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Why Would a Library Partner with Kobo?

QuestionMarkGary Price of InfoDocket turned up a press release today that has me scratching my head. It seems a small library in New Zealand is the newest partner for Kobo:

In a new venture, Hutt City Libraries is partnering with and PaperPlus New Zealand to make reading more accessible to people – a “world first” for Kobo.

From Tuesday 25 June, Hutt City Libraries will be offering Kobo eReaders and the Kobo tablet for sale and later this year, in-library rental. After trialling several tablets, Kobo’s Arc met criteria for speed, battery life, design, ease of use, and price.

Yes, HCL is going to be a retail partner to Kobo, as strange as that may sound. And just to add insult to injury, later this year HCL is going to use taxpayer dollars to buy devices to rent to said taxpayers.

Please excuse me for being dense but I don’t see the upside here for the libraries. The libraries won’t be earning much on each sale (assuming they earn the same 5% commission as ABA members), while at the same time they will be stuck with providing tech support and customer service on behalf of Kobo.

Libraries are neither bookstores nor electronics stores, so why are they selling ereaders and tablets, much less renting them?

If anyone would care to explain the economics of this decision, the comments are open.

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igorsk June 25, 2013 um 10:38 pm

I think it’s not about profits but about libraries trying to attract patrons.

BeeTee-Ess June 25, 2013 um 11:17 pm

Where I live, libraries are a service. They are not there to make money.

So, it is not a question of economics. It is a question of providing a service to those of their customers who choose to read their books using eReaders.

Well done, Hutt City Library!

Nate Hoffelder June 26, 2013 um 6:00 am

Okay, can you tell me what service is the library providing in this retail operation that the community needs and that the local retail stores don’t already provide?

BeeTee-Ess June 26, 2013 um 8:49 pm

Well, rental for one thing. The city I live in has a population of over 2 million, and I just Googled 'ereader rental', and could not find anyone offering it.

Our free city council library service does offer in-library PCs with Internet access. It is a very popular service. The librarians and volunteers assist library members in using them. Many folk would not know where to start in going about acquiring an eReader. The library is a non-threatening environment filled with helpful people.

Again, I congratulate Hutt City Library for having the initiative to offer this service.

PS: … and see the thoughtful replies below.

Ani June 25, 2013 um 11:33 pm

With falling revenue from the stalwarts of overdues or rentals, the onus on libraries is to be increasingly savvy about how they optimise their strategic capability while also bringing in revenue to operate.

This article sheds some light on Hutt City Libraries' hopes.

Nate Hoffelder June 26, 2013 um 6:02 am

That’s what they are saying, yes, but are there any numbers to back up the belief that this will generate a net positive revenue?

Miguel June 26, 2013 um 5:31 am

(Excuse me my bad English, but it’s not my native language.)

Because libraries are not only about making money. Libraries also deal with digital inclusion these days. As society moves forward and books are being transferred from analogue do electronic formats, many people can’t afford to buy these devices (as many cant' still buy books) – not mentioned the ebooks prices. Maybe a program like this would make it more sustainable, if the perspective is the tax payer’s money.

As I see it, it’s just a matter of getting ereaders at the disposal of patrons and teach them how to use them. If a company gives them some benefits, why not?

I guess this could have two perspectives, while you see that librarians are working as tech supports and doing customer services for Kobo, I see it as an opportunity for working in Info Literacy, and I strongly believe library professionals will act as librarians instead of vendors.

Beth June 26, 2013 um 6:55 am

American libraries are about money–mine asks for donations on a monthly basis–more readers=more donations. We are so lucky to have them as government contributions are drying up by the year and it is up to the members/readers to keep them going.

Dorothea Salo June 26, 2013 um 7:28 am

Public libraries actually have a pretty substantial history of introducing information technologies to populaces not yet ready (or not able) to buy them. If you go back to the early 80s, you find this out about the VCR, for example, and it’s certainly true of the personal computer and the Internet. Another tech libraries are starting to introduce nowadays (alongside hackerspaces) is the 3D printer.

Academic libraries here and there have been experimenting with tablet and ebook-reader checkout for some years.

I do wonder about "in-library rental," I confess. That’s not the usual thing, at least in the US. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised at a damage deposit, but flat-out rental is rare and weird. US public libraries that circulate Playaways to children generally eat the frequent replacement costs (both of machines and media).

So why would the library go the rental route? It could be nothing more sinister than budget pressures; they can’t afford to buy enough to circulate. Half a loaf is better than none? As for services provided, several commenters above nailed it: besides the exposure, the library can offer education, training, and support that’s almost certainly more patient and more geared to the less-tech-savvy than Kobo would manage. If you haven’t read Jessamyn West’s _Without a Net_, I recommend it highly.

Jane June 30, 2013 um 5:13 pm

"I do wonder about “in-library rental,” I confess. That’s not the usual thing, at least in the US. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised at a damage deposit, but flat-out rental is rare and weird. US public libraries that circulate Playaways to children generally eat the frequent replacement costs (both of machines and media)."

Yes, but here in New Zealand libraries that circulate Playaways simply treat them as another format (like a Kobo) for patrons to use. And fees that are charged for damage to paper books are charged for damage to other formats of those books – e.g. CD [audio], tape, Playaways. So, really this is just a library offering a new format for patrons to use. Rental may have been the wrong term to use here.
Responders to this article about the use of Kobo should note that in the early life of public libraries, and even earlier when books started to be mass-printed, there was resistance from certain classes in society to the notion that information could be easily shared and read in the new format by the "masses".
It’s just a format. Get over it.

