However, despite the fact that a physical library does indeed work for materials exactly like Netflix does for movies, a new service has been developed.
Dubbed "Netflix for Books" is Oyster. If offers a subscription based service offering unlimited access for a monthly fee. A mere $9.95 USD a month allows you to browse and download eBooks from their entire catalogue of over 100,000 titles, including bestsellers, new releases and more. The titles are available via an app on Apple mobile devices (iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch with iOS 7 or greater). Android and Blackberry users are currently out of luck.
A similar service, Scribd, advertises that you can read unlimited books for only $8.99 USD. According to the website, they offer 40 million free books and documents, and claim to be bigger than the Library of Congress. Unlike Oyster, both Apple and Android devices are compatible.
Both offer free month trials.
Before I go on sounding like a commercial, I should say that Oyster is a new service, having only been launched about 4 months ago, while Scribd has been around since 2007. And both are gaining momentum with advertising and word of mouth.
So how does Oyster or Scribd become relevant for libraries? Should libraries promote these monthly pay services to their patrons?
With Oyster, because the company is so new, there does not appear to be any discussion of a library version nor does their appear to be one for Scribd. However, there are plenty of up and coming eBook services like 3M's Cloud Library and Baker and Taylor's Axis 360. This will mean OverDrive is no longer the only eBook provider on the block, and libraries will hopefully have more options. Competition is always a good thing.
There is no doubt that many libraries are having difficulty keeping up with the demands for eBooks. Simultaneous usage eBook subscriptions are still often unaffordable for most libraries, or the titles to select from are often less desirable. The purchasing price alone of eBooks is considerable, and has had a huge impact on budgets. Yet people want more and more! Given that a library is there to serve the community, if a patron came to your desk needing eBooks but everything they wanted was unavailable because it was either signed out or not in the catalogue, would you feel comfortable pointing out a monthly pay service like Oyster or Scribd?
It begs the question...is a happy patron more important than download stats?
Oyster & Scribd in the news:
- How the "Netflix of books" won over the publishing industry (Cnet.com)
- Scribd Burned by Kind Fire? (Digital Book World)
- Oyster soaks up $14M to bring Netflix Model to eBooks (Venture Beat)
- Big Data's next frontier: Crowd-testing fiction (Salon.com)
- Tech world wants subscriptions to replace bookstores (SFGate)