ebook usage statistics

In a recent phone/web town hall discussion with Peter Shepherd, Project Director for COUNTER, mused about why publishers (and libraries) have not embraced the COUNTER Code of Practice for Books and Reference Works as quickly as they have the Code of Practice for Journals and Databases. His approach is that we are paying customers and should have that information. My perspective: meh.

I would like to see ebook usage for items that we purchase as a subscription, but for items we own (i.e. one-time purchase with perpetual access), it’s less of a concern for collection development. Licensed ebooks with annual subscriptions (like regularly updating encyclopedias or book packages) are more like online databases or ejournals than traditional paper books, so in that regard, it shouldn’t be difficult for publishers to implement the COUNTER Code of Practice for Books and Reference Works and provide use information to customers.

For books that are static and don’t have any annual cost attached to them, there isn’t much of a regular need to know what is being used. We keep track of re-shelving stats for the purposes of managing a physical collection with space limitations, and those problems are not replicated in an online environment. Where the usage of owned ebooks comes into play is when we are justifying:
a. The purchase of those specific ebooks.
b. The purchase of future ebooks from that publisher.
c. The amount of money in the ebook budget.

Hopefully Mr. Shepherd, Project COUNTER, and vocal librarians will be able to convince the publishers of the value of providing usage information. When budgets are as tight as they are these days, having detailed information about the use of your subscription-based collection is essential for making decisions about what must be kept and what can be let go (or should be promoted more to the users). Of course, in less desperate times, knowing this information is also important for making adjustments to the library’s collection emphasis in order to meet the needs of the users.

3 thoughts on “ebook usage statistics”

  1. but for items we own (i.e. one-time purchase with perpetual access), it’s less of a concern for collection development.

    But…isn’t it important to know if we’re buying the right stuff and use usage data to help us determine that then adjust our collecting priorities if necessary? I realize we should do our homework BEFORE we purchase, but I’d hazard to guess that there may be times we’re purchasing things because 20 years ago Professor X was at our U and we bought things to support his curriculum and never stopped…

    Can’t agree with you more about getting good usage data on subscription-based items!

  2. “…isn’t it important to know if we’re buying the right stuff and use usage data to help us determine that then adjust our collecting priorities if necessary?”

    Char, I agree, which is why I clarified my statements with the third paragraph. My point is that knowing how the things we own are being used is important, but not as important as information about the use of licensed/subscription ebooks, since each year we must decide if we will continue to purchase them or not. Once we’ve paid for a one-time, perpetual access ebook, we can’t go back and un-pay for it if the use is too low. So, if publishers are struggling to become COUNTER-compliant with ebook statistics, I’d rather they start with the licensed/subscription collections & titles first.

  3. Obviously this isn’t my league by any stretch, but I wanted to add a fascinating fact of ebooks today: Their general DRM/inability for resale. I suspect that adds another layer of complexity to the equation. That is to say, a physical book, once purged from an inventory, could theoretically be resold. It’s inventory with a depreciated value.

    You can’t do that in any way with an ebook at the moment. No one supports reselling ebook information, nor will it ever depreciate in the financial sense of the term with any current technology.

    Someday physical hard drive space may replace most of the need for physical shelves. And there are limits to everything, even hard drive space, expecially when budgets become tight. Wouldn’t the statistics on ebook usage be viable then i.e. the need to remove, say, four thousand unused ebooks to make room for more? I appreciate that may not be a scenario today, but it will happen one day. Maybe sooner than we think.

    Fascinating times we’re living in, no?

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