E-books were in the news at the 2015 American Library Association Annual Conference, with W.W. Norton announcing just before the show that it would finally begin lending e-books. But Norton's announcement was not even brought up at the annual update session from the ALA's Digital Content Working Group, yet another sign that librarians, while happy to have made progress on library e-books, are focused on the next steps in the e-book market--developing sustainable collections and improving the user experience.
In a brief update, DCWG co-chair Carolyn Anthony (director, Skokie (Ill.) Public Library, told members ALA officials were "continuing to dialogue with representatives from the Big Five publishers," and that e-book pricing remained a major issue. "We generally believe that the current pricing models are not sustainable, and that libraries cannot develop collections of critical size if they're paying $90 per title or re-buying titles every year," Anthony said. However, she added, a number of independent and smaller publishers are proving "much more flexible on terms," and "much more eager" to work with libraries. "That's a very good sign," Anthony said. "Maybe this is an avenue that will help us develop richer and deeper digital collections."
Lorch has become a familiar figure at ALA and publishing conferences in recent years, pushing Total Boox's pay-by-the-page or "metered" reading. Under Total Boox's model, readers would have access to every book made available by publishers, and library's would be charged by the pages read by a patron. Once read and paid for users, would be able to re-read the pages. Lorch again pushed his vision as an antidote to the analog-era "once-copy, one-user" now being used for e-books.
"This is a system made for reading," he said, later pressing the case for a more digital-era friendly model for e-books. "There is a need, urgency, to keep the focus on the end user," Lorch said. "It is actually an existential issue," he said, "because we can't afford to let the user experience become inferior to what is offered outside of the library."
Rodriguez, who recently raised capital to launch Odilo in North America, stressed that his company offers a range of models, and decided to launch in North America to offer libraries "options." Or, perhaps more accurately, competition to the dominant vendors in the e-lending space. Competition, that Rodriguez says he welcomes, as competitive pressure keeps the market innovating, which benefits everyone.
Of course, there isn't much competition at this point, as publisher offerings remain limited to a few upstart services, while OverDrive, 3M, and Baker & Taylor dominate the space, and the one copy, one user models is still preferred by publishers. But the takeaway from this year's ALA DCWG update, once again, is that librarians are not satisfied with the status quo, and are pushing for more experimentation.