In response to feedback from librarians and their patrons, digital content distributor OverDrive will soon roll out several “next generation” features that will make ebooks easier to access and catalog, and will make audiobooks easier to sample and download, according to Steve Potash, president and chief executive officer of the Cleveland-based company.
“We are going live with…one new partner and one new service to automate and reduce the time and cost for MARC records,” Potash explained during a June 14 meeting with LJ and SLJ staff.
The new partner is The Library Corporation (TLC), Inwood, WV which has been testing a program that pairs its eBiblioFile service with Overdrive’s acquisition interface at 50 libraries. The feature is expected to be available to all OverDrive customers by July.
“When you are selecting titles in your OverDrive account, adding new lists or materials, you can check a box, and TLC—in many cases within 24 to 48 hours—will deliver customized MARC. And they are doing it at a value price,” Potash said.
In addition, OverDrive will soon launch a new, free MARC record service called MARC Express, which will generate minimal, basic MARC records immediately, using information supplied by publishers.
“It’s not going to serve the needs of anyone who wants customized MARC, but it [will be] in many cases, a placeholder,” Potash said. “We needed to create that service for the [Application Programming Interface] API users out there. Now that we’re putting out APIs to adjust our catalog, check availability, we had to create a more scalable bib record service.”
OCLC will remain “a very important cataloging partner” to OverDrive and many of its customers, Potash said. But, he noted that the OCLC was facing challenges keeping pace with the sheer volume of ebook content that is currently being produced, and said that turnaround time for customized MARC records has been a recurring complaint among many OverDrive customers.
“We’ve got to be thankful for [OCLC], because every week now, I’m giving them, like, 13,000 Cyrillic Russian ebooks,” Potash said.
In addition, the APIs that OverDrive will be releasing will allow libraries more options to customize how their patrons access OverDrive-licensed content—including options that won’t require patrons to be directed away from a library’s OPAC to read that content.
“We’re releasing, in July, the first three APIs,” Potash said. “That’s going to be metadata, so people can get our catalog, and get the benefit of [book] covers, and bib records, and samples. …The second one is the availability API, so you know the status of how many copies, how many on the shelf, how many holds, what the wait list is. The third is a search API, so you can utilize this new Google-esqe search platform [with predictive search capabilities] for third parties that want to do a little front-end [interface] but they don’t have their own search infrastructure.”
Later this year, OverDrive will add another wave of APIs, including a content API that will enable users to place holds, add to wishlists, perform checkouts and returns, and other functions through their library’s own user interfaces if the library prefers to set it up that way, Potash said.
These enhancements are paired with additional new features designed to improve patrons’ downloading experiences with audiobooks and ebooks, all of which fit under OverDrive’s “next generation” umbrella.
In late May, the company announced that it would soon launch a new browser-based ebook platform called “OverDrive Read,” which promises to enable readers to read ebooks using any device with a standard web browser and Internet connection—including computers, mobile phones and tablets—without installing additional software or activating a dedicated device. The platform is based on HTML 5 and EPUB open standards, and technology pioneered by Australian ebook firm Booki.sh, which OverDrive acquired in March.
And, this week, the company announced plans to update its audiobook download services with “Listen Now” streaming options that will allow readers to instantly “See Book—Hear Book.” This will enable readers to sample excerpts or listen to complete books without first downloading an entire title. This “Listen Now” feature will complement—not replace—the audiobook download option. Both OverDrive Read and Listen Now features for ebooks will not cost extra for OverDrive’s customers.
Streaming audiobooks and browser-based ebooks will also enhance the patron’s experience with new OverDrive Media Stations, a new interface that uses Internet workstations or touchscreen monitors to offer patrons an easy way access a library’s digital selection of content. All of these new features will be showcased and demonstrated at the upcoming ALA Conference in Anaheim next week.
Potash also expressed optimism regarding future ebook availability from the “big six” publishing houses. Data from consumer surveys such as LJ’s own Patron Profiles series, as well as data from OverDrive surveys, their “buy it now” buttons, the American Library Association, and even Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL), are getting noticed by publishers, he said. These data consistently indicate that ebook borrowers are also regular ebook buyers, and that by allowing lending, publishers have an opportunity to market their backlists and turn readers on to new authors.
Speaking specifically about KOLL, Potash said, “right now, it is helping me prove the point that discovery and borrowing of digital books lifts sales, lifts exposure, [and] increases reach. Right now…with their [one-per-month ebook lending] limitation, they are now putting data out about how books that are in their lending library spike purchases of digital, spike purchases of print, and then elevate that author’s activity.”