Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Califa eBook Journey: Introduction

Many of our members will have already seen this article about how we are starting an eBook program.  I will admit that it's a little scary, having everyone know what our plans are, because now we need to deliver!

I am going to start blogging about what I am affectionately calling our eBook Journey so that other libraries who are starting the process will be able to track our progress, from start to finish, and see what they can expect.

Califa has been working with eBooks since our inception.  We have a contract with OverDrive for a shared collection from 2004 (we subsequently ended that relationship in 2008).  We have a NetLibrary collection that goes back over ten years.  We have a shared Safari collection.  We worked with Ingram's MyiLibrary.  One of our member libraries, Pasadena, is piloting the 3M Cloud Library, in part using funds provided by Califa.  In short, we've been around the eBook block a time or two, and we are intimately familiar with the pros and cons of the current models.

And don't get me wrong - there are a lot of pros to using a vendor like 3M.  We want to work with 3M to secure discounts for our members.  And Baker and Taylor.  Just this morning I had a call with Bilbary about how we can implement a group model for their purchase and rental eBooks.  Just because we also want to do something on our own doesn't mean that we are giving up on vendors.

But in an area as important as eBooks, there has to be a balance.  As those folks who have implemented an open source ILS know, there is a certain beauty to being able to control your destiny; to being able to work on changes you want to see immediately, and not have to wait for your request to come up in a vendor's development queue.

eBook purchasing has grown exponentially over the past few years.  Some publishers are freaking out, some are embracing the new technologies. Some authors are freaking out, and some are embracing it.  Bestsellers now sell more eBook copies than physical ones.  And as any reference librarian will know, after each holiday season, more and more patrons come into the library wanting to know what they can put on their new gadgets.

For a while we've had options from vendors like OverDrive and Recorded Books.  And they have had, and are continuing to serve, a big role.  But in the same way that libraries do not rent shelving and physical books to put on the shelves; as electronic reading becomes the way a majority of "books" are consumed, libraries will need to devise a way to have ownership of both their platform (ie the building and shelving) as well as the content.

So Califa is embarking on a journey of creating our own eBook platform and collection, with the goal of opening it up to all members on a pay-to-play basis, but with ownership of the content and platform residing solely with the Consortium.  Yes, we will still need to "rent" some content for now.  But there is plenty of great material out there from publishers who are willing to sell to libraries, that we think we can have a great majority of the collection be owned, not leased.

A couple of principles are guiding our development.

1)  What we do needs to be able to be scaled, and our development needs to benefit all our members.  There will come a time in the future when libraries will want to own their own content server and have their own locally-owned standalone collections.  We can see the day when the adobe content server comes down enough in price, and enough libraries are doing this, that most libraries will want to do it for themselves.  So we are keeping that in mind as we build this platform.  Though there will always be a need for shared platforms and collections (many libraries just won't have the manpower to maintain a server, no matter how cheap it is).

2)  Content doesn't have to be fancy.  I have a philosophical difference with the people who are anxious to get at the Big 6.  There is a perception that that's the only thing patrons want right now, but I think that these tech-savvy patrons are used to getting the special offers from Amazon of 99 cent eBooks already, and are used to taking a chance on new authors.  Additionally, the price of eBooks will most likely keep going down.  The agency price model is under attack both here and in the European courts, and there may come a day when that disappears all together.  Add to that the recent rise of many self-published authors to the bestseller lists (ie Erin Morgenstern) and many established authors saying they are going to self-publish in the future, and my guess is that, over time, there will be more compelling reasons to work with independent publishers.  In a world where content is cheap (or free) and everyone and their mother has a novel out (hey, I do it too - I'm a proud NaNoWriMo-er), there is a huge role for libraries in discovery, in growing avid readers and helping people find new favorite authors.  The collection we envision is made up of great independent authors and publishers, who are willing to work with libraries.  Additionally, as we show the viability of a model like this, the Big 6 might recognize that it's in their interest to work with libraries (I mean, we do pay for the books we buy, after all).

3) We want to experiment.  The idea of simply replicating a physical world in a digital environment is what publishers are comfortable with right now, so that's what we'll do (ie, one book-one checkout).  But here's the thing.  It's a file.  It's not a real object.  If we really want to take advantage of the possibilities of the new technologies, we will embrace this, and recognize that, with files, there doesn't need to be a holds list.  With files, there can be immediate access.  Yes, rights need to be protected.  It's in all our interests to ensure that authors get paid for their work.  But just as there is lots of exciting work going on in the music industry by people who are embracing the excitement of the entire picture of what's possible (like Bjork, just as one example), we want to be there to help shape what's possible with books and reading.  The independent publishers are probably the ones most able to experiment, and that's another reason we want to work with them.

Those are the three guiding principles that we are using to shape this project.

Where we stand now:

- We are currently finding the technical people who will be able to build this platform.  We are open to working with libraries, vendors, consultants, etc.  There are a few who are in the process of making proposals, and we got a lot of great leads at PLA last week.

- We have several publishers who are all ready to sell us content including Dzanc.  I've talked with the Publishers Association of Los Angeles, the Independent Book Publishers Association, and the Independent Publishers Group, and they are open to working with us.  Jamie LaRue of Douglas County has shared his list of publishers who work with them, and I will be following up with all of them.  We are using Jamie's Publisher Letters (which he graciously posted on his blog) to formalize agreements.  Mary Minow is helping us on this front as well.  Reaching out to the publishers and representative groups was easy.  I simply googled Independent Publishers California, for example, to find the PALA folks, and wrote to their President.  I got a response a day later.  Independent publishers want new outlets for their writers, and are anxious to work with us.  As time goes on and we formalize agreements, I will post the list of publishers for others who might want to contact them.

- The goal is to have a (very basic) prototype to show at ALA in Anaheim, with some content that we will put on just for the sake of demonstration.  We will continue developing it, and start sharing it with our member libraries and begin collecting money from those who want to participate in it.  Hopefully by the start of 2013, we can have a full-fledged collection that is ready for patron use.

So that's what's going on, and where things stand right now.  I will keep updating at least once a week as we go along.  It's an exciting time for us, and I want to make sure it's documented, both for our reference as well as others who want to go down this path.


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