E-Content in Libraries: 2013 in Review (Trends, Reflections, Highlights)

By Mirela Roncevic 

2013 in reviewRe-reading the introduction to the NSR “year in review” article from last year makes it tempting to cut and paste parts of the post from 12 months ago into this one. Looking back at how e-content in libraries—in all its incarnations—continued to evolve throughout 2013, it becomes obvious that 2013 carried on the legacy of the years past. Those who created, reviewed, sold, and managed e-content for libraries witnessed a kind of solidification (rather than reinvention) of a number of initiatives and products that were introduced in 2011 and 2012. In many ways, 2013 was less about changing the game and more about playing it well. And since many of last year’s observations still hold true, some cutting-and-pasting is in order:

  • new alliances were formed among both publishers and vendors”
  • more mergers took place”
  • open access initiatives showed no signs of slowing down”
  • “those of us keeping up with e-content were reminded that emerging technological advances continued to push the boundaries of what we thought was possible only a year before”
  • “our industry was challenged to rethink its own expectations about digital library environments but also dare to aim higher


2013 Trends

Based on the initiatives brought to us by the companies whose products are listed below (see 2013 Highlights), we may draw some conclusions about the e-content trends likely to dominate 2014:

Self-publishing continues to soar — According to a recent analysis of US ISBN data by Bowker, the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011 and 422 percent over 2007. Ebooks comprised 40 percent of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, up from just 11 percent in 2007. Smashwords conducted a study in 2013 to analyze self-published book sales data and also released its key findings in an effort to help authors and publishers sell more ebooks.

Kids’ reading of ebooks is growing — Scholastic’s study on kids’ reading in the digial age (Kids & Family Reading Report) found that kids’ reading of ebooks has nearly doubled since 2010. According to the findings, the percentage of children who have read an ebook has almost doubled since 2010 (25% vs. 46%); 75 percent of kids who have read an ebook are reading ebooks at home; 72 percent of parents are interested in having their child read ebooks; and half of children age nine-17 said they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to ebooks (a 50 percent increase since 2010).

All of this is great news for K-12 publishers rushing (justifiably) to “animate” their front- and backlist and breathe new life into existing content via interactive platforms and e-learning resources. Leaders on the K-12 publishing side include Scholastic, of course, as well as Rosen Publishing.

Lines are blurring as vendor roles are expanding — As everyone in the market of producing and selling e-content to libraries expands their existing lines of services, librarians are left with the daunting task of keeping up with who does what. Long gone are the days when publishers simply published books and distributors brought them to libraries. The picture in 2013 is complex and it looks something like this:

  • major library aggregators are becoming publishers (think EBSCO acquiring publishers like Wilson and Salem Press)
  • major academic publishers are becoming sources of free and Open Access books (think DeGruyter)
  • traditional book distributors are morphing into ebook lending services (think Baker & Taylor)
  • ebook lending services are embracing new leasing models by taking clues from established aggregators (think 3M’s interest in patron-driven purchasing)
  • self-publishing services are providing content to libraries (think Smashwords’ LibraryDirect service )
  • non-profit online repositories are becoming publishers (think Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press)
  • e-retailers are becoming publishers (think Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing) as well as online reading communities (think Amazon acquiring GoodReads)
  • K-12 publishers are becoming “media” companies (think Rosen’s new suite of interactive learning resources)

Public libraries are showing more interest in publishing as well as owning content — If various organizations with no background in publishing are becoming publishers, shouldn’t libraries—a fertile ground for cultivating authors, many would argue—reconsider their roles in the 21st century? In ALA’s June 2013 E-Content Digital Supplement, Jamie La Rue proposed that libraries consider their potential as future publishers of locally-grown content. ”There are several reasons why public libraries might want to move in this direction,” wrote La Rue, “Once a library invests in the infrastructure to manage ebooks directly from publishers, it finds that the same infrastructure allows it to be a publisher.”

