Six library e-book vendors, one stage, 50 minutes: as you might expect, not exactly the forum to forge a new understanding between libraries and publishers. But toward the end of an informative (if subdued) session, Hoopla v-p Jeff Jankowski, whose company announced just this week that it was entering the library e-book space, delivered a scene-stealing rant that brought a packed room of mostly librarians to spontaneous applause.
The panel, moderated by Library Journal editor-in-chief Rebecca Miller, included CEOs from Baker & Taylor, OverDrive, 3M, Library Ideas, Recorded Books, and Hoopla. For the first 40 minutes, the panelists discussed their businesses, progress in the library e-book market, and the vast potential for libraries to drive book sales beyond the money libraries pay directly to publishers, including efforts to enable retail sales from the library website, or by driving discovery of new titles. But in the 40th minute, after Miller asked about the potential of a streaming model for library e-books, Jankowski, whose model is based on a transactional (or pay-per-lend) model, let loose.
"I would just encourage everybody to reimagine libraries as retailers, and if publishers really engaged in that and gave libraries a better experience, what could they do with that?" Jankowski began, arguing that creating a better user experience for library users was the most important task at hand. "I think we're all kidding ourselves if we think we're going to become retailers," he said, referring to efforts to embed buy buttons in library catalogues. "I think that [retail] war is already being fought by companies a lot bigger than those of us at this table."
Jankowski said it was imperative for libraries and publishers not to be adversarial, but to work together to leverage technology "the way technology is supposed to be leveraged," instead of putting "artificial restrictions" on the e-lending process. He railed against the idea of adding "friction" to the library experience, instead arguing there was already too much friction in the library space. To compete and stay relevant in a world where Amazon has already set consumer expectations, libraries and publishers need to offer a better experience than the current model, he argued.
"I think the one user, one copy model has already pissed off so many cardholders that they're never coming back because they are so frustrated," he said, causing librarians in the room to break out in applause.
Jankowski also aimed his pitch at the publishers in the room. "I think that working together with libraries and giving patrons a better user experience is going to help create a hedge against some big retailers," he said. "Libraries don't want to squeeze you and leverage you for margins. Librarians are reasonable people, and libraries are willing to pay a decent amount of money for a better experience."