ReadersFirst Follow-up to an Elending Project Study: Vendors in Canada and the USA

The ReadersFirst Working Group has made of study of library e-book lending by three vendors in Canada and the USA.

The impetus for this study was mainly due to the work of Rebecca Giblin of Monash University and her Australian colleagues.  They began by examining 546 titles from 5 ebook vendors in Australia. See their work at Members of ReadersFirst were intrigued by the results of the Australian study which found substantial variations in availability, price, and licensing models for the titles across the 5 vendors. The ReadersFirst team decided to see what the results might be if major ebook vendors in the USA and Canada were compared. Additionally, the Monash team went on to complete a 100,000 title study, looking at the same 546 titles for one vendor (OverDrive) across the five countries. Two papers on the studies have been published and can be found here and here

It is our hope that this additional study in the USA and Canada advances the work of the Australian team by giving a more detailed view of the state of the library e-book market in the English (and French!) speaking world.

Our results will be refined and published in a journal in October, but a preliminary version may be found here.

Here is a summary of results:

In Canada, print outstrips ebook availability -- In Canada 94.4% of surveyed titles were available in print from library vendors, while only 84% of surveyed titles were available in Canada as eBooks

In the USA, eBook availability tracks print availability closely: 84% of the titles were available as eBooks, while 86% of surveyed titles were available from library vendors in print

Amazon published titles, which are not available to libraries, account for many of the unavailable titles.  Access to some important titles, including the Canadian Prime Minister’s autobiography available from Audible, is not available to libraries.

Significant differences exist in the price point at which books are offered across different providers. Some titles varied by as much as 700% ($81 vs. $11.56 for one) with more variation in Canada than in the US. Overall, prices for e-books varied widely, from $2.27 to $90.95 in the US and $.99 to $124.04 in Canada.

While e-books are sometimes cheaper than their print counterparts, they generally cost more.  Not surprisingly, recently published titles are usually more expensive than older titles, but older titles often cost more than might be expected.  Perpetual license titles were generally more expensive than metered (by time period or number of circulations or a combination of both).

Vendor coverage of titles varied more in Canada than in the US, and no single vendor had complete coverage, suggesting sourcing from multiple vendors could be advantageous.

Licensing Models complicate access: short-term metered licenses at relatively high cost for older titles may make those titles less desirable to acquire, while high-cost perpetual access models may limit access to current best-selling titles.

The ReadersFirst Survey of E-Book Business Models

205 responses came into our late 2017 survey of what e-content business models librarians would like. Libraries responding ranged from across Australia, Canada, and the United States.  Thanks to all who responded!  You can see a list of the responding libraries and also the survey comments.

A PDF of the results can be seen here.

The results and comments overwhelmingly suggest four points:

·  No business model currently available is adequate for all library needs

·   Librarians would like a choice of business model options at point of sale:  the ability to choose traditional, metered, or other ways on a per-title basis

·  Librarians believe that currently available models are preventing us from fully realizing the advantages of e-content and thus limit access by patrons

·  If a variety of models were offered, librarians would likely spend as much or more on content, offering a greater variety of titles and more of less well-known or new authors.


Buyers Guide

The ReadersFirst Working Group prepared a Buyers Guide in 2014 to help librarians in assessing the major library e-book distributors' platforms and their adoption of ReadersFirst principles and API requirements. 

The project looked carefully at the major vendors at the time. We keep it here primarily for historical interest because much progress has been made since then. We hope to update it.

Click to get the ReadersFirst Guide to Library E-Book Vendors  - Giving librarians the knowledge to be more effective e-book providers



Michael Blackwell, St. Mary's County Library
James English, Lyrasis
Anna Fahey-Flynn, Boston Public Library

Member Communication Plan and Survey

As you can see, we are a global community and growing as a movement.  We want to hear from more libraries!  If you or your library is a social media darling, we could sure use your help.  Currently we are working on an outreach campaign.  If you are an existing member, we need your help to get the word out. Email us! 


Photo by alexaldo/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by alexaldo/iStock / Getty Images


Standards and Specifications
Micah May, DPLA


Working Group Project Manager
Michael Blackwell, St. Mary's County Library