Back in September La Rue’s Douglas County Libraries (DCL) announced the debut of The Wire: A Writer’s Resource, a blog that provides information for aspiring authors to write, publish, and find markets for their books. And just a couple of weeks ago, news broke that DCL and Colorado Library Consortium were awarded an LSTA grant of over $200,000 for their ”eVoke 2.0: Colorado Statewide eBook Pilot Project: proposal. The goal of the project is to develop an alpha stage end-to-end cloud e-content infrastructure that will provide e-content purchasing and lending capabilities to Colorado libraries. This again reaffirms DCL’s resolve to own the content purchased.

Integration of multi-media components is the next frontier —  This is a no-brainer. Many studies, surveys, and articles have pointed to the fact that digital reading is, at its best, interactive reading. This explains why a number of vendors is developing digitally-born interactive content inviting students and researchers to engage in a new kind of learning: watching and listening while reading. There is also a growing interest in all things digital audiobooks. Baker & Taylor has made great strides on this front, enabling library patrons to borrow and download digital audiobooks directly to their Apple and Android mobile devices.

Big “multi-media” stories of 2013 included Credo releasing its very first all-video collection and, of course, OverDrive—still the biggest force to be reckoned with in the land of ebook lending services—announced back in January that its platform would be enhanced with streaming video and audio technology; the service went live last month.

Content still wants to be free (to the user) — Well, clearly it does. Because we keep getting more free access to it all the time, from both expected sources like Open Access initiatives UnGlue.It and Knowledge Unlatched and the newly launched Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and the less likely sources like for-profit academic publishers.

The biggest confirmation of the value of free access in the 21st century came just last month when the long-running Google Books lawsuit (which accused Google of copying millions of books without permission) was dismissed. “In my view,” said U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin, ,”Google Books provides significant public benefits…Indeed, all society benefits.”

Partnerships continue to thrive – An industry leader once said at a conference, “competitors are just companies you haven’t figured out how to partner with yet.” Judging from the staggering number of partnerships that were announced in 2013, it seems that the key players in the e-content ecosystem are quickly realizing the value of partnering with those that can enhance their offerings as well as those who are directly competing with their products. Gale (part of Cengage Learning), for example, has made 2013 the year of partnerships with institutions as revered as The National Geographic, the Smithsonian, and the Associated Press.

University presses continued to join forces in an effort to bring even more monographic content to digital library collections, with four main initiatives still going strong (including those by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, JStor, and ProjectMUSE).

Then there are deals more complex than partnerships, and we’ve come to identify them as mergers or acquisitions. The year kicked off with a major announcement from ProQuest that it was acquiring the long-time competitor to ebrary: EBL. “A major reason ProQuest wished to acquire EBL was to extend their innovative business models, including the patent-protected Non-Linear Lending (NLL) model and chapter-level purchasing, said Kevin Sayar, Senior Vice President, ProQuest Workflow Solutions, at the time the announcement was first made.

Trade publishers are coming around – The Big Six (or Five) are starting to ease the restrictions imposed on libraries lending ebooks to patrons. Looking back into the not-so-distant past, it’s clear that the trade side has come a long way. As of late 2013, every major trade publisher has some deal in place helping libraries bring ebook versions of popular titles to patrons. Simon & Schuster, the last remaining holdout among the Big Six (or Five), is now undergoing a pilot program with several libraries in New York; Random House recently announced a big partnership with both Follett and MyiLibrary; Harlequin titles are now available via MyiLibrary; Macmillan added 11,000 ebooks to Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform in late 2013; and back in April, Penguin removed the six-month embrago on ebook titles licensed to libraries, now offering new titles simultaneously in both print and electronic formats.

Academic publishers are recognizing the value of e-learning tools – Just like K-12 publishers are recognizing the value of engaging young learners with interactive content, academic publishers continue to recognize the value in integrating e-learning tools into their resources to enhance the research experience for all involved. This no longer implies merely embedding citation tools and personalization features. It means working with academic institutions to connect directly to the curriculum; providing  professors with the tools to create their own textbooks; embedding teaching tools that allow educators to monitor student progress; supplementing video lectures with various academic titles; and more. SAGE’s recent partnership with Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider, is a leading example of an established academic publisher stepping outside its comfort zone to make their resources available to millions of students using MOOCs.

