I've been following the comment thread on this fascinating post on Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA) on Scholarly Kitchen. It raises some really interesting arguments that I'd like to explore about how college librarians here in the US and scholarly publishers are dealing with the challenges raised by the growth of e-books, and demand among students for e-lending, particularly for required course texts.The main thrust of the argument here is that libraries are often ill-equipped to deal with demand for texts designated by course leaders as required reading, as they only have licenses to lend a few electronic copies of the e-book at any one time. Here one of the key advantages of e-books, as virtual products whose availability can be scaled almost infinitely in line with demand, is curtailed by the current licensing model, which makes it difficult for librarians to put books on reserve.

Reading this post it occurred to me that there are two ways that scholarly publishers could help librarians solve this problem: -


1. Introduce tiered pricing for e-book access

Tiered pricing models were one way that journal publishers overcame the challenge of how to meet varying levels of demand for access after journals started appearing online, particularly for institutional customers such as university libraries. It might not seem so now we're used to it, but pegging the amount libraries pay for online journal access  to the size of the institution and the number of users was an innovative move at the time which enabled many librarians to balance access against cost. by introducing similar structures, textbook and scholarly publishers could accomplish the tricky feat of meeting the evolving needs of librarians while creating a way to protect their revenues in a more patron-driven world.

2. Don't just depend on one aggregator

After I began to look more closely at the complaints from librarians about not being able to put ebooks on ereserve, I began to wonder whether this was less a problem with the limitations of multi-use licenses themselves than with how they're being sold.

In my experience many scholarly publishers do not often have direct contact with librarians, and depend on ebook aggregators to deliver their product into libraries. So far this model has been successful insofar as aggregators have enabled libraries to begin building e-book collections, while publishers without their own online publishing platforms haven't lost out on this revenue. The downside is that many aggregators' licensing models can themselves be limited by publishers' lack of knowledge or even fear of e-books. Thus aggregators are obliged to put strict limits on the use of e-books, and this makes it difficult to scale their availability to users according with demand.

The answer to this problem is for scholarly publishers to realise that no single aggregator is going to solve all of their problems, and engage with multiple aggregators or make content available via their own online platform. Though this multi-channel approach does represent more work upfront, it represents a critical part of engaging directly with librarians - the key market for scholarly publishers - and for preventing those books that cross academic, trade and other markets from falling through the cracks.

What do you think about this issue? Leave your comments in the comment box below, or continue the conversation over at The Scholarly Kitchen.