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November 22, 2013 4:02 AM   Subscribe

"Douglas County Model" gives libraries new e-book leverage — The public library system in Douglas County, where bedroom suburbs rub shoulders with century-old ranches, might seem an unlikely game-changer in the world of publishing. But the county's innovative e-book lending platform, which aims to flip the dynamic between publishers and libraries, is giving hope to cash-strapped libraries from Alaska to Australia that they'll be able to offer more electronic material to users, for less money. From The Denver Post, 11/21/2013.
posted by cenoxo (14 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This bit especially caught my attention:
"Jamie LaRue had a really radical idea here," Coker said. "If publishers are going to in any way threaten or jeopardize access to books, then a library has the opportunity to control its destiny by negotiating directly with writers and publishers, and using its own platform to purchase and own those books, make them available to patrons.

"What he's created is a very complex, sophisticated e-book checkout system. It allows the library to check out e-books, one patron at a time, just like checking out a print book, to honor copyright and licensing agreements. The Douglas County Model doesn't replace publishers. It offers a catalog of high-quality books, and it's great content that's available for library patrons."

ENKI, a collective of California libraries, has already followed Douglas County Libraries' lead. Libraries in Kansas, Washington state, Alaska and Australia are interested in creating their own e-book lending platforms.

Once a library has its own platform, it can also become an independent publisher. All the software is in place.

"With their platform, the library can help authors leverage the resources, marshal community resorts and help promote a culture of authorship," Coker said.
This could be really good for local communities so that they can propagate local knowledge and literature and make it available to people in the community.
posted by Kattullus at 4:44 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess I found this a slightly confusing article about a potentially fascinating development. I'll probably betray my ignorance here about aspects of the publishing industry I ought to know about… but leaving aside the self-publishing bit at the end, if established publishers are happy to work with this library in this way, it seems less a question of "flipping the dynamic" between libraries and publishers than it is of libraries investing money to become competitors to the distributors that the publishers otherwise feel obliged to work through. This would seem great for everyone except the middlemen.
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:48 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good for them.

I feel very grim about the idea that Overdrive and 3M Cloud Library and other middlemen may be the future for library e-book borrowing; they're not intuitive to use, don't interface well with our main catalog, and e-book license fees are so expensive just because they can get away with it. (I'm sure publishers would love to charge libraries $70 for a print book, but with print books libraries can act just like a bookstore would, buying large quantities at wholesale prices, even if they're lending out the books rather than selling them. That doesn't work for e-books because purchasing a book from the Kindle store and then lending it out digitally to library patrons would be a license violation.)

I think publishers do a lot of turtling up because, between library e-book lending and piracy, they fear a future where nobody ever has to buy a book again.
posted by Jeanne at 5:21 AM on November 22, 2013

Douglas County Libraries pursues a different course of actionSeveral years ago, Douglas County Libraries entered uncharted territory with its strategic initiative to purchase books directly from authors and publishers and circulate them electronically through the library catalog. This system, known as the DCL Model, has been adopted by libraries across the country, as an alternative to the other means of distributing e-books. Hear Library Director Jamie LaRue describe what the library is doing as he talks with Colorado Public Radio's Elaine Grant.
posted by cenoxo at 5:41 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love having a Douglas County library card -- I can get so many e-book titles there I can't from any of the other local county library systems. (Colorado libraries' all-state-residents-are-eligible-for-borrowing-privileges policy does kinda lend itself to collecting library cards as though they're Pokemon.)
posted by asperity at 7:41 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

To clarify, this is Douglas County, Colorado, not one of the eleven other Douglas Counties in the US. (Nebraska Represent!)
posted by benito.strauss at 7:49 AM on November 22, 2013

oliverburkeman, I read it the same way as you, and the key paragraph for me was
"It cost $100,000, including software-development fees, to create a platform that allowed us to negotiate directly with the publisher," LaRue said.
Ten years ago I don't think you could have done it for that little money, and might have had trouble finding the programmers. I'll really enjoy seeing what happens as the ability to program becomes more and more widespread.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:07 AM on November 22, 2013

I admire Jamie and what DCPL has done but I have serious concerns about its scalability. I'm not sure that publishers - especially the big ones - are necessarily "happy" about working with individual libraries like this, or even individual regional or state consortia for that matter. I'm not sure how many of the Big 6 5 publishers are licensing content directly to DCPL. Last time I spoke with someone there, it was zero ... but that was more than a year ago.

Libraries have worked with middlemen - jobbers - for so long that many don't have the capacity or expertise to negotiate contracts with potentially hundreds of publishing houses and then with deal with all those individual selection and acquisition chains. For many of us it would necessitate a radical realignment of resources and skills. That's not to say that it isn't possible, just that it's more like turning a battleship than turning on a switch, and there is a risk that it would shift more resources into the "back office" and away from direct patron services.

That being said, there are some coordinated activities going on to negotiate and develop better interoperability among the various commercial e-content platforms (OverDrive, 3M, etc.). ReadersFirst is one such effort (full disclosure: I'm on the leadership team). The chief issue on that front is that there is really no good way for the various e-content vendors to differentiate themselves except via their vertically-integrated discovery and access products - they all offer more-or-less the same content and have to sell it for the same (in some cases horrendously marked-up) prices. When libraries essentially tell them "we don't want your fancy apps; we want your content and the e-lending functionality in our existing online catalogs" they don't really like hearing that message and many have thrown up explicit roadblocks to libraries (and our catalog vendors) to achieving that. But there is good work going on in that group, and I hope that it leads to libraries having more options other than offering dozens of disconnected vendor platforms or having to take a pure DIY approach.
posted by majorsteel at 8:12 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

What I want is Netflix for books. I want to pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited access to ALL the books. I want to be able to directly access the book I want without first freaking downloading it to my computer--just click on the app on any device, my phone, my e-reader, my laptop, my tablet, whatever--and have it know where I am in the book, just the same as I can start watching a Netflix movie on my flat screen TV then finish watching it later on my phone. And I want all the books to be available all the time, right now, no getting in a freaking queue to read my book two months from now when it's "returned" by the previous user. I want it to be SIMPLE. Like Netflix.

Surely this is possible?
posted by HotToddy at 8:49 AM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

posted by Rykey at 8:57 AM on November 22, 2013

*Googles "Netflix for books"; discovers Scribd*
posted by HotToddy at 8:57 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, here's a comparison of some services like that, HotToddy. Unfortunately they will all have the problem of actually making deals with publishers to include their books (which Netflix has too; there are plenty of things they don't have available.)
posted by yarrow at 9:00 AM on November 22, 2013

...with century-old ranches, might seem an unlikely game-changer in the world of publishing...

Is that where horse_ebooks is from??
posted by dubitable at 9:23 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks yarrow. Despite the limited offerings I'm positive I'll use one of these services (Scribd, I think) way more than the library. Sad to say.
posted by HotToddy at 12:18 PM on November 22, 2013

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