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E-Content in Libraries: 2013 in Review (Trends, Reflections, Highlights)

2013 in Review

Re-reading the introduction to the NSR “year in review” article from last year makes it tempting to cut and paste parts of the post from 12 months ago into this one. Looking back at how e-content in libraries—in all its incarnations—continued to evolve throughout 2013, it becomes obvious that 2013 carried on the legacy of the years past. Those who created, reviewed, sold, and managed e-content for libraries witnessed a kind of solidification (rather than reinvention) of a number of initiatives and products that were introduced in 2011 and 2012. In many ways, 2013 was less about changing the game and more about playing it well. And since many of last year’s observations still hold true, some cutting-and-pasting is in order:

  • new alliances were formed among both publishers and vendors”
  • more mergers took place”
  • open access initiatives showed no signs of slowing down”
  • “those of us keeping up with e-content were reminded that emerging technological advances continued to push the boundaries of what we thought was possible only a year before”
  • “our industry was challenged to rethink its own expectations about digital library environments but also dare to aim higher

 

2013 Trends

Based on the initiatives brought to us by the companies whose products are listed below (see 2013 Highlights), we may draw some conclusions about the e-content trends likely to dominate 2014:

Self-publishing continues to soar — According to a recent analysis of US ISBN data by Bowker, the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011 and 422 percent over 2007. Ebooks comprised 40 percent of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, up from just 11 percent in 2007. Smashwords conducted a study in 2013 to analyze self-published book sales data and also released its key findings in an effort to help authors and publishers sell more ebooks.

Kids’ reading of ebooks is growing — Scholastic’s study on kids’ reading in the digial age (Kids & Family Reading Report) found that kids’ reading of ebooks has nearly doubled since 2010. According to the findings, the percentage of children who have read an ebook has almost doubled since 2010 (25% vs. 46%); 75 percent of kids who have read an ebook are reading ebooks at home; 72 percent of parents are interested in having their child read ebooks; and half of children age nine-17 said they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to ebooks (a 50 percent increase since 2010). 

All of this is great news for K-12 publishers rushing (justifiably) to “animate” their front- and backlist and breathe new life into existing content via interactive platforms and e-learning resources. Leaders on the K-12 publishing side include Scholastic, of course, as well as Rosen Publishing.

Lines are blurring as vendor roles are expanding — As everyone in the market of producing and selling e-content to libraries expands their existing lines of services, librarians are left with the daunting task of keeping up with who does what. Long gone are the days when publishers simply published books and distributors brought them to libraries. The picture in 2013 is complex and it looks something like this:

  • major library aggregators are becoming publishers (think EBSCO acquiring publishers like Wilson and Salem Press)
  • major academic publishers are becoming sources of free and Open Access books (think DeGruyter)
  • traditional book distributors are morphing into ebook lending services (think Baker & Taylor)
  • ebook lending services are embracing new leasing models by taking clues from established aggregators (think 3M’s interest in patron-driven purchasing)
  • self-publishing services are providing content to libraries (think Smashwords’ LibraryDirect service )
  • non-profit online repositories are becoming publishers (think Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press)
  • e-retailers are becoming publishers (think Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing) as well as online reading communities (think Amazon acquiring GoodReads)
  • K-12 publishers are becoming “media” companies (think Rosen’s new suite of interactive learning resources)

Public libraries are showing more interest in publishing as well as owning content — If various organizations with no background in publishing are becoming publishers, shouldn’t librariesa fertile ground for cultivating authors, many would argue—reconsider their roles in the 21st century? In ALA’s June 2013 E-Content Digital Supplement, Jamie La Rue proposed that libraries consider their potential as future publishers of locally-grown content. “There are several reasons why public libraries might want to move in this direction,” wrote La Rue, “Once a library invests in the infrastructure to manage ebooks directly from publishers, it finds that the same infrastructure allows it to be a publisher.” 

Back in September La Rue’s Douglas County Libraries (DCL) announced the debut of The Wire: A Writer’s Resourcea blog that provides information for aspiring authors to write, publish, and find markets for their books. And just a couple of weeks ago, news broke that DCL and Colorado Library Consortium were awarded an LSTA grant of over $200,000 for their “eVoke 2.0: Colorado Statewide eBook Pilot Project: proposal. The goal of the project is to develop an alpha stage end-to-end cloud e-content infrastructure that will provide e-content purchasing and lending capabilities to Colorado libraries. This again reaffirms DCL’s resolve to own the content purchased.

