While consumer e-book sales continue their incremental growth, digital publishers and e-publishing service vendors are looking to libraries and their patrons to add to sales. E-publishing vendors Fictionwise.com, netLibrary and Adobe all announced plans in the last few weeks to offer libraries a variety of software and pricing options to encourage their patrons to check out digital reading.

Online e-book retailer Fictionwise.com has launched Libwise, an automated Web service targeting libraries, but useful for any reading- or book-related business looking to lend e-books for timed periods while also tracking customer usage and other information. The new service is being offered for $29.95 a month, beginning October 7. Steve Pendergrast, cofounder of Fictionwise.com, said the new service takes advantage of the popularity of handheld devices for reading e-books and, of course, the attraction of free e-book downloads for consumers. "We think the service targets the strongest aspects of the e-book market and it also lets libraries find out what their patrons want to download," said Pendergrast.

Using Libwise, libraries purchase e-books from Fictionwise and then lend them out using the service's software. The service will begin offering about 2,000 titles (for which the lending rights have been secured) out of the 6,500 titles offered through the Fictionwise.com site. And, he said, Fictionwise is negotiating with a wide variety of publishers to secure lending rights for many more titles.

The Libwise service allows library patrons to download e-books for specific lengths of time, after which the e-book file will "time-out" and expire. The service will make use of MobiPocket e-book technology, an e-book format developed by a French firm and marketed in this country by Franklin Electronic Publishers. The MobiPocket e-book reader, which runs on virtually any PDA operating system, offers security features that allow for timed checkout periods. And Libwise software, Pendergrast said, can create waiting lists, transmit library policies and provide reports to library staff on usage rates and other patron information.

NetLibrary and Adobe

NetLibrary announced an alliance with reference publisher Gale to make about 200 of its reference works available as downloadable e-book titles through libraries that have netLibrary accounts. Gale president Allen Pachal called the alliance "a natural" for Gale, since it offers "round-the-clock availability" for library patrons and full text-search features for one or multiple e-books at any one time. The reference titles will be drawn from a broad selection of single-volume and multivolume Gale reference texts from such imprints as Macmillan Reference, Scribner, KidHaven Press and others.

Suzanne Kemperman, netLibrary's director of publishing, said the agreement will make Gale's reference works available both as single titles and as bundles. The agreement will make about 50 titles available this fall. She said the two firms are also working on a plan to sell print reference titles and their e-book editions at the same time. "We're working on selling them together and we're developing a model," she said.

Adobe offered more details about previously announced agreements with OverDrive, netLibrary, Baker &Taylor, Follett and Rosetta Books to release its Adobe Content Server with new functionality for PDF e-books specifically aimed at the library market.

Libraries can get a starter pack of 100 e-book titles for no charge if they purchase their e-book hosting services through the aforementioned vendors. HarperCollins, Kluwer Academic, Rough Guides, Routledge, ComicsOne and other publishers are represented in the starter pack, depending on the vendor selected.

Jane Light, library director at the San Jose (Calif.) Public Library, said, "E-books help us broaden our inventory beyond print. We can offer our patrons round-the-clock access to information."