AH@badassbookreviews June 26, 2013 um 10:01 am

I think that it is a great idea. There are a lot of people that have not yet tried ereaders and this is a great way for them to get some exposure. Libraries have to deal with a lot of funding cuts and if getting corporate sponsorships helps, then why not?

Becki June 26, 2013 um 10:29 am

Do we know if there ARE any local retail outlets selling ereaders in their community? I know nothing about the community in question, but in my own, small, semi-rural county there are few businesses that sell such things. Bookstores no longer exist here; we have to go to another county with a larger city in order to visit a bookstore.

Second, libraries already provide support to all kinds of devices. I’ve already had to help reset tablets, show someone how to use their Kindle, etc. So this support is nothing new! People turn to libraries for help with stuff because they know we try to be helpful, not just give them a sales pitch for a new item.

Maybe the library is also using this as a way to kick off their ebook collection?

Nate Hoffelder June 26, 2013 um 11:31 am

8 library branches serving 1 city: Lower Hutt. The combined population is around 100 thousand, and the city in question is a suburb of Wellington NZ (pop:400 thousand).

Your point about the support libraries already provide is a good one. I hadn’t thought of that but it is certainly true.

Kristine June 29, 2013 um 2:45 am

Hutt City Libraries doesn’t serve Upper Hutt, but as well as Lower Hutt it is part of the SMART Libraries consortium with Kapiti, Porirua, Masterton Whitirea and Weltec, so by no means a small library. And none of these places are 'suburbs of Wellington'. Lower Hutt is a city in its own right.

Nate Hoffelder June 29, 2013 um 6:09 am

Lower hutt and upper hutt are geographically contiguous with the larger city, so it’s not unreasonable to call them suburbs.

RLB June 30, 2013 um 7:43 pm

Kristine is quite right, Hutt city is it’s own city, part of the Wellington region

Nate Hoffelder June 30, 2013 um 8:17 pm

Perhaps we are using the word differently.

I use the word suburb to refer to a geographic location, not a political organization. Washington DC has many suburbs, most of which are independently incorporated entities. For example, I live in Prince William County. Even though the county is regarded as a suburb of DC, it is its own political entity.

Kristine June 30, 2013 um 10:52 pm

I was thinking more of the Wellington, Lower Hutt, and Upper Hutt are funded and managed by, and accountable to, entirely separate councils, so while the communities served may have similarities, they may have different priorities.

Jason June 26, 2013 um 12:53 pm

I really don’t see the downside of it. People will read and that’s a good thing.

Irish Imbas June 26, 2013 um 3:07 pm

Hmm. This is odd. Kobo do have a strong presence here in NZ and its ereaders are sold through the Paper Plus bookstores (as well as many other NZ bookstores). The Hutt libraries are quite small however – certainly compared to Wellington City libraries. I can’t really see the advantage for people who are actually taking books from a library either. I can only imagine its some kind of deal where the libraries help market the ereaders for (or with) Paper Plus and any commission from Kobo – minimal, one suspects – is shared between the library and the bookstores.

Malcolm Neil June 27, 2013 um 2:22 am

Hi all

I’m part of the Kobo team working in NZ

The libraries in question already have ebook borrowing deals with ePukapuka (Overdrive) and local players Bennetts. These are for epubs, which of course the Kobo ereader supports.
It’s a logical next step that they buy some ereaders to rent out/sell to use with content they have available from other sources. It’s a perfect example of Kobo’s read freely philosophy.

We are confident that once people use our readers, and are encouraged to explore the paid content available from us in NZ they may well choose to become kobo customers as well.

For the libraries in question I’m sure they see it as part of their reader development/ reader services programs.

The expense is low and the benefits in terms of introducing readers to ereading technology are great, and thats a key part of a modern library’s mission, reader development.

Malcolm Neil June 27, 2013 um 5:44 pm

that would be local players wheelers

Jade June 30, 2013 um 5:40 pm

I agrere with Becki. The library where I work has become the Kobo problem solving hub for the locals. Whitcoulls refer people to us (actually name me) to help fix problems or help setting up a Kobo. The fixing is fine – we have a dedicated E-reader computer to help but helping someone can easily go over an hour.
The setting up is more difficult as we have terms and conditions to agree to before going online (as part of the APNK network) which you can’t access during set up. So we don’t have the ability to 'set up' a Kobo. Yet. We are working on it. The Kobo rep used to come in and see us (Steve not Karin) and ask if there were any problems because they realised how vital we are to Kobo.

Annette July 2, 2013 um 1:02 am

Wow it’s great to see such commentary to our announcement! Hutt City has a population of 100,000, and our libraries are the fourth busiest public libraries in the country – we see over 1.2 million through our doors a year, and issue around 3.5 million items.
Our libraries are funded by ratepayers, and as such we need to earn 7% of our operating budget each year. We believe reading and literacies are key to our communities’ prospering, and hence our city’s economic stability and future. We actively seek organisations and companies that also understand this, and we are willing to trial new initiatives. And like any responsible operation we do the maths and ensure the business case stacks up.
For us, ensuring libraries are relevant in the social and economic fabric of a country is an imperative. We are not providing support for Kobo – rather we are fostering reading and teaching people transferrable digital literacy skills – it’s about nurturing curiosity and capability.
As to why bother with rental Kobos or any other tablet for that matter – it’s the same thing – providing opportunities for people to play and grow. Maybe buying a tablet is not a priority, or maybe someone has just not made the choice – either way, having the option to rent could be useful and/or convenient. At this stage we are working through the logistics of rental. Watch this space.

Finally on Kobo | Jaye Em Edgecliff July 3, 2013 um 1:22 pm

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