Making Progress in Digital Content

July 1, 2015

TotalBoox logoWhat does an ebooks marketplace look like if, in addition to libraries, content providers are equally committed to a sustainable ecosystem that enables viability for all players—publishers, vendors, authors, libraries and, of course, readers? It looks a great deal like the session “Making Progress in Digital Content” that took place at the 2015 ALA Annual Conference, sponsored by the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Co-moderated by the ALA’s Digital Content Working Group (DCWG) co-chairs, Carolyn Anthony, director of the Skokie (Ill.) Public Library, and Erika Linke, associate dean of libraries and director of Research and Academic Services, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, this session featured Yoav Lorch, CEO of TotalBoox, and Odilo’s Rodrigo Rodriguez, CEO, and Katie Klossner, senior marketing manager for North America and Australia.

Total Boox, with headquarters in Tel Aviv, provides a metered reading model that allows readers to checkout and download titles at no cost to the library, with charges incurred based only on pages read.

Odilo logoMadrid-based Odilo offers four different but related products. Libraries can offer ebooks through OdiloTK, or provide a full-scale print and digital discovery option through the Simplicity product, OdiloSP. OdiloCS is a consortial option, and OdiloPL is a digital marketplace connecting libraries with publishers and ebooks distributors.

While TotalBoox and Odilo may seem like smaller players in terms of scale, they more than compensate through the expansive vision articulated by TotalBoox’s Lorch, and Odilo’s Rodriguez and Klossner. As CEOs of international companies, Lorch and Rodriguez share a global perspective on the values and capacities of libraries. Both CEOs underscored business motives in ardent resonance with the same principles that American libraries espouse in their own advocacy campaigns.

Lorch explained the TotalBoox model as being predicated on broad access for readers based on what they actually read. “This is a system made for reading.” He stated that the costs to pay for reading are a fraction of what libraries pay up front to purchase a title outright. “Why not provide all books to all patrons, and ask libraries to pay for what patrons actually read and find interesting?” Lorch said that libraries are engaged with an “existential problem” with the one-reader, one-copy model. In the broader consumer marketplace, people expect to get what they want and to get it now. Lorch believes that TotalBoox solves a problem of limiting access through checkout times and hold lists, and that libraries need to remove these barriers to access in the ebook context.

Already a leading provider in Europe and Latin America, Odilo is expanding into North America because Rodriguez and Klossner believe libraries are eager for new options, and that they deserve greater control of those options. Odilo seeks to build communities through engagement by building the library’s brand within those communities, not Odilo’s. Rodriguez said “Patrons don’t care about Odilo. The library is providing the service. The company is behind the scenes.” Rodriguez said Odilo’s role is to offer libraries “one single interface, with quick and beautiful design.” Rodriguez and Klossner also emphasized that Odilo is not about one solution for all libraries. Rather, Odilo seeks to work with individual libraries to find the customized solution that is best for the given community.

Both TotalBoox and Odilo stated their commitment to bringing authors closer to the readers by working with libraries. Lorch stated the hope of TotalBoox is to replace the notion of the bestseller with the best read. He said the bestseller list is too inadequate in scope, and that there are far more authors that should reach readers, and far more readers that deserve to find those authors. Odilo’s Klossner reinforced this sentiment saying, “a book becomes a bestseller because of someone marketing it. Odilo can make a good quality book a bestseller, not just the big publishers.” Both companies described coordinated marketing efforts with libraries and authors through posters, shelf talkers and author events.

Mary Minow of raised concerns about data harvesting and storage. While Odilo does not retain patron data, leaving that in the hands of libraries, the TotalBoox model relies upon this data. As Lorch stated, besides libraries, both publishers and authors participate with TotalBoox because they receive this aggregate data for insight. Minow pointed out that even if the data is protected and secured, it is still possible such data may be subject to subpoena, as just one example. Lorch explained that TotalBoox is aware of library ethics and concerns, disguises identifying information by tagging data with an user number that would be difficult to de-encrypt, and takes great pains to comply with legal and ethical protections. Furthermore, Lorch stated, only aggregate data is ever provided to publishers and authors.

Lorch and Rodriguez both called for greater diversification of business models in the marketplace. Sounding like a collection development librarian himself, Rodriguez said, “Some books you need multiple copies for six months, then the interest dies. Why not let libraries offer several copies for six months, then they go away except maybe one copy or a few copies with perpetual access?” Rodriguez also emphasized that libraries need a broad variety of models in a competitive and healthy marketplace, urging, “We are newcomers. Give newcomers a chance. We are not better than OverDrive, 3M, or Baker & Taylor. We just offer additional options.”

One of the most appealing characteristics of this session was the tenor of mutual respect that Lorch and Rodriguez expressed for each other and for other players in the ebook marketplace. Librarians already know that they need a rich market with broad options to enable the quality of service their constituencies expect and deserve. Librarians also know that the only way to achieve this is through providers who can commit to broad-scale interoperability and integration across multiple systems. It was refreshing, and even inspiring to hear these sentiments from the providers and business partners who enable libraries to achieve their mandates.

Again, what would the ebook marketplace look like if, in addition to libraries, content providers were equally committed to a sustainable ecosystem for all players? With TotalBoox, Odilo, and the growth of similar provider partners, the ebook marketplace could look very much like the institutions it serves, one where opportunity abounds and all players win. In short, it could be a marketplace that looks just like American libraries always have looked, and always should.

Updated July 8, 2015, to correct a quote attribution.