BiblioBoard Pushes Libraries into the Digital Age
Biblioboard is an ebook lending platform for libraries. Compared to Netflix by USA Today, the platform gives users instant access to library ebooks via web and mobile channels, enabling libraries to compete in an increasingly digital world. CEO Andrew Roskill describes below what sets BiblioBoard apart from other digital library solutions and how libraries and publishers alike can benefit.
Can you describe your product and what makes it important?
Our product helps libraries stay relevant in the digital age. Libraries find themselves at a crossroads, competing for patron attention against the likes of Amazon and Apple. The library's ability to "compete" has become even more challenging now that the world is going mobile. Mobile has now surpassed desktop usage, 87% of which is app usage. Despite the promise of HTML5, people want more than a web-like experience on a smaller screen. While libraries were somewhat competitive in the web world, they simply don't have the ability to keep up with the rapidly evolving mobile app world.
Our BiblioBoard product addresses these issues by providing a cost-effective mobile and web content delivery platform for libraries. It addresses the three E's of user experience (UX): Easy, Elegant and Engaging.
Who is your competition?
Existing library content delivery products -- databases and ebook lending platforms -- are our competition, but they fall short on one key attribute: software UX. Library web database products deliver a flat and fragmented UX and have no mobile capabilities. In addition, the web database content itself (largely historical and reference material) is of increasingly less value to libraries.
Library ebook platforms initially showed great promise, but also fall far short on UX, particularly as it relates to cumbersome business rules such as check out periods, wait lists, and clunky device authentication schemes. These business rules are all designed to constrain circulation of digital content. While the need to "constrain" digital content consumption might be relevant for perhaps 5% of all content (the high value/high demand recent releases), the same business rules have been applied to the other 95%, resulting in an awful user experience and low overall patron usage.
The BiblioBoard platform embraces a patrons-first UX based on the three E's of application design. BiblioBoard provides seamless access and UX across all mobile devices and web browsers and supports all media types, including books, articles, images, video and audio, allowing for a complete integrated media experience.
How are you disruptive and innovative?
Users of Netflix generally have no expectation that they will have access to the latest content. Indeed, movies are typically only available after they have been released via theatres, DVD's, and pay-per-view services. By no means does this imply that the service is not incredibly valuable to both content providers and consumers. Indeed, consumers get exposed to new artists and genres. Conversely, content providers achieve incremental sales and get access to new consumers, building a brand and a loyal following.
Our business model is very similar. We provide content collections as a subscription service to libraries, priced in tiers based on the size of the institution. The publisher sets the price of their collections, and may choose to embargo more recent releases. Publishers get their content exposed to new audiences, increasing the value of their brand and authors, and driving increased sales of newer releases. On Netflix, I watched the first couple seasons of "Breaking Bad" but did not want to wait for subsequent seasons so I purchased them.
Content providers can also use our BiblioBoard Creator product to not only create engaging curated collections, but to include other material to help promote their imprints and authors. One publisher is using Creator to build anthologies for each author it represents, and in addition to the core content, these anthologies may include photos, videos, unpublished short stories, manuscripts, fan art, and essays. It can even include previews from up and coming releases.
We recognize of course that people have to be paid for their creative works, and that publishers are concerned about cannibalization. But we do not want to sacrifice user experience and engagement, and believe that our model is truly a win-win situation.
How did you come up with this idea?
Our inspiration came from a long partnership with the British Library. The BL had digitized a large collection of rare content, and was looking for new innovative approaches to share it. We developed our first iPad application for this content with the BL and we learned several things. First, we discovered there was huge demand: The iPad app quickly had over a half million downloads, and usage was exceeding visits to the library. We also learned that people want to explore and become engaged, but to cultivate that instinct, libraries need the ability to curate the content. This became our inspiration for BiblioBoard Creator. Lastly, we learned that many other libraries wanted the same products that the BL did for its patrons, but lacked the budget and/or development skills to deliver a world-class experience. BiblioBoard is the result of years of research and development that began with the BL project, and we're excited to see our vision come to fruition.
What are the most important trends in publishing, content production, and monetization strategies?
There are so many intersecting trends for us. An important one is that the somewhat adversarial relationship between libraries and publishers is beginning to thaw. It is unfortunate that publishers have become somewhat of a pariah in the library industry. I believe this was due to the fact that the publishing business model was coming under attack (from trends such as self-publishing, print-on-demand, and of course ebooks) and therefore publishers were struggling for ways to capitalize on their ebook front lists.
At the same time, libraries were coming under attack by virtue of budget cuts. Libraries have historically operated under the assumption (erroneous I believe) that to stay "relevant" they had to offer new releases at the same time as they came out in stores. We have probably all read about the library that spent $23,400 on the ebook "Fifty Shades of Grey," a decision many in the industry continue to defend. I view the role of the library as absolutely essential to education and literacy, but I'm not sure they can effectively become the economic equalizer of all content.
I believe there is a middle ground and that equilibrium is nearing. Libraries can use their finite financial resources more effectively on the longer-tail content, and publishers are increasingly realizing they can make reasonable profits from libraries on this content but also reap the rewards of building an audience that will help generate sales momentum on front list content. This middle ground has been reached with many small and medium size publishers, and in the coming years I expect the Big Five publishers to join in and stop treating all content sales to libraries in a one size fits all business model (one ebook/one user).
While the BiblioBoard platform has found resonance and success in different library markets (academic, public, school and corporate), our initial focus has been on content partners for the public library space. Our emphasis has been on seeding large account opportunities (state library systems and consortia) with the opportunity for add-on content sales as we add publishing partners. In a relatively short period of time, we have over 2,000 libraries and plan to expand further into academic, school and corporate libraries.