A Thoughtful Look at E-Content Business Models

Cathy Mason, Digital Downloads Administrator for Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML), has taken a thoughtful look at how she gets e-content titles. CML provides hundreds of thousands of digital tiles, and Cathy has wide experience with the advantages and limitations of current buying models.  Here are some of her thoughts:

Here are some buying models I’ve been thinking about that would help our consortium spend our money better and provide a more robust ebook collection for customers.

·         One copy/One user, or forever titles, are not the best models for an active public library.  At our library (Columbus Metropolitan Library) we want to keep things fresh and not archive hundreds of copies of any one title.  Sure we need a fair number of copies when a title first releases but couldn’t that be addressed with some OC/OU copies and a majority of metered access copies?  I’m thinking about the 80/20 rule that I’m seeing in all parts of life.  As an example, I’d like to keep 20% of my copies forever and have 80% metered for 12 months or 26 checkouts.  The goal here is to reach $1/circ. over the long haul.  If the book gets optioned for a movie then I’ll gladly buy more metered access copies to meet the temporary surge in customer demand. 

·         When it comes to holiday books I can’t justify buying anything with a 12 month meter, especially in children’s non-fiction.  This area is a low performer in ebooks for us so we’ll never buy a book that will circ maybe twice in 12 months.  The one exception to my holiday embargo is Christmas romance.  Titles in this area circulate year round.

·         12 month license for someone like Stephen King (with Scribner) or Colleen Hoover (with Simon & Schuster) doesn’t work for us.  For established authors we want to always have some copies, maybe not tons of copies but 5 OC/OU and then we can fill in with metered copies on special occasions.  I can definitely see using the 12 month model for a new author who’s just breaking out, but not tried and true authors.

·         When buying 26 or 52 checkouts, it would be fantastic if we could have the number of checkouts available simultaneously.  If we’re paying for 26 checkouts and we have 10 people on a holds list why not let them all have it at the same time?  I’ll buy more checkouts to meet demand once the initial 26 or 52 are used up.  Using them sequentially mimics physical book circulation models and doesn’t utilize the power and agility of digital content.  It isn’t useful for us to restrict use based on a model that works for physical books and lending when librarians and patrons alike know that there can be simultaneous checkouts. 

·         If a metered model has a set number of checkouts then I would like to pay around $1 per checkout or less.  There’s no guarantee that we’ll use all the checkouts but if we do then $1/checkout or less is preferred.

·         Traditional book vendors like Baker & Taylor and Ingram offer their library customers a price break on most of their books from the big 5 publishers.  Why can’t libraries get this kind of discount from the same publishers in digital format? 

·         I’ve been toying with the idea of copies changing type of meter or model after 6, 12 or 18 months.  For instance, if a title does well and is metered, be it 12 months or 26 checkouts, or whatever, it would be beneficial to be asked if I want to renew some or all of the copies as OC/OU.  Pottermore audiobooks have a 60 month meter which is fantastic but I know I’m going to buy Harry Potter forever and it would be nice to have at least some of our copies as OC/OU and be confident that we’re meeting customer demand with forever copies.

In charging libraries inflated prices publishers are limiting the growth of ebooks.  If I could spend $87 on three or four titles instead of one we could accommodate more customers.  More customers means more demand and thus more spending.  If we can engage more and more customers, ebook usage will go up and authors, libraries and publishers benefit.

Unquestionably, more flexible models for e-book and e-content acquisitions would benefit libraries and ultimately be of greater use to content providers, too. Thanks, very much, Cathy for your thoughtful look at the market.  Gentle readers, your comment comments are welcome! What do you think?