Zinio for Libraries, which launched in September 2012, is changing the way patrons consume digital magazine content. Libraries can choose to subscribe from a selection of hundreds of popular titles, both domestic and international, and offer unlimited simultaneous access to digital replicas of the magazines. Patrons can view and download this content to their computers, smartphones, and tablets.
Zinio for Libraries differs from the more traditional aggregator databases (by vendors such as Gale and EBSCO) because it’s designed more for browsing than for searching specific terms. Users can, of course, browse magazine issues in the aggregator databases but Zinio offers a richer experience that allows them to view entire magazines, not just individual articles in HTML or PDF format (see Figure 1). The more traditional aggregators embargo a lot of their content and sometimes, even if a title does not carry an embargo, issues may be made available several months after publication due to a variety of reasons.
The product is the result of a partnership between Zinio (the content provider) and Recorded Books (the distributor to libraries). According to Jeanniey Mullen, Zinio’s Chief Marketing Officer, Zinio was founded in 2000 and launched its consumer newsstand in 2005. Over the past several years it has increased the number of magazines offered (currently over 5,500 from 3,000 + publishers, in 33 languages, in 29 currencies) as well as devices supported by the platform. Mullen explained that for individual consumers Zinio offers subscriptions, the purchase of single current or back issues, and a “membership model” where they can select three magazines to read each month.
Recorded Books (RB), a division of Haights Cross Communications, has been in business for thirty years and considers itself to be the largest independent publisher and producer of audiobooks worldwide, according to Jim Schmidt, RB’s Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing. RB continues to increase its focus on the RBdigital portal (of which Zinio is a part) that includes digital audiobooks, language instruction, continuing education courses, test preparation resources, streaming films, and ebooks (coming soon).
One may wonder why Zinio, whose business is based on selling magazine content directly to consumers, would want to enter the library market and potentially cannibalize its sales to individuals. Zinio sees this as a way to “educate the market” about new magazines and reading platforms, and, hence, reach new, potential customers. “Just because you check out a book at a library doesn’t mean you never buy one,” Mullen quipped. Interestingly, publishers have reacted positively to this service, according to Mullen, but nevertheless are “cautiously optimistic,” said Schmidt. Smaller, more specialized publishers are enthusiastic about the wider distribution potential and larger ones are excited to reach more readers in a new way, according to Mullen.
Zinio decided to partner with RB because of the company’s long-term focus on the library market. It is important that vendors understand the unique needs of this segment and this is an area where RB provides Zinio with assistance. The two companies “collaborate very closely,” Mullen said.
Zinio for Libraries was launched in 2012 and will carry the “beta” status through the end of 2013 as both companies evaluate the titles offered, pricing model, and user interface. Currently, libraries pay a platform fee based on their annual circulation statistics (to project the usage of the product) and then a content fee which is the cost of the magazine subscriptions (mostly the amount that a consumer would pay). Recorded Books would not provide any sample platform fees but Schmidt said that they “have affordable plans to meet the needs of any library in the country” and “the service is very reasonably priced for what you get.” He also mentioned that RB is willing to work with library consortia.
Currently only about 1,000 magazines are available for libraries out of the over 5,500 total on Zinio. Schmidt said that they “are adding more all the time.” Around 20 magazines are no longer available through the service due to cessation of publication or changes in format, according to Schmidt. He confirmed that none were removed as a result of their publishers choosing to no longer participate in the program. Zinio offers the majority of large global magazine titles with the exception of ones from U.S.-based Time, Inc., according to Mullen. The publishers determine when new issues are made available on the platform – sometimes they are available before print, other times it’s simultaneous, and occasionally there’s a brief delay. For the most part users access a digital replica of the print editions of the magazines; however, some titles include more interactive digital-only features such as moving graphics, supplemental multimedia content, and embedded links, according to Mullen. Other innovative tools which improve the user’s reading experience include fully searchable contents, the ability to print and share articles and issues (some publishers don’t allow this for their titles), downloadable issues for offline reading, support for screen reading software for the visually impaired, and zoom functions to change the size of the text,
In terms of discoverability, RB will soon provide libraries with MARC records for individual titles that they can add to their catalogs. Schmidt mentioned that some libraries are using A-Z journal lists which direct users to the library’s Zinio landing page. For usage statistics, libraries can see the number of patrons using the product and which magazines are being “checked out.” RB provides technical support via email for both patrons and librarians. Mullen mentioned that Zinio customer service will help if needed.
To use the service patrons must navigate between two interfaces and consequently have two separate accounts: one for their library’s Zinio landing page and the other for Zinio’s site. To create an account for the library landing page, users must enter their library barcode number to authenticate themselves. After creating this account they can see all subscriptions available from their local library. To actually view the content inside the magazines the user must either create a new account on the Zinio platform or link the service to an existing Zinio account. Users obtain current issues from the library’s landing page and once viewed or downloaded the magazines belong to the reader indefinitely, eliminating the need to return anything, according to Mullen. The only way to access new issues is via the landing page since they are not automatically added to users’ Zinio accounts. This seems to be the only difference between individual consumer subscriptions and ones coming from libraries with regard to the end user experience.
