader for those users who don’t have their own readers. 3M also allows the library to own the ebook title, unlike OverDrive which does not transfer ownership of the title to the library.

OverDrive was showing its new Browser-based eBook Reader at Book Expo. I had a demo and the system looks very easy to use. Building on its acquisition of the Australian firm, OverDrive Read will provide new options for millions of readers who access ebooks from OverDrive’s global network. OverDrive Read is a browser based system that is built on HTML5. OverDrive Read enables readers using standard web browsers to enjoy ebooks without first installing any software or activating their device. OverDrive has a catalog of more than 800,000 ebooks, digital audiobooks, music and video, and currently services some 18,000 libraries, schools and retailers worldwide.

Another major global leader in eReading, Kobo announced its self-publishing portal Kobo Writing Life. While Writing Life was not specifically created for libraries to use, the service might be a boost for librarians who are asked to help many of their users who want to try the self-publishing option. Self-publishing has really come of age this past year. According to Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher (VP for publishing services), self-publishing is one of the fastest growing areas. In 2011, the number of self-published titles was 211,269 compared to 133,036 in 2010. Not surprisingly, Amazon’s CreateSpace is currently the leader of the pack, having published 57,602 self-published titles last year. Kobo is trying to join in that explosive growth and is now offering its self-publishing portal for independent authors and publishers.

Kobo has worked hard to establish itself as the largest international base of e-readers and plans to build on that advantage. The past year has been a triple digit year-over-year growth. Kobo with more than 8 million registered users in 190 countries is fast becoming one of the global leaders in e-reading. Barnes & Noble needs to quickly find a competitive strategy or be left in the dust.

Ingram’s Vital Source Technologies, an Ingram Content Group company, announced that it had implemented the EPUB3 standard in its flagship Bookshelf platform. The new EPUB 3 version is based on HTML5 and supports rich media, interactivity, global languages and enhanced accessibility features. I tried unsuccessfully to talk to anyone at the Ingram booth. Even though they had 8 demonstration stations none of them were active the two times I visited the booth. I talked to a number of their support team at the booth, and no one was able to find anyone who could speak to the Vital Source product. I did talk to a number of the software suppliers in the Digital Discovery Zone and almost all of them were able to discuss EPUB3 and provide a demo. So, I have some idea what the Vital Source system should be able to support. SPi Global was particularly helpful. It is one of the major companies that is ready to convert or produce articles in an ePublishing environment.

What is apparent from talking to publishers and organizations like SPi Global is that there is a considerable amount of pre-prep work and conversion activity to get a title into EPUB3 or any ebook format for that matter. A number of publishers expressed their concern to me about font issues with EPUB 3. As it is a new standard, it may take a few months to sort out the finer points in using the system.

My final point about BEA 2012 was the consistent call and concern from publishers about ways to improve discoverability. Publishers are moving into the B2C world and desperately seeking new and improved ways to support discoverability. When you have significant growth in the number of titles published, how are you going to get your titles in front of the consumers? In nearly every session I attended discoverability was a major topic.

Wait, wait, and don’t tell me! Has any publisher ever thought of working with public libraries as part of its marketing strategy? Libraries are active community partners in bringing information to their patrons. Publishers should really take a good look at public libraries. Instead of trying to cut libraries out of the information chain, how about jointly marketing with them and letting libraries do what they do best—bring new works to the attention of their patrons. Libraries are not your enemy. Publishers may find a good friend and partner in libraries as they share their love of authors and books.

 Dan Tonkery, president of Content Strategies, is currently an industry consultant with 40 years of experience in the library and information businesses.

Email Dan Tonkery

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