Friday, September 23, 2011

Richardson Library Shifts Into OverDrive

The Richardson Public Library is one of the gems of the city's services to residents. For about a year now, it's offered eBook lending, but didn't support the Amazon Kindle device. That wasn't the RPL's fault. Amazon has been slow to open the Kindle up for such services. OverDrive, the service the RPL uses to manage eBook downloads, offered support for the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader and various cell phones and the Apple iPad and PCs, but the obvious hole in their support was the missing Kindle.

This week, all that changed. OverDrive announced support for the Kindle.

After the jump, what this means for the Richardson Public Library ... and me.

I went to the RPL's website, clicked on the "OverDrive download" link, picked out a book and downloaded it to my Kindle, all in seconds. Everything worked intuitively. Everything worked as expected. Everything worked. Thank you, RPL.

OK, what's the downside? Well, there probably aren't enough titles to satisfy most readers. There aren't enough copies of each title to satisfy most readers. Neither issue is likely to be resolved quickly. Publishers charge libraries for eBooks like they charge for regular, dead-tree books. Discounts are less for eBooks. Libraries also have to pay a recurring fee to OverDrive to manage the downloads. All told, eBooks are expensive, maybe even more expensive than traditional books. Richardson's budget is tight just like everyone else's.

The benefit, of course, is the convenience of Internet delivery. The online library is always open. eBooks don't get lost. They don't get dog-eared or coffee-stained or marked up.

As the delivery model matures, the pricing model is likely to change. Some of the issues with selection and availability will be addressed. Right now, libraries buy and lend eBooks just like regular books. The library owns a fixed number of copies and can lend each copy to one reader at a time. But other pricing models are possible. Publishers could sell a library an eBook, not permanently, but for a fixed number of checkouts. The library could check out that one book to multiple readers at a time. The library could stock as many checkouts as the popularity of a book demanded, eliminating the problem of having dozens of copies of last year's bestseller filling up the shelves long after the demand is gone. The big change, one that libraries probably fear, is that Amazon itself is going to negotiate an agreement with the publishers that will allow Amazon to offer a Netflix-like service. For a flat monthly fee, readers could check out any book from Amazon's vast collection.

That day is probably inevitable but it's still in the future. The Richardson Public Library doesn't have Amazon's selection, but the RPL offers eBook lending today, all for free for Richardson residents. I say, check it out.


Mark Steger said...

Shilling for Amazon: Today, Amazon announced four new Kindle products, including a $79 entry level model. With the RPL's new support for Kindle, it's a win-win combination. Check it out the review here.

Mark Steger said...

Frater Mus lists other public libraries in the area that also support OverDrive eBook checkouts.