or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Freading Ebook Library from Library Ideas, LLC

   February 8th, 2012

Freading: a new look at library lendingLast week, a salesman from Library Ideas, LLC, came to demo their new ebook product, Freading. This is the same company that has the DRM-free music download product Freegal, so I was curious to hear their approach to ebooks (tl;dr version is their excellent FAQ).

Ebooks are more popular than ever in my library, and our Overdrive ebook catalog (which we share with 36 other libraries in my consortium) just cannot keep up. Patrons are disappointed that everything they want to read isn't available for immediate download (either because the publishers won't deal with Overdrive or because other patrons already have that ebook checked out).

And that's how Freading is different: instead of the Overdrive model of building your library ebook collection by purchasing one ebook that only one person can use at a time, the Freading model gives immediate access to their entire 15,000+ ebooks, and any number of patrons can download the same ebook at the same time.

A Better Model?
I really like this model much more than Overdrive, because patrons never have to wait for books, and right off the bat you're offering a huge collection. Although there is the question of sustainable cost, which I'll get to later.

They also have a lot of kids books - at least, more than we currently offer with Overdrive.

Another huge plus is that I find the interface and whole download process way easier than Overdrive. You can check it out at http://freading.com - it's not the most elegant interface, but the process really is just three steps:

  1. Search for an ebook
  2. Click to view the ebook details (title, author, summary, etc)
  3. Click to download (all are epub, some are also pdf)

Yay for not having to "add to bookbag" first, and all the other extra steps.

Multiple authentication methods are available, so there is also the step of the patron entering their library card number. Then, downloaded ebooks go through Adobe Digital Editions just like Overdrive, and patrons would use that to transfer to their devices (or their app for smartphones and tablets).

Some Drawbacks
One major drawback is that it doesn't work with the old-style Kindles, but it does work with Kindle Fire and pretty much any other ereader. This is almost a deal-breaker, as about 70% of the people I've been helping use basic Kindles.

Another drawback is that they don't have books from the major publishers in there. They do have books from 45 publishers, but I searched for our most popular Overdrive ebooks, and none of them were in Freading. So at best, this would be a supplement to Overdrive, until the bigger publishers get on board.

Which, according to the salesman, is just a matter of time, because of the payment model Freading uses. In their model, libraries will be paying every time an ebook is downloaded (rather than buy it once and use it indefinitely like Overdrive [except for HarperCollins]), so theoretically the publishers stand to make more money this way.

Side note: check out Cory Doctorow's American Libraries article on revamping copyright, and also the White House petition to reform U.S. copyright law in regard to libraries. (via)

Something else is that, even though I like their interface, it amounts to being yet one more place patrons need to check to cover all their bases. I asked about MARC records to put in our main ILS catalog, (which we do for ebooks from Overdrive and Safari), to make it easier for patrons to find the ebooks we have access to. The salesman said they can do it, but it's still in process and should be available by PLA in March. But then there's the question of whether we want to dump 15,000+ new records into the catalog, on the off-chance someone might want it.

Pay-Per-Download Model
Within Freading, "paying" for downloads all happens on a "token" system. A token is $0.50, and it takes different amounts of tokens to download different types of books. Their breakdown is:

Ebook Type #tokens/download Renewal
Ebooks published less than 6 months ago* 4 tokens ($2.00) once for 1 token ($0.50)
Ebooks 7 months - 2 years old 2 tokens ($1.00) once for free
Ebooks older than 2 years 1 token ($0.50) once for free
*Publishers do make exceptions for bestsellers or popular books - the example he gave was Water for Elephants which, although it is more than 2 years old, is still a 4 token book.

Patrons would each get, say, 5 tokens a week (this can be adjusted by the library). Unused tokens continue to rollover for 4 weeks, and then are lost (so if you had 1 token left after week one, week two you'd have 6 tokens, but week one's extra token, if not used, would disappear in week five). Libraries can also cap the total number of tokens their patrons can spend a month, to control how much money the library spends.

I looked into my library's Overdrive stats for Jul-Dec 2011. We averaged about 356 downloads a month. If the 4/2/1 token breakdown is averaged at 2 tokens, that means we'd be spending about $356/month on downloads, or about $4200/year. It's hard to estimate, because I think Overdrive stats are way down because so many people are on waiting lists, but if Freading doesn't have a lot of the popular titles that Overdrive has anyway, then it might be a wash (not to mention subtracting out all the Kindle users).

The other cost to factor in is a one-time setup fee of $150. After that, libraries only pay for downloads, not a platform fee or annual subscription or anything else.

How it Works for Patrons
Once someone does download a title, they have it for 2 weeks, and then it automatically expires (like Overdrive). At any point after that 2 weeks, the patron can renew the book once (whether it be immediately after the first two weeks, or months later - and see table above for renewal costs). After the one renewal though, the price goes back to regular, and they would need to spend more tokens to check it out a third time.