Integration of multi-media components is the next frontier —  This is a no-brainer. Many studies, surveys, and articles have pointed to the fact that digital reading is, at its best, interactive reading. This explains why a number of vendors is developing digitally-born interactive content inviting students and researchers to engage in a new kind of learning: watching and listening while reading. There is also a growing interest in all things digital audiobooks. Baker & Taylor has made great strides on this front, enabling library patrons to borrow and download digital audiobooks directly to their Apple and Android mobile devices.

Big “multi-media” stories of 2013 included Credo releasing its very first all-video collection and, of course, OverDrive—still the biggest force to be reckoned with in the land of ebook lending services—announced back in January that its platform would be enhanced with streaming video and audio technology; the service went live last month.

Content still wants to be free (to the user) — Well, clearly it does. Because we keep getting more free access to it all the time, from both expected sources like Open Access initiatives UnGlue.It and Knowledge Unlatched and the newly launched Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and the less likely sources like for-profit academic publishers.

The biggest confirmation of the value of free access in the 21st century came just last month when the long-running Google Books lawsuit (which accused Google of copying millions of books without permission) was dismissed. “In my view,” said U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin, ,”Google Books provides significant public benefits…Indeed, all society benefits.”

Partnerships continue to thrive – An industry leader once said at a conference, “competitors are just companies you haven’t figured out how to partner with yet.” Judging from the staggering number of partnerships that were announced in 2013, it seems that the key players in the e-content ecosystem are quickly realizing the value of partnering with those that can enhance their offerings as well as those who are directly competing with their products. Gale (part of Cengage Learning), for example, has made 2013 the year of partnerships with institutions as revered as The National Geographic, the Smithsonian, and the Associated Press.

University presses continued to join forces in an effort to bring even more monographic content to digital library collections, with four main initiatives still going strong (including those by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, JStor, and ProjectMUSE).

Then there are deals more complex than partnerships, and we’ve come to identify them as mergers or acquisitions. The year kicked off with a major announcement from ProQuest that it was acquiring the long-time competitor to ebrary: EBL. “A major reason ProQuest wished to acquire EBL was to extend their innovative business models, including the patent-protected Non-Linear Lending (NLL) model and chapter-level purchasing, said Kevin Sayar, Senior Vice President, ProQuest Workflow Solutions, at the time the announcement was first made.

Trade publishers are coming around – The Big Six (or Five) are starting to ease the restrictions imposed on libraries lending ebooks to patrons. Looking back into the not-so-distant past, it’s clear that the trade side has come a long way. As of late 2013, every major trade publisher has some deal in place helping libraries bring ebook versions of popular titles to patrons. Simon & Schuster, the last remaining holdout among the Big Six (or Five), is now undergoing a pilot program with several libraries in New York; Random House recently announced a big partnership with both Follett and MyiLibrary; Harlequin titles are now available via MyiLibrary; Macmillan added 11,000 ebooks to Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform in late 2013; and back in April, Penguin removed the six-month embrago on ebook titles licensed to libraries, now offering new titles simultaneously in both print and electronic formats.

Academic publishers are recognizing the value of e-learning tools – Just like K-12 publishers are recognizing the value of engaging young learners with interactive content, academic publishers continue to recognize the value in integrating e-learning tools into their resources to enhance the research experience for all involved. This no longer implies merely embedding citation tools and personalization features. It means working with academic institutions to connect directly to the curriculum; providing  professors with the tools to create their own textbooks; embedding teaching tools that allow educators to monitor student progress; supplementing video lectures with various academic titles; and more. SAGE’s recent partnership with Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider, is a leading example of an established academic publisher stepping outside its comfort zone to make their resources available to millions of students using MOOCs.

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E-Content in Libraries: 2012 in Review

2012 was a busy year for e-content: new alliances were formed among both publishers and vendors, more mergers took place, controversies surrounding ebook lending in public libraries persisted, open access initiatives showed no signs of slowing down, and the pressing need to digitize scholarly publishing gave rise to several monograph e-platforms. With each passing week, those of us keeping up with e-content were reminded that emerging technological advances continued to push the boundaries of what we thought was possible only a year before.

Our industry was challenged to rethink its own expectations about digital library environments but also dare to aim higher. We asked the same questions as in the years past: Who remained ahead of the curve? Who took the most risk? Who spoke directly to the needs of users? And who brought us products that would stand the test of time years from now?

During the slow month of December, “best lists” are released all over Library land. They give us a chance to take a break from “keeping up” and simply reflect. So let’s pause from chasing press releases and reflect on some of the most impactful digital resources released in 2012. Continue reading