The OverDrive Model: How Lexis Approaches eBooks

OverDrive appears to have established the format of how to distribute eBooks in a public library environment. To oversimplify their business model, OverDrive is essentially the digital middle man between publishers and libraries. Think of them as the library iTunes of the eBook world; libraries who use OverDrive can offer their patrons access to an enormous library of eBook titles. OverDrive takes care of all the content management and collection development issues, and grants portal access to libraries who contract with them. On the other side of the fence, publishers upload their content directly into OverDrive, which enables a library to purchase the publisher’s titles.

LexisNexis Digital Library is a pairing between Lexis’s treatises and OverDrive’s electronic library management system. Essentially, LexisNexis supplies the content, and OverDrive manages the method of distribution. The patron, then, has access to a number of Lexis-published eBook titles that can be accessed via popular eReaders (Kindle, iOS, Sony Reader, Nook), various operating systems (Windows PC, Mac), and differing mobile device operating systems (Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Phone). The library, notably, purchases licenses for the eBooks. One license means only one copy of the eBook is accessible; once a patron has checked out that one copy, no other patron can access the eBook until it is returned. A library can purchase multiple eBook licenses, if they believe a particular title will be popular enough to have concurrent users. After a due date has elapsed, the eBook is automatically returned, and becomes available to the next patron.

Again, to emphasize, the LexisNexis Digital Library treats eBooks like physical books, availability of titles is limited by licenses: “In addition to simultaneous access to many titles for multiple users, users may also check out multiple copies of the same eBook depending on how many copies the library purchases” (from LexisNexis’s April 12, 2012 press release). OverDrive’s license-limiting model has been successful in public libraries, an environment of multiple publishers and huge patron bases, but does this arrangement successfully work in law libraries? Does firm size/patron-base affect the success of implementing LexisNexis Digital Library? How do patrons respond to eBook availability?

We’re still in the era of observing how the big vendors are wrestling with distributing eBooks. LexisNexis’s pairing with OverDrive offers a particularly unique approach to this issue.

Review: Oyster, OverDrive, & Other eBook Apps

Different distribution models are being pursued in the eBook app market. Oyster, a brand new eBook app, is using a subscription-based model similar to Netflix or Spotify; the Oyster user pays a monthly subscription ($10 per month), which enables the user to download and read as many eBooks as they desire. Exploration and discovery are emphasized in the app: the app’s home page enables users to easily browse, every book has a “related” tab that shows users similar titles, there are a number of curated and edited booklists, and there’s a social media/Oyster community component enabling users to see what titles their friends like. Content is one of the big questions, though, among the big publishers, HarperCollins’s books are available on Oyster.

OverDrive Media Console’s distribution model is to offer eBooks to patrons for free, but limits how many users can simultaneously access a particular title. In OverDrive’s model, a user’s local public library determines what content is available by purchasing licenses to individual eBook titles. How many licenses the library purchases determines how many copies of the eBook are available to patrons. Just like their physical counterparts, if a patron discovers the eBook they are interested in is currently checked out, they will not be able to access it immediately; the user can place a hold on it for future access. The app isn’t as attuned to exploration and discovery as the Oyster app; there are new book and curated book lists, but the app is more centered on catalog searching.

The classic model of eBook distribution is the reader pays for the eBook they wish to read on a book-by-book basis, and uses the eBook app tied to the marketplace they used to make the purchase. Books purchased on Amazon are read on the Kindle app, Barnes & Noble purchases are read on the Nook app, and iTunes Store purchases are read on the iBooks app.

These distribution models, of course, are centered on the consumer eBook industry, but what type of format will be the most successful in the legal eBook industry? How much carryover will there be? OverDrive is already instituted with Lexis eBooks—which we’ll cover on Thursday, but would an Oyster-like subscription-model be successful? How could a law library fit in to the more direct-to-consumer models, like Amazon’s, Barnes & Noble’s, and iTunes’s?

Update: Scribd has just announced the release of their own Oyster-like eBook subscription model. More can be read on this here and here.