A new venture has been established on the e-book lending front, initially focused on publishers and libraries in Sweden, but with possible opportunities for other international regions. Two Scandinavian companies— Publit a Swedish company involved with e-books and print on demand, and Axiell, which develops software for libraries and archives— have jointly launched Atingo, a company offering e-book lending products and services to libraries. Though in an early pilot phase and not currently available in the United States, the service provides an interesting example of a business and technology model implemented abroad.
Swedish E-book Lending Model
In Sweden, a model of e-book lending has been established whereby publishers receive a payment for each library loan made by a library to a patron. With this revenue model in place, publishers are more willing to engage with libraries for e-book lending. This fee-based transaction business model contrasts with the prevailing US model, where e-book titles are licensed with fees paid up-front. The Swedish model allows unlimited simultaneous lending of a title, while in the US, the models usually impose borrowing restrictions that limit the number of concurrent loans to the number of copies licensed by the library. These differing e-lending frameworks bring different budget management models to the library. In the US, the budget is based on fixed costs controlled by the library as set by the number of titles offered. In the Swedish model, the costs relate to the number of borrowing transactions.
In Sweden, like the United States, publishers decide when and whether to make their e-books available to libraries for lending. In many cases Swedish publishers release their e-books to libraries only when the commercial sales of the title have wound down.
Publit, based in Sweden, specializes in production and distribution of e-books and print on demand services. The company was founded in 2009 by Hannes Eder, Per Helin, Richard Herold, and Nille Svensson to work with publishers to digitize out of print titles and make them available through print on demand. The company has since expanded to work with more than 300 Scandinavian publishers, providing print on demand distribution as well as services such as digitization and e-book production. Publit's business is based on providing distribution channels that eliminate the up-front investments for publishers.
Publit offers a platform that provides a simple process for authors or publishers to distribute their title either as e-books or through print on demand. The Publit dashboard supports a workflow that involves uploading books as PDF files and setting the price. Once uploaded, the title will be made available in print though local bookstores and through the major e-book outlets including OverDrive, Kobo, and iBooks.
Publit has also begun working with libraries to allow them to act as publishers. The Stockholm Public Library, for example, has used the services of Publit to digitize and make available to the public selected items from its collections. Another Publit program involves libraries paying the costs to digitize a publisher's backlist books, which are then made available for lending under more favorable terms or for purchase from the publisher. Publit characterizes this arrangement as dual licensing, where free distribution through libraries and for-profit sales coexist. The Publit environment also enables libraries to develop services for publishers, such as the provision of metadata. Like the majority of the e-book lending services, Publit makes use of the Adobe Content Server and its digital rights management capabilities as one component of its technology platform.
Publit is owned by Mathias Engdahl, who previously owned a chain of 15 bookstores called Pocket Shop, along with a group of four other co-founders. Jonas Lennermo serves as the Chief Communications Officer.
Axiell develops software for libraries and archives. Though not especially well known in the United States, it stands as the fifth largest library technology company worldwide. It offers a variety of integrated library systems for public and school libraries, used primarily in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and the United Kingdom, as well software for managing archival collections, used in many international regions. The company has developed Arena as its strategic discovery and patron portal product that can be used in conjunction with any of its library or archives management products or can be integrated with non-Axiell automation systems. The company has also recently developed an e-book lending integration component called eHub.
The April 2013 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter covered Axiell's recent acquisition of Adlib Information Systems and includes details regarding the company's background and products.
Atingo was formed in August 2013 as a joint venture between Axiell and Publit to offer a new approach to e-book lending to libraries. The company aims to advance the Swedish e-book lending model, leveraging the capabilities of Axiell as a provider of technology infrastructure to libraries and Publit's experience in working with publishers. Atingo's service is based on a dashboard created by Publit for librarians to manage their e-book collections, the Publit catalog of e-books aggregating titles from multiple participating publishers, and Axiell's patron interfaces for e-book lending. The company is jointly owned and managed by Publit and Axiell. Eva Houltzén, who joined Axiell in July 2013, serves as Atingo's Chief Executive Officer. Other directors include Publit's CEO Per Helin and CCO Jonas Lennermo and Axiell's CEO Joel Sommerfeldt. The company is currently working to build its workforce.
The Atingo Dashboard
The Atingo platform includes a dashboard that libraries use to build and manage their e-book collections. The dashboard includes three major components, one for managing the library's profile and budget, a catalog of the e-book titles already available, and a log of the lending transactions that have been carried out. The library profile section allows the librarian to establish contact details and to manage login passwords. Another section allows the library to specify the budget available to support lending transactions, the maximum allocation per borrower, and to select specifications of notifications relative to when borrowing fees are approaching budget limits. The catalog section assists the library in developing the collection of e-books to be made available for loan to library users. The librarian selects from the titles available in the catalog, which displays details such as the title, author, publisher, ISBN, and the cost per loan transaction as established by the publisher. Atingo's catalog list corresponds to publishers' submissions to Publit.
Patron E-book Lending Technology
Axiell has developed e-book lending infrastructure for libraries called eHub. Rather than simply linking libraries to an external e-book lending provider, eHub integrates e-book discovery and lending directly within the library's Web presence. Operating as a layer between a library's library management system and Axiell's Arena discovery and portal product, eHub provides a unified interface for access to electronic books and electronic media. Arena has been designed to operate as a discovery interface and portal for libraries using any of the library management systems, whether offered by Axiell or competing vendors.
Currently eHub integrates with e-book suppliers prominent in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, with other partnerships under consideration or development. The use of eHub and Arena is only one example of an e-book lending mechanism that can operate in conjunction with Atingo. Other e-lending can also be integrated through the APIs associated with the platform. The partnership between Publit and Axiell aims to explore a new model for e-book lending based on the Swedish model with the potential to be applied internationally. Although the current catalog of e-book titles available come primarily from Sweden, Atingo anticipates a broader representation including the major international publishers. Axiell has libraries using its software throughout Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, which will represent at least an early target market for Atingo's e-book offering.
Transaction-based Business Model
Following the Swedish e-book lending model, the transactions paid by the library for loans represent the key financial element of Atingo. The publisher establishes the transaction fee per loan for each title through the Publit platform. Atingo gets its revenue from fixed platform fee for publishers of 1.5 SEK (currently $0.23) and a commission of roughly 10 percent on top of the publisher's transaction fee. Libraries do not pay an initial set-up charge or annual platform fees, as seen with other e-book lending services, such as with Overdrive. For libraries with very high volumes of e-book loans, a transaction fee based model could be expensive. Atingo provides mechanisms to throttle e-book loans relative to budget allocations.
Libraries would also need to invest in an e-book lending system. The Atingo platform offers APIs that can be used to integrate e-book discovery and lending with any ILS catalog or discovery product. The integration with Axiell's Arena and eHub components has been completed and libraries would need to license these products from Axiell. Libraries or other online catalog vendors can also make use of these APIs to integrate the Atingo e-book lending service into other catalogs, discovery interfaces, or portals.
According to Publit CCO Jonas Lennermo “Atingo provides a neutral platform for real-time negotiation between publishers and libraries, regarding pricing and availability of e-books. We strongly believe in treating the library as a retail platform for the publisher. We are open to all kinds of business models, as long as it works for both publishers and libraries.”
Atingo, although at a very early stage in its business development, provides an example of an e-book lending environment based on a different set of business rules from what is seen in the e-book lending platforms currently in play in the United States, such as Overdrive, 3m Cloud Library, or even the Douglas County Model described in the July issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter. As e-book lending continues to grow as a critical activity in public libraries, any new models or technologies added to the mix of alternatives are worth exploring.