Thursday, May 9, 2013

3,000 Libraries to Power "Big Library Read"

"We want to show publishers how a book can sail around the world on the shoulders of librarians" says Overdrive CEO Steve Potash. The circumnavigating book in the inaugural edition of Overdrive's "Big Library Read" program will be Michael Malone’s The Four Corners of the Sky  published by Sourcebooks. Overdrive customer libraries must sign up for the program by this Friday, May 10, but 3,000 have done so already, according to Potash. Beginning next Wednesday, May 15, and continuing through June 1 the book will be free to patrons of participating libraries, with no limit to the number of simultaneous users. After June 1, the book will be available to libraries for conventional acquisition and one-user-at-a-time e-lending.

It's hard to underestimate the impact this program might have. For the first time, large numbers of libraries will simultaneously introduce one book to their communities. Books are conversations, and the idea of a national conversation sparked by libraries is really exciting. (actually it's the whole world- B.L.R. is available worldwide) If the book is as good as it's supposed to be, it might race up the best-seller lists even before the Big Read is done. Or maybe the huge but brief availability will satisfy reader demand for all time, and Sourcebooks will never sell another copy ever. I'm guessing it will be the former, but I can't say for sure.

We'll all know the answers once the program ends, because Overdrive and Sourcebooks will be sharing sales and lending data from the program. Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, is well known in the book publishing industry for advocating data-driven decisions in what has traditionally been a business fueled by lore, rumor and hearsay. The Big-6 hesitance to offer ebooks to public libraries will be revealed to be either prudent or foolhardy. Should be fun!

In February, I wrote about plans for a similar program that originated in the American Library Association's Digital Content Working Group. As a member of that group, I talked to the various library ebook vendors to see if they could support such a program. Most of the people I talked to thought it was a great idea, but saw road blocks in the implementation. One vendor's system couldn't handle prices below $5 per copy. Another vendor only updated their offerings every six months. Overdrive was different. When I told Steve Potash of the effort, he immediately said they could do it. I've since found out that Overdrive was already doing similar programs on a small scale by private arrangement. Potash has told me that the ALA initiative inspired them to make their program bigger and to make the data public. I'm tickled to have had even a bit part in this.

But really, the credit should go to Overdrive, Sourcebooks, and Micheal Malone. They are using the unique attributes of digital books to do something that CAN'T be done with print books. An infinite supply of Four Corners of the Sky will be created for a short time, and later the copies will vanish. It's the library equivalent of a nationwide flashmob. And it's never been done before.

If Big Library Read is a big success, and I hope it will be, it's quite possible that an ALA version of the program can build on that success. It would be great, for example, if all libraries, not just Overdrive customers, could participate in Big Library Reads. The selection process needs to be more open and sustainable, and it needs to draw all sorts of publishers into libraries.

But let's focus on the present. If you work in an Overdrive-customer library, this is your big chance to experiment with ebooks and build new forms of community engagement. If you're a library patron with access to the book, please join me in reading it, tweet it, facebook it, and get your friends involved. Let's find out together how library ebooks can become a mass media.

With your help, we can out-Oprah Oprah!

P.S. this needs a hashtag. People are using #BigLibraryRead.
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1 comment:

  1. I read this in my blog feed, logged in to my work email from home to ask our consortium if we were doing this, and found a waiting email about this upcoming program from them. Awesome!