We haven't decided whether or not we'll go with this product, but I certainly think they have a lot in their favor. The salesman said three libraries in Connecticut are already running it (http://www.westportlibrary.org is one), and I found an article saying their count is up to 50 and lists some other libraries.

And again, check out their FAQ for more information on how it works. Hopefully I got all the details right, but please weigh in if your library is using this - or NetLibrary, or any other ebook service.

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17 Responses to “Freading Ebook Library from Library Ideas, LLC”

  1. ksol Says:

    Wyoming is just starting up with Freading:

  2. Jeff Scott Says:

    I remember talking to them about their music service. I wasn’t willing to pay the price since it was equivalent to some of our larger databases. Pay per click will work for many where the circulation is low, but will seem to come back to bite them when it takes off. I’m not a fan of price fluctuations when it comes to budgets so I passed. Still watching what they do though, thanks for the thorough review.

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @ksol: nice write-up – I’ll check back next week to see how it gets integrated into the website.

    @Jeff: I agree, Freegal didn’t make sense to me either – it seemed the equivalent of giving out itunes gift cards. A cap will help keep costs under control, but I think it’ll naturally work better with ebooks than music. Three songs a week is just whetting someone’s appetite, but two ebooks a week seems much more realistic. Especially since the ebooks expire, unlike the keep-what-you-use music from Freegal.

  4. Julie Says:

    Thank you for sharing as I was not aware of this product!

  5. Keith Says:

    Is Freegle DRM-free? If so, converting .epub books to .azw would be simple.

  6. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Julie: You’re welcome – I had never heard of it either until the salesman called out of the blue one day.

    @Keith: I don’t think so – their ebooks expire after two weeks (and then remember you get one renewal). I’m not sure what kind of DRM they’re using, but since it requires Adobe Digital Editions to unlock it, like Overdrive books, they probably can’t easily (or legally?) be converted to .azw format.

  7. Cheryl Says:

    The service sounded excellent in theory, especially after 6 months of hype and promises. However, not impressed: weak app, cumbersome download processes stemming from weak app, slim selection, undeveloped interface with no customization options.

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Cheryl – Hi Cheryl. I’m sorry to hear about the problems. I haven’t seen the app, but you’re right, I like their theory, so hopefully they’ll start improving.

  9. philip willems Says:

    Just got a mail saying penguin will stop library e-book lending and relationship with overdrive

  10. Aunt Lee Says:

    Free e-books are available online as well.

    Thought you might like to know about a website devoted to helping people figure out the whole e-book deal.

    Aunt Lee’s Obsessive Meta Search Engine for Free Books – http://www.auntlee.com/ebooks/

    There’s a meta-search engine that searches 20 free e-book sites at once (sites that don’t require registration — just go and download). There are tutorials on building an e-library, and links to good sites with e-books both for free and for purchase.

  11. Links of interest : March 16th, 2012 « A Modern Hypatia Says:

    […] talks about Freading, an ebook equivalent to Freegal for ebooks (basic difference from Overdrive: you get access to all […]

  12. SnowdogHERA Says:

    Just a reminder that the Kindle Fire is not an e-reader. It is a tablet that happens to let you read books on it. It does not have e-ink or Pearl Technology as Amazon calls it.

    With regard to Freading, I will watch and wait. We need to solve the publisher problem first. Once they get their act together (and the librarians will have to keep at them), then I will look at various methods of elending.

  13. Brian Herzog Says:

    @SnowdogHERA: that’s true. Sadly, the tablets are actually easier to use with Overdrive, it seems, than the ereaders are. But then, Overdrive is just difficult from start to finish. You’re also right about the publisher business model problem. The friction is the DRM, and their desire to go direct-to-consumer and cut everyone else out. But remember that most business are driven by fear and greed, which is pretty much the opposite of libraries, so I do think it will get better, but only when there are no other options.

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  15. The Growing Pains of E-Books « Jenny Arch Says:

    […] are other models out there: Brian Herzog (a.k.a. the Swiss Army Librarian) explains a newer platform called Freading, a token-based system that eliminates waiting lists. The main catch is that Freading’s […]

  16. Neena Says:

    Our library does offer the Freading service – and I have to say that after much anticipation, it has been disappointing.

    Mainly, due to the limited selection. Due to time constraints, I like to read mainly books from the bestseller lists which are not on Freading.

    There are also technical hoops to jump through, as I imagine there are with Overdrive so in the end the effort doesn’t justify the selection.

    I hope that they will be expanding the publishers that they work with in the future – and I know in this regard their hands are tied until they can reach an agreement. But in the meantime, I guess I will just borrow my books the good, old fashioned way.

    Thank you for your thorough article – it really gave me some insights into how the service works behind the scenes.

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