A ReadersFirst Response to the Rakuten/OverDrive Deal
On behalf of our more than 300 signatory libraries that offer eBooks, the ReadersFirst working group is monitoring news related to the $410 million sale of Overdrive to Rakuten.
The official announcement and a letter from Overdrive CEO Steve Potash have been posted here on Infodocket by Gary Price.
Steve Potash’s letter states: “I am very excited about the new technologies, content, and innovations we expect to bring to our library partners and your readers as a result of this transaction.” He adds, “This change in ownership will not affect our commitment to . . . supporting all popular devices and apps, . . . open industry standards, deep library integration, and other industry best practices [and] . . . reader privacy, library branding and control of lending policies, and local curation of your digital collections.”
We have a stake as a group, as well as individually, in the acquisition of OverDrive by Rakuten, and we are concerned about potential negative outcomes to service for our users. We appreciate Mr. Potash’s comments and hope that Overdrive is able to maintain his commitments. The promises of increased content (“work closely with Kobo . . . to add eBooks from their vast supply network of international publishers and content providers”) and greater service for our Canadian library partners are certainly welcome.
ReadersFirst would appreciate the following commitments from OverDrive on behalf of our member libraries:
- That OverDrive will put the needs of library eBook readers first as they respond to changes in the eBook marketplace: licensing all available content to libraries rather than offering titles for individual purchase only, working with libraries to improve their users’ eContent experience, and advocating for libraries to receive as fair a deal as possible from content providers.
- That OverDrive will continue to recognize our need to present the library as the primary providers of eContent, as they have through the provision of APIs
- That our readers will maintain access to eBooks in all formats for all devices.
While Kindle Fire users have other format options, countless users of Kindle eInk devices in the United States rely upon libraries for content. If our users lose that access, Overdrive will have lost a competitive advantage in the United States. ReadersFirst working group members have observed speculation that Kindle users could be affected by Rakuten’s acquisition of OverDrive, such as Joseph Esposito’s comment on The Scholarly Kitchen: “OverDrive has an arrangement with Amazon in place. Look for that to disappear as soon as the contract’s term is up.”
ReadersFirst looks forward to the opportunities that Rakuten’s relationship with Kobo represents. We support improved access to library content on Kobo devices through apps, referred to by Steve Potash in PCWorld’s article about the acquisition. In addition, many of our partner libraries would like to lend devices to patrons pre-loaded with eBooks, but current license restrictions impede this practice. ReadersFirst and its partner libraries see potential for this relationship to result in easier access for less experienced users to legitimately purchased library content. We encourage OverDrive to leverage this new relationship to improve library eBook service by helping us to facilitate the lending of pre-loaded eBook readers.
Change in the eBook market is inevitable, and we at ReadersFirst know that market forces will be at work as we strive to provide our users with seamless access to a wide variety of content at fair rates. We look forward to the ways that the sale of OverDrive, which has built itself upon our libraries’ readers, will improve our readers’ choices and access.