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TL v61n4: Ann Clapp
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 61 Number 4  



It's My Opinion!

Staff Development

by  Ann Clapp


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Comparing the E-book Providers


The e-book market is booming and becoming confusing as different models and formats emerge.  The largest providers showed off their wares (or in many cases, their upcoming wares) at the recent E-book Summit.  One theme emerged: no single solution will work best for every library.  Often, libraries must choose between greatest accessibility and best selection.

When deciding on an e-book provider, the things to consider are:

1. Format (What devices can use the titles?)
2. Business model (Are you paying to buy the books or just to access them for a certain period of time? Will content transfer to a different provider in the future if desired?)
3. Circulation model (downloadable or not; simultaneous or single-user access)
4. Title selection (how many publishers are on board, and how many titles are in the collection)
5. Patron experience (How easy/hard is it to use?)
6. Other costs (setup fees, annual fees, minimum purchase requirements)
7. Collection development assistance & tools

Vendors must balance the desires of the patrons and libraries with the requirements of publishers and authors to decide the best model.  For example, the six largest publishers, who publish the majority of the bestselling titles each year, will only participate with e-book vendors who offer the single-user access model.  Here is a run-down of some of the major vendors. 

  • PDF and ePub formats only; in discussion with Amazon; stated that Kindle-compatibility is a “must-have”
  • 40+ publishers on board
  • Installing in public libraries starting January 2012
  • Annual fee based on library size, and then priced per individual title
  • Patrons can click a filter so that they see only titles that are available to checkout
  • Multiple devices can be linked to the cloud, so that bookmarks (which look like Post-It notes, since 3M invented them) appear in every device. Therefore, if you bookmarked items on your Droid and then switched to your iPad, it would be seamless reading.
  • Patrons click the CHECKOUT button next to the title, which sends the title to all of the devices connected to that patron’s cloud account.
  • There is a wishlist, where the patron can see all titles that 3M offers and click on the ones they wished the library owned.  The library gets the report of what the patrons want that they don’t have.  They can also see the number of people holding for a title.
  • Kansas is the only customer who can transfer Overdrive purchases to 3M with publisher permission, mainly because other libraries have not taken the case to court. 

Baker & Taylor

  • Over 500,000 public and academic titles hosted on ebrary, EBL, and Ebscohost on YBP
  • Annual fee based on the # of circs for public libraries or FTE for schools/academic, and minimum order first year so that the “magic shelf” looks full.  No minimum order after first year.
  • Libraries select their own product
  • Blio created for books meant to be looked at rather than simply read (children’s picture books, for example)


  • More than 300,000 titles (largely academic)
  • No fees for their purchase plan—pay for product on a title level
  • Short-term lease plan—no minimum requirement
  • Subscription model coming soon but no details yet
  • PDF format intended to be read on computer (mostly nonfiction)
  •  “Small” annual fee to have downloadable product


  • No annual fees; customer purchases and owns the titles
  • Bundles of popular titles to help customers purchase
  • They have a subscription program with an annual fee that offers unlimited access
  • They only offer a program for the K12 market at this point; working on a public library offering
  •  Meant to be viewed on netbooks (small laptops).  Therefore, patrons need color monitors and a good internet connection to work. 
  • The collection forms a custom hosted webpage that patrons get to through a URL; titles are not downloadable. 

Ingram MyiLibrary

  • No setup fees; annual fee for tethered access, or additional annual fee for downloadable access; no minimum purchasing requirement
  • PDF format, and soon ePub format
  • Customized lists available to help with selection
  • Libraries purchase titles, not just paying for access
  • Many academic titles; focusing on increasing public library titles
  • 250,000 titles with 5,000 titles added monthly

Library Ideas (Freading)

  • Same people who run Freegal (music), and a similar model
  • No access fee or purchase of titles—charged per usage.  Patrons see all titles and have complete simultaneous access.  Patron clicks on title he/she wants, and library is charged rental fees:
  • 20,000 titles to start; 20 publishers signed up, including IPG (representing over 200 publishers).  No Big 6 publishers, and no expectations of getting them because their model is not compatible with the single-access model that the largest publishers required
  • Libraries can cap weekly rentals to avoid overspending, and they can limit patrons to a specific number of titles per week
  • They do not currently have an unlimited plan, but their unlimited music plan requires a cap of downloads per patrons per week
  • Renewals of a title do not cost, except for “new releases” (up to 25 months old), which requires the patron to re-download them and costs the library 50 cents.


  • More than 1,000 publishers, and every platform including Kindle
  • The Nook Color app is coming soon
  • Advantage allows libraries in a consortium to purchase and manage their own titles on top of the consortium offerings.  There is a one-time fee to set it up.
  • No minimum purchase
  • Penguin pulled out new titles due to a dispute with Amazon’s use of Kindle-compatible titles in a program without their permission.  It remains to be seen if other large publishers will react in a similar way.

In conclusion, selecting e-book providers will remain complex until the free market whittles down some of the models and vendors.  Until then, libraries will need to determine their highest priorities, compare companies, and make the best decision for their patrons.


 Ann Clapp is Manager of Collection Development Programs, Ingram Content Group

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