How To Compare e-Book Platforms – Part III

This is the final installment in a three-post series on comparing different e-Book offerings. The first, How To Compare e-Book Platforms – Part I looked at technical and content requirements and the second, How To Compare e-Book Platforms – Part II discussed functionality and sales models.


Sales/Pricing Model

These are some additional questions you’ll want to ask about each vendor’s pricing model.

  • Perpetual access? With many e-Book packages you are paying for a subscription, while others offer you the ability to purchase individual books. You’ll want to know if you will have perpetual access to those books even if you no longer subscribe to their service.
  • Individual eBook Purchases vs. Subscriptions? Some packages come with instant access to thousands of e-Books which are all included in a flat subscription rate. The important thing to know about this strategy, however is that your library does not own any of the books and they can often be accessed by only one reader at a time.
  • Free viewing period? Many e-Book vendors offer a free viewing period of 10 minutes or X amount of pages before the book is officially checked out to the patron. Likewise they will also often allow librarians and staff to view titles for a short time in order to make purchase decisions.
  • Short term loans? Short term loans – aka STL aka pay per use aka pay per view – are in essence renting an e-Book rather than buying it. Patrons can borrow titles from the aggregator’s catalog that the library doesn’t own for a short term period such as 1-28 days (with prices escalating according to the number of days). The library is charged for a rental of the book and it costs the library less than buying the book – this can range anywhere from 5%-30% of the title price.
  • Patron-driven acquisitions? PDA aka Demand-Driven Acquisitions (DDA) – The idea behind this is that libraries can offer their users access to a very large collection of e-Books that they haven’t actually bought yet and make their purchase decisions based on what their patrons want and need. The way it works is that the library provides access to a customized range of hundreds or thousands of titles which they decide upon based on all sorts of criteria such as price, publisher, subject area, call number, etc. What happens next is the library can set up either mediated or unmediated access to those books. So if a patrons wants access to a book, a mediated request can be sent to the library and they have an option to purchase the book for the patron, OR the patron can get an unmediated STL and the library can set it up so that the book is purchased automatically after a certain number of STL’s of the book occurs. EBL refers to this as “just in time” collection development.
  • “Non-linear lending” - The EBL aggregator has a unique offering called non-linear lending. While some e-Book vendors only provide single user access to e-Books so only one user can download and use each e-Book at a time, EBL’s e-Books are available to unlimited users simultaneously. Usage is limited to a total number of loan days per year which 325 days. After that the library must either purchase another copy or just make it available via STL. So for example if 5 people check out the same book for a 10 day loan period, that’s 50 out of the 325 days that the book is eligible to be loaned out.
  • Minimum commitment? Some vendors do require a minimum yearly commitment that you’ll want to know about at the outset.
  • Pricing discounts for consortia? Many vendors have arrangements with local library consortia, you’ll want to ask if you’re eligible for these discounted rates.

Further Resources

There is an excellent downloadable spreadsheet with all of these criteria, comparing four of the major e-Book aggregators that was created by the folks at Wellesley College. And you may also want to take a look at Sue Polanka’s outstanding Library Technology Reports – The No Shelf Required Guide to E-book Purchasing.

You may also check out my related post, 4 Ways to Select e-Books for Your Library.