After years of planning, Midwest Tape's hoopla digital library platform has now launched in Australia and New Zealand, the company's first overseas expansion. And at a time when demand for digital resources in public libraries is surging, spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic, executives told PW the the company is expanding at home as well.
“We'd been getting inquiries ever since the hoopla digital service launched in 2013 from libraries in other countries," says Midwest Tape President and hoopla founder Jeff Jankowski when asked about the recent launches down under. "We chose Australia and New Zealand to be first, and we are very pleased with what we've been able to do there in a very short amount of time. We're working with 28 different library systems in Australia, some 140 locations. And in New Zealand, we launched our first partner there this summer and we're starting to see momentum build there, too."
A service of Midwest Tape, the hoopla digital service has since its launch stood apart from competitors in the library space with its focus on "always available" or "instant" content. The service enables library patrons to borrow and instantly access e-books, audiobooks, movies, TV shows, music, and comics with a valid library card.
Jankowski told PW the company chose Australia and New Zealand for its first overseas expansion for two reasons: one was a high level of interest in the hoopla digital product there. And the other is because the company had found a good partner: New South Wales-based Corey Bancks and MDM Entertainment.
“Corey really shares a lot of the same values we have, and we developed a great relationship with him," Jankowski told PW. "So he has partnered with us to service and sell to libraries in Australia and New Zealand. And it's great to have a strong partner there who really knows the market and knows libraries.”
It's still early days, but Jankowski says the launch is exceeding expectations in Australia .
“It's all moving pretty fast. We're growing at 33% every month, so the service is clearly resonating with cardholders, as is the concept of offerings being instantly available,” Jankowski says. “I think in a lot of ways Australia is very tech savvy. It's an enormous country that has really embraced digital, especially with the pandemic. So I think we’re seeing a lot of tech savvy library cardholders who really love being able to get what they want immediately, and I think that's driving our growth.”
Jankowski added that the launch in Australia and New Zealand is just the beginning for hoopla’s international expansion plans. “In early 2022, our plan is to enter the United Kingdom,” Jankowski told PW. “We've had a lot of inquiries from libraries in the U.K. and we’re excited to launch there soon.”
Meanwhile, Midwest Tape’s expansion overseas coincides with continued growth at home. Since launching its hoopla digital library service service in 2013 hoopla has posted strong growth year over year. And like many players in the digital library space, hoopla has seen especially dramatic growth since 2020, when the pandemic hit. Jankowski told PW that growth remains “extraordinarily strong” in 2021 across all of hoopla’s offerings. And Jankowski agrees with many in the library community that digital demand in public libraries leveled up during the pandemic and is now operating on a higher plain.
“Our growth with the shift to digital was definitely accelerated by the pandemic," Jankowski says. "Demand really has [hit another level] and its not coming back down,” Jankowski says.
In addition to launching overseas, the company has also made a number of significant internal moves in the U.S. in recent months, including the promotion of Catherine "Cat" Zappa to the post of v-p of digital acquisitions at hoopla, and hiring Sean McManus as president of Dreamscape Media, the publishing and entertainment arm of Midwest Tape.
In her new role, Zappa will lead vendor relationships across the hoopla's comics, music, and video formats. Before joining Dreamscape, Zappa was Director of Sales at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, where she previously worked with McManus.
McManus, meanwhile, replaces Zappa at Dreamscape, and comes to Midwest Tape from Spotify, where most recently he served as Head of Audiobooks. His previous experience includes stints at HarperCollins, Scholastic, and Audible.
And in another key move, Jankowski told PW that the company also recently "onboarded" its long-time development partner, Dillon Software.
“Dillon Software has been a valuable partner for us for over 20 years,” Jankowski told PW. “They are a really talented team of software and back-end developers. And now they're all going to be working directly with all the other talented people at Midwest, so we're really excited about that and bringing that talent to our team.”
And the team is going to be busy: Jankowski says the company is readying a host of new products and offerings—including a library offering called BingePass, which is designed to help libraries serve people's new content consumption habits.
“With BingePass, we're partnering with vendors to offer something like an access pass, whether it's for seven days or in some cases it might be longer, where a patron can get a pass to certain content and can use the content as much as they want, and it counts as one borrow,” Jankowski explains.
Jankowski told PW that BingePass grew out of talks with librarians, who for some time now have expressed the desire to provide patrons access to digital content that is, well, bingeable, without busting their budgets. The company hopes to launch the first BingePass in December of this year, and to ramp up quickly thereafter.
"Our goal is, in the fourth quarter, to offer an assortment of Binge Passes and next year to be able to offer over 100 Binge Passes, where, whether it's video games or online tutorials or short-form children's content or video content, you'll be able to use one borrow and you'll be able to access this huge library of content and use as much as you want over a period of days,” he says. “We’re really excited about this. This is a product of our transformation and development and we want to keep getting more creative and to keep negotiating deals that add value to libraries and help them serve their communities.”