David Burleigh, director of marketing and communication at OverDrive, returned from the American Library Association (ALA)’s recent annual show pumped up about the health of public libraries.
“We’ve definitely seen momentum swing in favor of libraries,” he told me in this week’s Kindle Chronicles podcast interview. “There’s a lot of activity, a lot of excitement around libraries.”
Burleigh said the ALA’s “Libraries Transform” initiative is helping to change how libraries are perceived in the marketplace and by the public at large.
“Libraries have always been community centers for programs for children’s materials, children’s reading groups, and story times,” he said. “They are key places for people to gain access to the Internet if they don’t have access at home to help them with career development and job finding and getting access to email.”
Libraries also offer access to e-books, audiobooks and streaming video, all of which OverDrive provides to 97 percent of the public libraries in the U.S.
Despite the growth in digital, Burleigh does not envision a day when libraries will provide only digital content.
“I think there will always be a role for a community center for the physical location and the physical books and the physical materials and access to the different types of tools and computers, and access to people—reference librarians, experts in their fields to help,” he said.
OverDrive is rolling out an update to the user interface that patrons will see on library Web sites or via the OverDrive app for iOS and Android.
“It’s built from the ground up with the first-time user in mind,” Burleigh said of the update. “It’s faster, it’s cleaner, and it’s just a lot easier to access the library’s materials with your library card.”
Some libraries are already using the updated web site, and the rest will have access to it in late October or November, Burleigh said. The app update is in private beta testing, he said, adding that when it’s ready for general use it will appear in addition to the current OverDrive app, offering different capabilities.
OverDrive was acquired last year by the Japanese e-commerce and media giant Rakuten, which also owns Kobo, an eReader that competes with Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.
When I asked Burleigh if Rakuten’s Kobo ownership puts OverDrive’s U.S. library integration with the Kindle platform in an awkward position, he replied that OverDrive has an agreement with Amazon and is committed to serving Kindle owners.
“That’s continuing,” he said. “We’re committed to keeping that going and don’t see any changes there.”
Asked if OverDrive might expand the Kindle integration internationally, Burleigh said, “We certainly have heard the requests from outside the U.S. and at this time we don’t have anything else to say about that–we can’t talk about any additional plans at this time, so right now the (Kindle) service is limited to public libraries in the U.S.”
The last time I spoke with Burleigh on the Kindle Chronicles nearly five years ago, not all of the Big 5 publishers were making their books available for digital borrowing at libraries. I was glad to hear that has changed, and that publishers now see public libraries as a useful way for readers to discover books they might buy.
Part of the education process has been OverDrive’s global digital book club named Big Library Read, which just completed its 10th book, A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain, published by Pegasus Books.
Burleigh said a publisher participating in Big Library Read provides free or discounted global rights for two weeks, so public libraries can make the books available at their web sites. For A Murder in Time that generated 247,000 checkouts from approximately 20,000 participating libraries around the world. Borrowers share comments about the books and can often listen to podcast interviews with the authors.
“It really shows you the depth and the breadth of the libraries,” Burleigh said. “A lot of publishers have been very interested to make this available, because it’s a nice way for their titles, their authors—some of the titles may have been a couple of years older or midlist, well reviewed but just didn’t find its audience–it’s a great way for them to get before a new audience and even affect sales.”
Burleigh said OverDrive is now scaling Big Library Read to more focused projects, such as city reads in Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon. The company is also preparing a combined Big Library Read for Australia and New Zealand.
As of a couple of years ago, all of the Big Five publishers now make their front list, mid-list and backlist titles available for e-book borrowing at libraries.
“That’s great news for readers,” Burleigh said. “You’ll see all the New York Times bestsellers and all the different popular lists of titles that you should be able to find in your library.”
“Big Library Read was one of the things that we were experimenting with to present the case to publishers that libraries are a great place for discovery,” he said.
OverDrive has about 3 million titles in its overall catalogue, and each participating library decides which of those to offer to its patrons.
My guest on next week’s show will be veteran publishing analyst and consultant Mike Shatzkin, who this week wrote an enlightening, long post at his Shatzkin Files blog titled “The ‘Big Change’ era in trade book publishing ended about four years ago.”