Soon library patrons around the country may see a message something like this: “Want to borrow this book? Click here to ask your library to buy it.” That’s because OverDrive, probably the single biggest e-book distributor to libraries, is expanding its patron list to include hundreds of thousands more titles in something called the WIN (Want It Now) catalog. A pilot will debut shortly in just a few systems, according to OverDrive director of marketing David Burleigh.
OverDrive first announced the concept at the American Library Association Annual Conference in June 2011 and went into more detail in October 2011, during the Frankfurt Book Fair, as LJ reported.
The catalog will include offerings from hundreds of publishers including Random House, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lonely Planet, Thomas Nelson and Nickelodeon. However, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and other publishers who don’t offer downloads to libraries are not participating.
OverDrive CEO Steve Potash told the Associated Press, “Right now, we have librarians who are trying to add books to the e-catalog but don’t always know what to add. Now, by exposing a publisher’s entire list, it becomes like crowdsourcing, where patrons can offer their suggestions.”
OverDrive isn’t sure yet how many or which systems will take part in the initial pilot testing of WIN, according to Burleigh. However likely candidates include New York City, Boston and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which are already testing the Buy It Now feature.
Libraries have the choice of whether to put the WIN option on their website or not. For those that do, patrons will have three choices: to search what the library is holding, to search only what’s available now, or to search the WIN catalog, effectively giving them access to all 600,000-700,000 of OverDrive’s titles. Patrons viewing titles that are in the WIN catalog but not their library’s current holdings can view DRM-free excerpts, purchase the book from a retailer or ask their library add the title, according to Burleigh.
To request that a library add a title, they must be logged in and registered, which means they must have a card at that particular library. A manager for handling those patron recommendations will also be rolling out in the next few weeks, according to Burleigh, which will include different auto-acquisition options, though of course libraries also have the option to handle it manually.
If patrons choose the Buy It Now option, after each sale referred by a library, the retailer will pay a percentage of the sale to OverDrive, Burleigh said. (The percentage will vary from retailer to retailer.) The referring library will be able to apply a credit for the entire amount of that fee toward its OverDrive collection. OverDrive’s LibraryBIN service has offered ebooks for sale since 2009, with a portion of proceeds going to libraries as credits, but it uses its own dedicated site and does not feature publishers’ complete lists.
Michael Colford, director of library services for the Boston Public Library, was enthusiastic about the prospect of Want It Now. According to the AP, he said, “There are books which we obviously need, like current best-sellers, but there are a lot more books which aren’t surefire hits. And we would have a much better idea of what to get if our customers were able to tell us.”
OverDrive also added new features to the latest Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone versions of its OverDrive Media Console mobile app on February 6, including dictionary look-up for ebooks and new audiobook-related features.
The dictionary look-up feature allows users to get definitions for words in ebooks they are reading on their devices. Another new feature is the ability to “return” checked-out audiobook titles before the expiration of the lending period, long a feature of OverDrive ebooks. Both features are currently unavailable for iOS devices (such as iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches), but both are in the works, according to the announcements.
Other new features include an audiobook sleep-timer, which automatically turns off an audiobook after a given time period, and ebook “orientation lock,” which allows users to rotate the phone without the text automatically switching to horizontal or vertical mode.
OverDrive has about 40,000 audiobooks in its catalog. In January, as LJ reported, publisher Penguin Group suspended availability of its download audiobook titles for library purchase across all vendors, including OverDrive, affecting all titles released after November 14, 2011. Brilliance Audio ended availability of its download titles for libraries at the end of last month.
Last month, OverDrive reported that 35 million of its digital titles were checked out in 2011, up from 15 million the previous year, with 22 percent of checkouts via mobile devices.