Smashwords and OverDrive

June 10, 2014

Librarians need to take sharp notice of the sudden and disruptive trebling of intellectual content: mainstream (which we’ve always focused on), small and independent publishing (which has ramped up its annual title count by four or five times over as many years), and self-published (now more new annual titles than the other two combined).

Three ways have emerged for libraries to sample this content and present it to the public:

  1. DIY. Build your own, like the Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries, Califa, Queens Library, Harris County (Tex.) Public Library. Then you can buy (at discount, which is refreshing, no?) and host the content yourself. Ultimately, this method works best consortially—not only because that concentrates technical expertise and infrastructure, but because it simplifies distribution for publishers and authors.
  2. Total Boox. Drawing from many of the same publishers as #1, Total Boox lets patrons download a boatload of ebooks, arrange them onto virtual “shelves,” then read at their leisure. The library pays only for what patrons actually read (which tends to be about 10% of what people check out). Total Boox does the hosting, Digital Rights Management, and reporting.
  3. An OverDrive trailer containing a studio for watching a video, LCD screens, signs, devices, and support staffKeep buying from OverDrive, which has now struck a deal with Smashwords. OverDrive, clearly the library market leader in ebook distribution, is already making a tidy enough profit to be sending out its own marketing truck/trailers. Signing with Smashwords is just about the easiest way most libraries have to buy the many new titles hitting the bestseller lists that don’t happen to be issued by any of the usual publisher suspects. Smashwords-subscribing libraries don’t have to do anything new at all—other than toss a little money into a new bucket.

I have to say that I admire OverDrive’s agility in chasing the marketplace. When we complain about silos, OverDrive rolls out APIs. While we complain about the lack of the content our patrons are starting to clamor for, the firm sign deals with the new breed of publishing companies. While we complain about prices, OverDrive can buy its own trailers!

Let’s keep complaining.

JAMES LARUE is a writer, speaker, and consultant on the future of libraries. He can be reached at jlarue[at]