The Four Basic Ebook Models for K-12 Libraries

EBook between paper books
(From No Shelf Required, by )

“This is the second article in a three-part series on ebook business models in K-12 libraries. In the first article, we looked at what a business model is and at the four main kinds of ebook business models that K-12 librarians need to know about. In this article, we will look at each of the four basic models in more depth and glance at some examples of them. We will not attempt to compare product offerings in depth, but I will mention an example or two of each model. Because ebook technology is still in its early stages, the platforms and feature sets of each offering change rapidly, so any comparison is bound to be a snapshot at best.

If there is enough interest in an up-to-date comparison, I may write a series of comparison articles after this series has been completed. In the third article, I will draw some conclusions and provide links to other articles on ebooks in K-12 libraries, including some in-depth comparisons. After reading the three articles, you will be able to see how any ebook offering is based on one or more of the four basic ebook business models. This will help you decide whether or not the offering will help your library achieve its goals.

As you read, keep in mind that ebooks are not simply digital versions of printed books. Legally, they are licensed as software, so when you buy an ebook you are buying a license to use a piece of software. You are not buying a physical object. You do not own it in the same way that you would own a printed book. Technologically, they are completely different, too. While they may look like pictures of books on the screen, under the skin they are software.

On the one hand, this brings some limitations, but at the same time, it is possible to use ebook technology to empower readers in ways that cannot be done with print technology.

Balancing the ebook needs and wishes of creators, publishers, resellers, librarians, and readers has been and continues to occupy the best efforts of many professionals. Most of these professionals agree that in an ideal world information would be free, but in the real world we all need to eat so information is not free. We need multiple ebook business models for various kinds of books and for their various uses in order to accommodate everyone involved. As you think about the different ebook business models, keep in mind that each one is an attempt to balance the needs of these different groups so that all may prosper and so that our common enterprise of bringing education and culture to students and adults may flourish.

Before looking at the four main business models, I want to make clear that there are several ways of buying books that we will not consider as separate business models. These may look like unique business models, but for our purposes they are not. They use the same business models we are already planning to look at, though in different ways.

Let’s start with consortial purchasing. Your library may belong to a consortium that offers ebooks. That can be great for improving your buying power and getting you better terms, but it does not affect the business models that your suppliers use. To them, they are offering you a better deal than they would if you bought directly from them, but they are staying with the same business models. For instance, if you subscribed to a database of ebooks through your consortium, the supplier might offer you a 10% discount, but the business model would stay the same. You would still be purchasing a subscription to a database of ebooks for a specified period of time. Hence, we will not consider consortial purchasing as a separate business model.

Another apparently new business model is for publishers that have traditionally served K-12 libraries to sell directly to parents, especially to homeschoolers. While home schools may be a new market for these publishers, the publishers are not using a new business model to sell to them. They are using the same business models that they use with public and private schools.

Lastly, Amazon, Scribd and other players offer authors platforms with which to self-publish their books. Self-publishing or indie publishing is a field in itself, and we intend to write more about it. For now the key idea is that, while it is a different business model for the authors (they intend to make money by publishing and selling their books without the help of a traditional publishing company), it is not a different business model for the platform companies that provide the technology to the authors. They are selling the books with the print book model or with the subscription model. That is, you can buy a permanent license to books of your choice, or you can buy a subscription to a collection of books.”

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