2013 Reflections 

As we take the time to review the products introduced (or re-introduced) in 2013, now is the time to consider what the current e-content landscape reflects. Here are some (random) thoughts:

  • While we marvel at the opportunities afforded to us by technology, are we as an industry (which includes the vast ecosystem of publishers, aggregators, distributors, and libraries) equally appreciative of the fact that ebooks are still (just) books that need to be written first – and written well?
  • While we welcome the expansion of publishing tools making it possible for undiscovered talent to get noticed, are we willing to give up the elaborate editorial practices that have existed for decades to deliver to us the content worthy of preserving? Do we understand the implications of what happens when we minimize or abandon them? Do we recognize that this is already happening?
  • Are we still impressed by the platforms housing hundreds of thousands of ebooks and journals or are we perhaps getting closer to wanting platforms that simply cost less, don’t entail elaborate business models, and include a sufficient (rather than overwhelming) number of titles that count? If so, who decides what counts?
  • Speaking of business models, while we recognize the need to experiment and learn through trial and error, are we at least moving closer to how we want to purchase e-content in the future? Or are we rowing round in circles? If we had to make one choice right now, would we own or lease?
  • While we can all agree that libraries should buy and circulate content that is used and read above all else, why are many of us not satisfied with the notion that library collections–public and academic–are to be built based on random patron interest? With all due respect to our patrons (lay readers and students alike), are we to no longer value the competence of trained experts? Which begs the question: in this brave new world, do we still value a good review?
  • Lastly, in this ecosystem where “everyone is doing everything,” are we still placing quality of content at the top of our list of priorities? When we create e-content, do we challenge ourselves to make every word count? When we buy e-content, are we still tempted to get more bang for the buck?

We are likely to hear a multitude of opposing viewpoints when such questions are asked at conferences and webinars, but we should continue asking them, and asking them often, as every new opportunity is bound to create a unique new challenge. Consider, for example, if the very thing alluring us today–the pursuit of quantity–becomes the great obstacle in the years to come.

2013 Highlights

Since emerging technologies make it possible for everyone to do everything, the A-Z listing of the companies, brands, and institutions that transformed and revamped e-content in 2013 purposefully incorporates the familiar with the lesser-known, the big with the small, the for-profit with the non-profit, the traditional with the alternative, and the established with the emerging. This egalitarian approach to presenting e-content would not have made as much sense a few years ago, but it seems appropriate today. More to the point: it seems necessary. The most powerful aspect of technology is the way in which it can make a single person’s effort produce as much impact as that of an entire organization. The goal here is to highlight that possibility as much as possible.

The links in each annotation below take you (for the most part) to previous No Shelf Required postings highlighting the press releases received from these content providers all throughout 2013. The list does not include all of the initiatives that occurred at such organizations. It does, however, include the most relevant. If you take the time to go through it, you will likely be caught up with the state of e-content in libraries as of this December.

Apologies in advance to the companies not included who have made significant announcements in 2013. If there is a glaring omission, don’t hesitate to get in touch.





Baker and Taylor



  • Brill Open now includes ebooks(offering the authors the choice to make their research freely accessible online in exchange for a Publication Charge; all Brill Open book titles are listed in the DOAB, which Brill has been sponsoring for some time)


De Gruyter

Duke University Press

  • Duke University Press ebooks to move to HighWire (beginning with the 2014 collection, e-Duke Books, an annual collection of at least 100 new ebooks published by the university press and more than 1500 backlist titles, will move to HighWire’s Open Platform and the newly adopted Folio e-book solution)

 DPLA (Digital Public Library of America)




  • Elsevier Acquires Mendeley (a London-based company that operates a global research management and collaboration platform; researchers worldwide use Mendeley’s tools to manage and annotate documents, create citations and bibliographies, collaborate on research projects and network with academics)


Gale (Cengage Learning)

Google Books

  • Google Books prevails, lawsuit dismissed (in November 2013, Google won dismissal of a long-running lawsuit by authors accusing Google of copying millions of books without permission; the decision, if it survives an expected appeal, would let Google continue expanding the online library; in the words of James Grimmelmann, University of Maryland intellectual property law professor, “this is a good ruling for libraries and researchers, because the opinion recognizes the public benefit of making books available)