Schmidt said that more than 2,000 libraries across the world are currently using the product which is available for public, academic and school libraries. Ninety-five percent of the participating libraries are public. Library customers contacted for this article report overall satisfaction with the service although several areas clearly need improvement.
Many users enjoy being able to access leisure reading books electronically on their numerous devices so offering magazine content this way made sense, said Maureen Gormley, the Information Services Manager at Dakota County (Minnesota) libraries. Libraries frequently don’t allow current issues of print magazines to circulate and this serves as a solution to that problem for those who are open to consuming the content online. Gormley explained that the patrons who use Zinio are different from those who prefer the print format. Although her library’s print subscriptions have and will continue to decline, it will not be as a result of Zinio. She’s pleased to meet the patron demand for this content by unlimited simultaneous users being able to access the same material. “It feels like (for once) we were finally ahead of the curve on customer demand and that is a fabulous place to be,” Gormley remarked.
Sally Houghton, the Manager of Collection Management for the Pikes Peak (Colorado) Library District said that their tech savvy population enjoys “up to the minute information on a wide variety of subjects.” Usage is on the increase and it looks like the library will continue to provide access to it into the future. Zinio helps solve several predicaments that this library has experienced with print titles including ones that have migrated to online only, foreign publications that took a long time to arrive, and access to special themed issues that users want at the same time.
The Appleton (Wisconsin) Public Library has had patrons register for library cards just to use the Zinio service, said Michael Nitz, the Materials Management Supervisor. Hopefully this “hook” is helping to expose these types of patrons to other great collections and services that the library offers. The library is considering providing patrons with low cost tablet devices to enable better access to Zinio content within the building.
The three librarians cited above report similar flaws that they hope will be addressed by Recorded Books and Zinio. For one, back issues of the subscribed magazines are not yet available despite such promises from the vendor, according to Houghton. She explained that new issues replace previous ones and that if the issue isn’t downloaded before it is overwritten by new content it is impossible to retrieve. Schmidt from Recorded Books responded that Zinio is working on a fix that would allow libraries to access their back issues in the near future.
The registration process is another area of frustration for both the librarians and their patrons. “The dual registration is clunky (at best) and has lots of room for improvement,” Nitz explained. He suggested that Recorded Books send information from their registration site to Zinio so that users only have to register in one place. Houghton said that at one point she had problems with users not receiving confirmation notices after registering for the service and believed this was related to server capacity. She says this problem seems to have been resolved as her patrons haven't experienced it in a few months. Schmidt said that his company is working with Zinio to streamline the registration process for users.
As mentioned earlier, new issues are not automatically added to users’ Zinio accounts. Instead, they must be accessed from the library’s landing page. Houghton would like her patrons to receive email notifications when new issues of their “subscribed” titles are available. Schmidt explained that notifications were stopped due to a security concern and that Recorded Books is working with Zinio to bring them back soon. Gormley would like users to be able to access their library’s subscriptions from within the app which would eliminate the need for them to toggle between the library’s landing page and Zinio’s site/apps.
When it comes to content, Gormley wishes that Time, Inc. and “grocery store” (those sold in the checkout lines) titles were available through the service. Interestingly, Zinio’s Mullen mentioned that IPC Media (a division of Time, Inc.) magazines from Great Britain are available from Zinio. Nitz also wishes that more magazines for children and young adults were included in the product. Mullen explained that a few children's titles are available on Zinio but are not currently in the library service.
Here in Tennessee, the Nashville Public Library started using the service in late December 2012. According to Noel Rutherford, the Collection Development and Acquisitions Manager, 972 unique users signed up to use Zinio for Libraries in the first month. This proves that patrons are interested in reading magazines electronically. Nashville decided to cancel some print magazine subscriptions that were unpopular or contained overlapping content with other titles so it could afford the product. Rutherford likes that it takes less staff time to manage electronic journals compared to print. She also appreciates the remote access and portability, interactive elements, and visual appeal of the content. However, she wishes the Zinio for Libraries landing page had a better search engine, particularly for titles and genres (see Figure 2). Overall, Rutherford seems satisfied with the product and expects to expand the number of magazine subscriptions to around 300. Nevertheless, she is concerned that “publishers may choose to pull out of the service over fears that libraries are potentially taking away possible retail sales.”
Zinio for Libraries is a young product that will no doubt experience improvements and changes in the future. Hopefully the library end user experience will eventually match that of an individual Zinio consumer. Mullen indicated that although there are currently no simultaneous usage limits, they are being investigated. Perhaps the publishers need to see how this service is affecting their circulation numbers and, consequently, their bottom line. Zinio is also exploring different pricing models including access fees, extended subscriptions, and incremental service fees.
This product could be an indication of a paradigm shift in publisher-library relations, at least for magazines. Allowing unlimited simultaneous users to access the same magazine content via libraries is a huge step forward, especially considering the recent restrictions that some publishers have imposed on ebooks purchased by libraries (such as permanently disabling access to an ebook after reaching a specific number of circulations). Perhaps magazine publishers will see the commercial benefits of allowing libraries and patrons more flexibility in accessing their content and continue evolving their business models in this positive and proactive direction.
The Institutional Review Board of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (FWA00004149) has approved this research project #12-160.