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.

gathering statistics

For the past couple of weeks, the majority of my work day has been spent on tracking down and massaging usage statistics reports from the publishers of the online products we purchase. I am nearly half-way through the list, and I have a few observations based on this experience:

1. There are more publishers not following the COUNTER code of practice than those who are. Publishers in traditionally library-dominated (and in particular, academic library-dominated) markets are more likely to provide COUNTER-compliant statistics, but that is not a guarantee.

2. Some publishers provide usage statistics, and even COUNTER-compliant usage statistics, but only for the past twelve months or some other short period of time. This would be acceptable only if a library had been saving the reports locally. Otherwise, a twelve month period is not long enough to use the data to make informed decisions.

3. We are not trying to use these statistics to find out which resources to cancel. On the contrary, if I can find data that shows an increase in use over time, then my boss can use it to justify our annual budget request and maybe even ask for more money.

Update: It seems that the conversation regarding my observations is happening over on FriendFeed. Please feel free to join in there or leave your thoughts here.