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Who Needs OverDrive When 24Symbols Now Offers Digital Library as a Service?

Back in late November I announced that I was going to start a series on digital libraries. I was planning to look at the various ways that an organization could distribute content to paying or non-paying users.

Unfortunately, that series went awry because I had trouble getting Baker & Taylor, B&N, and Freading to talk to me. That frustration led me to table the idea (CES was coming up, too), but today another option appeared unannounced. I don’t really have the time but this idea is sufficiently fascinating that I cannot let it pass.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard of 24Symbols. This is a Madrid based start-up that is working on a Netflix style reading service. I’ve commented on them back in July, and right now I don’t think they’re worth the fee they charge (not enough content). But today they did something new that caught my eye.

In addition to offering subscriptions to readers, 24Symbols now offers their platform as a service. How would you like to have your own cloud library? It’s not targeted at consumers, but that is the general idea.

An organization could pay 24Symbols a monthly fee and 24Symbols will maintain their PDF and Epub in a private cloud server.  Only members of the organization will be able to access the content. A company could setup a docs database based on this service and supports employees reading the docs from anywhere in the world. Or a library could use this for their ebook collection.

Now do you see why I’m interested?

But as shiny as this service is, it does have its disadvantages. It’s cloud based, and that means that you need an active internet connection at all times.  So ebook readers are out, but there is a web app and an iPad app. Also, the ebooks hosted by 24Symbols have to be handed over DRM-free, which cuts out most commercial ebooks (unless you strip the DRM first).

24Symbols web app

That last bit will cause some wrinkles for a public institution caught red handed, but it might not bother private groups too much. And it won’t matter at all if the content distributed by 24Symbols is owned by the customer.

But the lack of downloads would likely stop me from using this service. I’m looking for library ebook alternatives, and if you cannot take it offline then it is technically web content, not an ebook. I know that I’m splitting hairs, but offline access is a minimum requirement.

Update: I made a minor mistake in this post. The free ad-subsidized version of 24Symbols requires an active web connection (for the ads). Subscribers can read offline. That makes this a nicer deal all around.

via The Next Web



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LCNR January 6, 2012 um 3:44 am

I do not think you’re splitting hairs. I’m usually wary of physical/digital analogies, as that is part of what’s wrong with today’s e-book lending system, but that would be the equivalent of a public library refusing to let you check out ordinary books [for fear of theft].

My point is, it isn’t the technical definition that is important here, but the service provided. If you have to remain connected to the library’s web site in order to read a book, this considerably lessens the service’s usefulness IMO — especially for those of us who bought an e-book reader for the mobility it offers (connectivity on an ebook reader is not a main feature, only added convenience).


Justo Hidalgo January 6, 2012 um 6:15 am


thanks for your post and your interest in our latest offering. Just wanted to mention that we DO provide offline read capabilities. You can currently see that in’s iPad app and soon in the HTML5 version too.

In addition, the reason we (in some cases) require DRM-free books has nothing to do with the final result of the book. Since we aim for the highest quality possible of the cloud reading experience, some minor tweaks may need to be done to the ePub received before its content is uploaded to the 24symbols server. The ePub is never handed over the user.



Nate Hoffelder January 6, 2012 um 7:38 am

Fixed it.

Justo Hidalgo January 6, 2012 um 10:07 am

Thanks Nate, much appreciated!

Bridget January 7, 2012 um 11:17 am

I don’t see how this work work in terms of copyright. Libraries upload DRM-free ebooks and then loan them out? Why would a publisher allow that?

Nate Hoffelder January 7, 2012 um 11:44 am

First, why do you assume that publishers have a right to stop it? they don’t have that control over paper books.

But you are right in that it won’t work for public libraries. That’s why 24Symbols so also pursuing customers who would want a private collection (inside a corporation, for example).

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