March 19, 2014

Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library Director Sari Feldman and Multnomah County (Oreg.) Library Director Vailey Oehlke represented ALA’s Digital Content Working Group (DCWG) at last week’s Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis. One of DCWG’s major activities at the conference was to host a session titled “Public Libraries in the Marketplace: The Business of Digital Content.” This session featured Skip Dye, vice president of Library and Academic Sales at Random House, and Steve Potash, chief executive officer at OverDrive, and attracted several hundred conference attendees.

The overall sense of the session was that the library ebook market will continue to evolve. The library community is likely to see more new models before there is convergence to fewer business models. Models for sharing and consortia will emerge slowly and librarians should not expect print models to be replicated. Bestsellers are likely to remain at premium price levels for the foreseeable future.

Libraries, publishers, and aggregators do have a common goal—improved content discovery. With a national physical infrastructure and community connections and trust, libraries have much to offer to help connect authors and readers. A big challenge is how to reach “nonbelievers”—those currently not using libraries for ebook access.

From the industry viewpoint, now with considerable penetration in the adult fiction market, the next segment to pursue is youth—juvenile and young adult as well as pre-kindergarten. OverDrive is increasing its efforts and thinking about business models for this market. For example, a school class has very particular ebook lending needs that are substantially different than those in public libraries.

Although libraries and publishers have material differences in the ebook space, they have had meaningful and productive exchanges. DCWG looks forward to continuing progress on pricing, portability, and other issues.

The DCWG has a few coming attractions. Look for the new American Libraries supplement on digital content in the May/June time frame. We also have two research papers in process, to be released in the spring/summer time frame. Finally, look for our program and meeting during the 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

ALAN S. INOUYE is director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and program manager of the ALA Digital Content Initiative.