SimplyE a Top 10 for 2016

Mr. Andrew Albanese of Publishers Weekly, who has often earned ReasersFirst's admiration for trenchant commentary on library e-books, has named the SimplyE app on of the Top Ten Library Stories of 2016.

Notes Albanese:

"In July, the New York Public Library rolled out its much-anticipated e-book app, SimplyE. The app seeks to solve a problem that has long plagued library e-book users, by simplifying the cumbersome process of checking out library e-books. Make no mistake—the app, by focusing on the user experience, represents a big step forward for those who borrow library e-books. But it also serves to highlight just how far the library e-book market has to go.

But let’s start with the good news. After years of complaints from library e-book users forced to wrestle with clunky interfaces and processes powered by a growing and diverse array of vendors, the SimplyE app offers users one simple interface for all ePub-based library e-books, regardless of vendor. And SimplyE looks and acts like any commercial e-book platform. It features highlighted titles with thumbnails of book jackets. And when you find a book that you want to read, it takes just a few clicks, three or less, and you’re reading. Well, sort of (more on that below).

Developed by a group called Library Simplified, a coalition of libraries and tech partners (with NYPL serving as lead partner), the app is based on open-source code and is available for virtually any public library or library system to use. And because it is open source, partner libraries are free to improve, tinker with, customize, and brand the app for their own library systems."

His final sentence is less favorable: "After all, as I observed in a column this summer, it would be a shame if SimplyE served mostly to highlight for users how frustrating it is to get an e-book from the library."

ReadersFirst appreciates the good review of the SimplyE app. Expect to see a 2.0 version of the app soon that will, through the efforts of the Library E-content Access Project (LEAP--the grant partners behind SimplyE, who thank the IMLS for generous funding), be easier and cheaper for libraries without in-house developers to deploy. It will add more features, and compatibility with formats other than EPUB (PDF and Audiobook) is in the offing. We agree that overall "the library e-book market has [far] to go" but think it unfortuante to connect SimplyE with this sad state of affairs. Limited library budgets certainly have something to do with long waiting lists, but ALA's Digital Content Working Group and other ALA leaders have been working with (on?) publishers for some time to implement a business model (pay-per-use or subscription) that would allow libraries to take fuller advantage of e-books' ability to reach many users simultaneously. We have not been encouraged by the discussion, though there has been some limited progress with some o them. Hey, publishers, could we at least start with your backlists and see if we can work out something mutually beneficial for the good of reading and "to reduce the kind of friction that could drive readers away from books and the library"? We in libraries would love to work with you! Speaking of working, the app mostly works without a hitch. I have never had it fail, and I've demo’d it in many forums. Some of the poor user ratings of the app mentioned by Mr. Albanese say frankly unintelligent things like "books are boring" or "it sucks because you have to have a library card." That said, we in libraries do have more technical work to do to enhance the reader experience. Still, the LEAP partners are moving forward aggressively to create a great e-book experience. At current prices and with current business models, however, LEAPing up from the "plateau" Albanese mentions may be impossible however enthusiastically those at Library Simplified work to make the technical side of the experience streamlined and enjoyable.