Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Digital LibraryWorld Part 3: Digital Supply

As Public libraries go digital what will be the challenges to publishers and the supply of digital content?

The physical supply chain requires many value added extras such as plastic dust jackets, library stamps, library metadata etc. From this has grown a supply service that is geared to providing these services to the libraries. The Good Library Blog wrote last week that library suppliers have agreed physical book supply contracts at 47.5% discount off the cover price of books. The provisos are that the supplier can make the selection of which books are supplied and that these contracts apply to all the books supplied. The supplier will select the best, most appropriate books for the local library. The value of supply contracts is claimed at £90m per annum.

However, does the same logic prevail in the digital world?

In the digital world what is the starting price?

Do libraries need specialist aggregators?

Today the supply of digital books to library patrons can be achieved through an aggregated service such as Overdrive, or through national aggregated services such as eBog.dk , Numilog, onleihe, or technology platforms such as Google, Apple, Adobe and even players such as Amazon and other retail aggregators. Its merely about search discovery, library system integration and authentication, access and content delivery. In fact why can’t libraries get their digital content direct on demand from many sources including publishers?

So why would any library, or consortia, put all their bets on any one player today?

One of the challenges publishers and others face is the integration into the library systems and the supply of contextual information. Many choose to avoid these issues and supply through an wholesaler and in doing so, operate on the same model as in the physical world. However today many digital suppliers players only operate in the digital world and maybe those that operate in both don’t offer the best digital solution. The question of who is best suited to supply digital is not just a library one, but a publisher one too.

Content is king and Libraryworld wants, antiquarian, public domain, back list and front list, in essence every book ever published. Why shouldn’t every library give their patrons access to national or global collections? They are no longer driven by buying every hardback as an ebook lasts for ever and doesn’t get worn out and need replacement. No need for special jacket services or library stamps in a digital world.

So how will the commercial model change? What price will the model be based on? How will usage be charged? What restrictions will be applied to concurrent usage or the number of copies licensed? Will there be license restrictions on inter library loans. Although a different environment, the way in which publishers deal with institutional consortia and libraries may offer some insights. Can publishers now supply direct and work around the intermediary?

The context information supply and library system issues are, or should no longer be obstacles.

Every library should have an open approach to content delivery and recognise the ability to lend on demand.

Just as publishers are having to grapple with a digital reseller channel they now also have to grapple with a digital library channel and how they price, sell, promote and deliver to it.

Next we will look at the thorny issue of retail versus library, pay versus free, market driven versus subsidised, purchase versus rent and royalties versus PLR.

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