This post picks up from my previous one covering the move (or lack of movement) to lite DRM ebooks. Here I'm looking at lending ebooks in libraries, both public and academic. Although linked to my previous post the lending of ebooks really is a seperate issue, the very nature of a loan means that some sort of DRM is necessary, otherwise you are essentially giving them away. I'm not making any claims for revelations in this post but I hope to outline what is a relatively complex area.
I should probably add that these veiws are very much my own and that I'm offering no reccomendation for any suppliers mentioned here, these are just the ones I'm most familar with.
When Redmayne commented on the success of the Potter ebooks they were keen to empthasise their success in the library lending charts. Yet increasingly publishers are leaving the major public library lending platform, Overdrive. Such is the exodus that many public libraries must be wondering whether they have invested in an expensive white elephant. And its not just in the public libraries where there is a problem, some academic publishers are making core ebooks prohibitively expensive unless you have dozens of students studying the same subject.
In public libraries at least the popular licensing model maybe the crux of the problem. To the best of my knowledge Overdrive currently offers a pricing model that means once a library has purchased an ebook it is theirs forever. The compromise is that only one reader can take it out at a time - if the book is in high demand then the library must buy additional copies. Publishers, understandably see this as a huge threat, not only is the library providing a book to a patron who will (in their view at least) be unlikely to go out and purchase a copy themselves, they will get no repeat business to replace damaged and lost copies.
In the physical world a bestselling paperback might be lent out a maximum of 30 times before it needs to be withdrawn. Some would say that figure is optimistic. In my library, (an FE College) the lifespan of your average textbook is even less. Even if the student decides to return it, it's only so long before someone drops it in a puddle, writes in it or lets the dog eat it. I'm lucky if our popular text books last a year and that means continuous repeat business for our book supplier and the publisher. With the Overdrive model they just don't get that for ebooks.
So what's different in the academic world? Well in my library we use Dawson Era and Ebray. Ebrary is a special case because we get it through the JISC FE agreement, I'm currently in denial that this is ending in 2014 and hoping that it will be renewed. Buying even the top 50 titles in the 3,000 strong collection would make a significant dent in our budget.
More relevant to this case are the additional ebooks we buy from our regular book supplier, Dawson's, it's their licensing model which is of interest when considering the economic viability of lending ebooks.
The academic model is admittedly slightly different to that of public libraries. It is possible to print or download DRM protected copies of the books that 'self destruct' after a defined period but really the system is geared up for books to be read online. The model is much more like a reference library than a lending one but there is no reason why one couldn't be adopted by the other.
To the publisher Dawson's licensing model is arguably less threatening than Overdrive's. Rather than purchasing books outright each book comes with a variable number of credits attached to it. Each use uses up a certain number of credits, say one for viewing a page, 2 for downloading the book. Once the credits have been used up we have to buy another copy. We win because the books can be made available to a number of students simultaneously and they can't lose, damage or destroy them. The publisher and supplier win because in theory they will get repeat business once all our credits for a particular book have been used.
Of course Dawson's model isn't unique, I'm sure there are other suppliers using similar systems. What it does is offer a more sustainable model than that currently utilised by Overdrive. If everyone one adopted a permutation of the Dawson pricing model hopefully it would mean publishers could negotiate new contracts that would see more books available on your public libraries virtual shelves. A simplified view maybe but it's got to be more attractive than the current Overdrive agreement.
So we've solved the licensing problem and I've voiced my opinion that DRM probably is necessary in a lending situation. What's the next problem? Those of you who know anything about ebooks in libraries are probably screaming FORMAT right now. One of the things Ebrary, Dawson's and Overdrive all have in common is that with the notable exception of Overdrive in America you cannot download books to your Kindle, they all utilise an epub format not compatiable with the Klindles. (Ebrary allow you to download an image PDF that can be sent to your Kindle but it isn't text searchable) So my next post is going to look at the developments in America that has seen Kindel books being lent out by public libraris via Overdrive, the recent deal between Amazon and Waterstones and what impact this might have in the long term. I'm also going to touch on the growing popularity of ebooks and finally address the problem of the author's lending rights in regards to ebooks.