After a tough few years of lagging budgets, e-book battles, and questions about their future, there was a palpable sense of momentum among librarians at the American Library Association’s 2013 Midwinter Meeting held January 25–29 in Seattle.

In all, 10,731 attended the conference (6,694 attendees; 4,037 exhibitors), up significantly from the 9,929 at last year’s show in Dallas, and the highest total since 2010, when 11,095 were at the meeting in Boston. The spike in attendance was particularly impressive considering the long haul for many to the Pacific Northwest, and that the upcoming annual conference is in Chicago, ALA’s hometown, which is a popular, centrally located venue. Notably, there was also a pronounced spike in exhibitor attendance—344 more vendor personnel came to Seattle than went to Dallas in 2012, and a hefty 976 more than 2011 in San Diego, Calif.—hopefully a sign that the economy and library budgets might at last be rebounding.

E-book Developments

As expected, the e-book issue once again loomed large over the show, with a number of packed sessions on the topic of e-books and libraries. Unlike last year, however, when library/publisher relations were growing contentious over e-books, there were signs of progress in Seattle, as well as plenty of library innovation and resolve in evidence.

As the meeting began, ALA president Maureen Sullivan applauded the announcement of Macmillan’s new e-book pilot project, saying she was glad the publisher, one of the last big six publisher holdouts, was at last “willing to try new business models in collaboration with libraries.” She called the pilot “an important development in our evolving relationship with publishers and intermediaries.” Reaction among librarians on the show floor, however, was cooler, given that the program has yet to be implemented and evaluated.

Random House, meanwhile, announced a deal with Ingram to lend its titles through the vendor’s MyiLibrary platform, highlighting another point of progress in the e-book realm. Not quite two years ago, OverDrive was virtually the only game in town for e-book lending. With its latest announcement, Random House now offers its titles through four services (Ingram, OverDrive, B&T, and 3M). Certainly, these companies would not be investing in the library e-book space if they didn’t see a future in it. While librarians welcome the competition for servicing their business, questions linger: just how many services can a library accommodate? And, more to the point, how many services and plug-ins should patrons have to navigate?

Moving Goalposts?

The ALA Digital Content Working Group session updated librarians on its recent efforts, including the release last week of a “scorecard” for evaluating business models. That was followed by a panel that highlighted both the progress and the tension in the e-book space, featuring B&T’s George Coe, 3M’s Matt Tempelis, and Douglas County (Colo.) librarian Jamie LaRue, who is pioneering a library-based e-book platform.

“I’m bullish,” Tempelis told the standing-room-only audience about the future of e-books in libraries. “We’ve seen a lot of progress in the last couple of years. We now have five out of the six [big six publishers] engaged in some way in the library, and we believe we will see progress with those not yet in the market.” Coe echoed those sentiments, suggesting that there will soon be an array of new business models, including “short-term loan,” although he threw cold water on the idea of “simultaneous access” models.

LaRue then sketched a more idealistic, library-oriented view of the future. While he suggested that the current vendor models are suitable for serving up popular bestseller content, he said the fundamental e-book distribution model now in play for libraries was wrong. He advocated for libraries moving away from serving the “consumer community” toward serving “the content creator community.” And, he added, libraries needed ownership of e-books.

Appearing on another panel, LaRue detailed the e-book program he and his staff have created at Douglas County Library, in which they negotiate directly with over 800 publishers as well as authors. DCL, he noted, has invested over $100,000 in an Adobe Content Server, and another $90,000 in programming. The library negotiates a 45% discount with independent publishers, and, overall, DCL has spent $700,000 on over 35,000 titles, he said, including content licensed through OverDrive and 3M. The DCL e-book collection features 14,000 titles licensed from commercial vendors; 11,000 titles purchased from indie publishers; and 10,000 self-published titles.

Recent progress notwithstanding, LaRue said DCL’s e-book solution is a necessary response to the big six publishers, who either offer models the library finds unacceptable—or refuse to negotiate with libraries at all. “I believe in the transformative power of story,” he said. “And, today that access to story is being locked down.”

Big-Six Library E-book Policies at a Glance


Hachette has discontinued e-book sales to libraries for titles published after April 2010, but still offers 3,500 backlist titles through OverDrive. Titles purchased through OverDrive do not expire and are not lend-limited, but recently the publisher roughly doubled prices. In addition, the publisher is engaged in a pilot project with two unnamed vendors.


HarperCollins offers its entire catalogue for sale to libraries, and titles are distributed by OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, and 3M. Purchased titles are limited to 26 lends per copy, after which the title must be re-icensed—however, e-books relicensed after 26 lends are discounted heavily.


Just before ALA Midwinter, Macmillan announced a pilot program that will begin later this quarter. Under the program, some 1,200 titles will be available from the publisher’s Minotaur imprint through OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, and 3M. All titles will be available for two years or 52 lends, whichever comes first, and are loaned one-copy-per-user. Books are sold under the agency model, and all titles will have the same digital list price: $25.


Penguin is currently engaged in an e-book pilot project with a limited number of library partners in and around New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and Los Angeles. Titles are distributed by Baker & Taylor and 3M—market leader OverDrive remains iced out after Penguin dumped it in late 2011 over the vendor’s deal with Amazon to lend Kindle e-books. Under the pilot, new titles are windowed for six months, and all titles expire after one year, regardless of the number of lends.

Random House

Random offers its entire catalogue through OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, 3M, and now Ingram (which was announced just before the 2013 ALA Midwinter Meeting). Titles do not expire (they are sold as perpetual access) nor are they lend-limited. But prices can run as high as five to six times the consumer price.

Simon & Schuster

The final holdout, S&S does not license e-books to libraries.