Universal Loan in desLibris
Library users are frustrated by the restrictions placed on ebook lending in libraries. They have difficulty understanding why ebook access is limited to one loan per "copy;" they ask why a library cannot provide books on demand.
ebooks are available instantly and without limit in the retail world; why can this model not be applied in libraries?
The reason of course is that publishers and authors need to be paid for the use of their work.
If a library could give its patrons access to every ebook available and transmit payment to the copyright owner based on use, the problem would be solved. But libraries are not bookstores. They have difficulty with pay-per-use models.
Solutions are being developed to address the problem. But because any solution will require some form of selection and prior purchase by the library, there will be an unintended consequence, which is this:
When libraries are required to make selections, discarding some books (usually those from smaller publishers) in favour of others (usually best-sellers) the less well-known books are prevented from reaching library shelves and consequently being discovered and chosen by readers:
The catch-22 of universal access is this “prior purchase” requirement, which not only creates administrative overhead for all parties, but also forces libraries to buy quantities of current best-sellers to meet demand which evaporates as the book’s popularity wanes, and to place holds on ebooks which frustrate users.
The desLibris business model eliminates the prior-purchase requirement by adopting the principle of Universal Loan, recognizing that Libraries want to lend, and Publishers want as many readers as possible to have access to their books.
In desLibris, every qualified book* in the collection is available for lending without limit. There are no holds in the desLibris system; every book is available to every qualified reader** all the time.
There is nothing difficult about this license model; it could easily be emulated by other ebook vendors and publishers.
Why is it not? The simple answer is that size matters. Commercial publishing is dominated by the larger houses who tend to publish more popular books. So these publishers are able to set the “prior purchase” requirements which serve their needs.
The publishers represented in desLibris, however, are generally smaller firms whose lists are not well served by the prior-purchase model.
These publishers have chosen exposure over immediate revenue, and it is this decision which enables us to offer the copyright content in desLibris to libraries under the “universal loan” model.
*What's a qualified book? It is, of course, the publisher’s right to withhold a particular title from the model, and this is why not all titles visible in preview mode on the site are available for borrowing. In those cases, links to bookstores, publishers’ websites and WorldCat give the patron a way of purchasing the book or finding it in another library.
**What's a qualified reader?
desLibris uses IP authentication to identify and allow access to only those users who access the site from the IP address of a library which has taken out a membership. All readers can see and reference the public site, but only authenticated readers can view fulltext online and borrow books.
How does desLibris pay publishers?
Libraries pay an annual fee for Universal Loan which is based on population served. We allocate 70% of this amount to a revenue-sharing Pool, which is distributed to publishers using an algorithm taking into account list price and number of loans.