Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 4: Supplying and Collecting Books: An Uneasy Metamorphosis

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 4: Supplying and Collecting Books: An Uneasy Metamorphosis

Article excerpt

Author's Note

This article was first published in eContent Quarterly (September 2013). The central discussion still stands although some of the numbers have changed. As of June 2015, YBP digital book sales have exceeded 25 percent of total sales--up from 15 percent two years ago. The rate of growth has slowed and changed character. More book content than ever is being distributed to academic libraries, but the size of the revenue pie has shrunk significantly. Over the past four years, YBP has distributed $1,000,000,000 in "free books"--a term some publishers have begun to use to describe demand-driven acquisitions (DDA) records owing to very low "trigger" or purchase rates. DDA "records" provide access to the entire text and are not simple MARC records as the name might suggest.

Jane Schmidt, manager of the Collection Services Team at Ryerson University, has written an excellent article defining the value of DDA in conjunction with (and in the face of) other means of making monograph content available. She notes, "If DDA is a disruptive technology for the collections librarian, it has the potential to be fundamentally altering for publishers." (1)

As I wrote in the original paper, "More content is accessible to patrons, less is being purchased, and publisher and vendor margins are much thinner on eContent owing both to the costs of new digital infrastructure and more partnerships among which to share the diminishing margins. This poses critical challenges for publishers and book vendors."

On average, publishers have seen declines in excess of 20 percent in unit sales and 10 percent in revenue since four years ago. Print sales have diminished by over 25 percent, while digital has increased by more than 100 percent. Though print losses far outweigh digital gains, the equation might be seen as sustainable if the pattern were moving ultimately toward replacement of print revenue with digital and if library budgets were believed to be stable. The transformation of content distribution, combined with trends in institutional change, strongly suggest that neither of these are likely. Over the past year, most publishers have seen slowing growth rates in most digital sales categories and, for the first time, declines in some types of digital sales. This has raised serious concerns among publishers and vendors regarding the sustainability of current models for DDA, and particularly for STL. Looking at the four-year growth of digital sales in isolation does not accurately render the developing trends.

Mergers and acquisitions have continued at an aggressive pace, shifting relationships and opportunities for partnership. Two notions have changed substantially from the original paper: (1) hope in partnership, and (2) the shape of "the library" going forward. Anxiety, acrimony, and partisanship have filled the space for dispassionate discussion and so for the best opportunities for partnership. Focus on short-term and parochial issues has obscured long-term perspective. And secondly, the mission and shape of libraries is undergoing an "uneasy metamorphosis" that places its relationships with publishers and vendors on shifting sands. Carl Straumsheim published an article in Inside Higher Ed last December that captured some of the unfolding drama. He quotes Patricia Tully, formerly the dean of libraries at Wesleyan University:

   It becomes more of a necessity [for a library] to have
   people who are experts and who pay attention to how
   that environment is changing.... There will be some
   institutions that decide that they don't need libraries
   ... [or] librarians.... The IT department ...
   is going to take those [functions, but] they're going
   to be hiring people who have library expertise [and]
   backgrounds ... to do those things.... It's a matter
   of breaking free of the library being some irrelevant,
   old-fashioned thing that used to be important but
   isn't anymore. … 
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