The problem with most library e-book systems is that there are invariably more patrons who want to check a book out than there are virtual “copies” on the library’s digital shelves. This can lead to patrons sitting on a waiting list until such time as enough people who’ve checked the book out can turn it in for it to get around to them.
But what if there was a different way? Publishers Weekly reports on media company Midwest Tape’s “Hoopla” media lending platform, which launched last year to allow lending of movies, music, audiobooks, and TV shows. The service is now expanding to incorporate e-books. Hoopla works on a transactional basis, which means e-books are constantly available with no limit to quantity, and the publisher gets paid each time a book is checked out, but only when a book is checked out.
Librarians who have used the system give it high marks. The system does have the disadvantage that if particular items become popular, it could run up a lot of fees for the library. But on the other hand, the library doesn’t have to pay anything for things that aren’t checked out. This means no spending precious library budget on e-books that linger unused in the digital stacks—but the books are still available if patrons do want them. And Midwest Tape’s VP in charge of Hoopla, Jeff Jankowski ,says that there are tools available to help librarians manage the service and make budget decisions.
Hoopla apparently doesn’t actually have any e-books lined up yet for the service, but is in talks with a number of publishers including all the majors, and will be demonstrating the service at BookExpo America.
I think it sounds like a very interesting idea, and I’ve sent in a note to my local public library to ask them to look into using the service themselves. If nothing else, it will certainly be an alternative to those limited-number-of-checkout library e-books that some publishers have been pushing. Will publishers be inclined to allow transactional checkouts if they get paid each time? How much will the payment be? These things are unclear just yet. But this is certainly a service that bears watching.