Web Excursions 2021-09-07

An App Called Libby and the Surprisingly Big Business of Library E-Books

  • The first-sale doctrine does not apply to digital content.

    • For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—

      • they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive, and people like Steve Potash sell lending rights to libraries.

    • These rights often have an expiration date, and they make library e-books “a lot more expensive, in general, than print books,”

  • The vast majority of OverDrive’s earnings come from markups on the digital content that it licenses to libraries and schools,

    • which is to say that these earnings come largely from American taxes

  • Rakuten, the maker of the Kobo e-reader, bought OverDrive for more than four hundred million dollars, in 2015.

    • Last year, it sold the company to K.K.R., the private-equity firm made famous by the 1989 book “Barbarians at the Gate.”

    • The details of the sale were not made public, but Rakuten reported a profit of “about $365.6 million.”

  • last year, more than a hundred library systems checked out a million or more books each from OverDrive’s catalogue, and

    • the company reported a staggering four hundred and thirty million checkouts,

    • up a third from the year before

  • gradually, the Big Six began to sell digital rights to libraries under a “one copy, one user” model.

    • As soon as one reader returned an e-book, a second reader could check it out, and so on, with no expiration date

  • In 2011, HarperCollins introduced a new lending model that was capped at twenty-six checkouts,

    • after which a library would need to purchase the book again.

    • Publishers soon introduced other variations, from

      • two-year licenses to

      • copies that multiple readers could use at one time,

      • which boosted their revenue and allowed libraries to buy different kinds of books in different ways.

    • For a classic work,

      • which readers were likely to check out steadily for years to come,

      • a library might purchase a handful of expensive perpetual licenses.

    • With a flashy best-seller,

      • which could be expected to lose steam over time,

      • the library might buy a large number of cheaper licenses that would expire relatively quickly.

  • OverDrive’s influence is an important counterweight to the largest publishers and to Amazon,

    • which dominates the consumer e-book market and operates as a publisher in its own right.

    • Amazon did not make its own e-books available to libraries

      • until May, when it announced a deal with the Digital Public Library of America

  • Libraries now pay OverDrive and its peers for a wide range of digital services,

    • from negotiating prices with publishers

    • to managing an increasingly complex system of digital right

  • At that point, the library system

    • had purchased three hundred and ten perpetual audiobook licenses at ninety-five dollars each, for a total of $29,450, and

    • had bought six hundred and thirty-nine one- and two-year licenses for the e-book, for a total of $22,512.

    • Taken together, these digital rights cost about as much as three thousand copies of the consumer e-book,

      • which sells for about eighteen dollars per copy

  • Audible, which is owned by Amazon, has already made listening to books more like streaming,

    • with subscribers gaining access to a shifting catalogue of audiobooks that they do not need to buy separately

  • Maybe readers will expect books to feel more like Web sites, and

    • an infinite scroll will replace the turn of the page,

    • as it has in the digital magazine you are reading now.

    • Perhaps readers will want images and videos to be woven seamlessly into the text, requiring a new format.


Let’s Consider Some of the Implications of Third-Party Payment Processing for In-App Purchasing on iOS and Android

  • If Apple winds up acceding to these demands for third-party in-app payment providers —

    • whether nation-by-nation as legislation passes, or by washing their hands of the entire controversy and making a worldwide policy change —

    • I really hope they add APIs and mandate the use of them

    • such that however you pay in-app,

      • any subscription made in-app must show up in this list, and

      • the provider must support no-hassle cancellation from within the system interface.

    • Renewal receipts and upcoming renewal reminders should be mandatory, too