 Harvard University Press

  • HUP partners with De Gruyter to re-release 2800 titles (to celebrate its 100th anniversary, HUP is now working with De Gruyter to make all of the books published since its founding available for sale worldwide; the titles will be offered in ten separate subject-area packages that reflect the spectrum of the press’s catalog)



  • Highwire launches Folio, a new ebook product (a flexible ebook solution designed for publishers to rapidly bring their books online; key components include a publisher home page, an informative book landing page, and an ereader view)


Internet Archive

Knowledge Unlatched

  • Knowledge Unlatched announces pilot collection, libraries needed (seen as the first step in creating a sustainable route to Open Access for a large number of scholarly books; if at least 200 libraries sign up for the collection by end of January 2014, 28 new Humanities and Social Science books will be made free on an Open Access basis; the books are published by such publishers as Brill, Cambridge University Press, De Gruyter, and Duke University Press; view the collection here)


  • MacMillan opens ebook backlist to libraries via Axis 360 (including 11,000 ebooks made available to all public libraries using the Axis 360 digital media platform; in early 2013 Macmillan started a public library e-lending program with a select group of backlist titles from its Minotaur Books mystery and crime fiction imporint)



Oxford University Press



  • Penguin removes 6 month embargo for libraries (in April the publisher removed the six-month embargo on ebook titles licensed to libraries and now offers new titles immediately after they are released in the consumer market; other limitations are also expected to also be removed, including a one-year expiration date on ebooks licensed to libraries)


Rosen Publishing

Safari Books

 SAGE Publications


  • SciELO open access ebooks, an interview with Nicholas Cop (SciELO began in 1998 as an Open Access academic e-journal operation; today it’s known for indexing and publishing over 1000 peer-reviewed OA academic journals from Latin American, Spain, Portugal, and South Africa; ebook operation began in 2012 but was officially announced to the international community in the spring of 2013)

Simon & Schuster


  • Unglue.it releases two more free ebooks (a crowdfunding site that lets book lovers pay authors and publishers to make their already-published books free to the world under a Creative Commons license; the two ebooks included Dennis Weiser’s erotic sci-fi thriller The Third Awakening and Lauren Pressley’s So You Want To Be a Librarian)
  • Unglue.it and Open Book Publishers launch new campaign (This is the second campaign from Open Book Publishers, who released the Unglued Ebook of Oral Literature in Africa by Ruth Finnegan in September 2012)
  • De Gruyter and Unglue.it partner to expand open access titles (see De Gruyter entry above)
  • Unglue.it 2.0: Buy to Unglue (from an Unglue.it email: To showcase the work we’ve done, we’ve launched a “buy to unglue” campaign for a public domain ebook, Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland You can buy an ebook and see the ungluing date change. You can join our test library, and ask to borrow a book. Once you’ve joined a library, you can buy ebooks you can share with the library…Now that we can show everyone how “buy to unglue” is going to work, we want to talk with publishers, authors, and libraries that feel ready to take the next step into the ebook future.”)


  • Ten publishers add eBook metadata to WorldCat (OCLC’s new agreement with leading publishers to add more ebook metadata to WorldCat, including Cambridge University Press, Chandos Publishing, Edward Elgar Publishing, World Scientific Publishing, and several others)
  • WorldCat database reaches 2 billion holdings (announced in May 2013; Sue Polanka noted in a post, “I am simply amazed at the growth of this database over the years…[it] has been a great resource for discovering content and extending a library’s collection through interlibrary loan service.”)


Mirela Roncevic is an independent writer, editor, and content developer recognized for spearheading a number of initiatives in the publishing and LIS field, including the coverage of digital content in Library Journal. She has also managed publications of LIS books and newsletters and developed online resources for librarians, including The Library Grants Center. At the forefront of the e-book revolution since its infancy, she managed Library Journal‘s first e-book reviews column and is a consultant to e-content producers, advising them on positioning their products in libraries while working closely with information professionals. She is the author of ALA TechSource’s 2013 Library Technology Report on e-book platforms, co-editor of ALA’s new journal, eContent Quarterly, and instructor of the popular Ebooks: What Libraries Need To Know Now and for the Future ALA course. Mirela speaks and writes on the state of publishing and digital content in the U.S. and beyond. Follow her on Twitter @MirelaRoncevic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>