Home 9 Full Text Articles 9 The Digital Toolbox — Lessons and Trends in Digital Lending in 2021

The Digital Toolbox — Lessons and Trends in Digital Lending in 2021

by | Mar 18, 2022 | 0 comments

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Column Editor:  Steve Rosato  (Director and Business Development Executive, OverDrive Professional, Cleveland, OH  44125) 

Against the Grain v34#1

As 2021 concluded, OverDrive Academic took a deep dive into data points that emerged over the course of the year from our academic library partners.  Here we’ll examine digital trends we expect to continue to be impactful in 2022:  the growing use of audiobooks by students, how new digital lending models are quickly being adopted, the most popular genres and the most popular titles.

Audiobook Popularity Continues To Surge

As I previously detailed, audiobooks continue to gain traction with students.  A telling data point that always amazes me is how well audiobooks circulate in comparison to eBooks.  Most colleges and universities have 8x-10x as many eBook titles in their OverDrive digital collections as they do audiobook titles, yet despite that disparity in selection and availability, eBooks outcirculate audiobooks by a relatively small margin (1 audiobook circs for every 1.2 eBooks). 

Let’s dig in a bit more on how the most popular audiobooks compare to the most popular eBooks.  The previous paragraph compared circs by format for eBook and audiobook collections in hundreds of colleges and universities across the OverDrive Academic network.  We also compared the difference in circs when looking at the same title in both formats as well as the top 20 and top 50 most popular circ’ing titles in both formats, and audiobooks still dominate in terms of circulation.  For the top 20 most popular titles in 2021, audiobooks had 28 percent more circs than eBooks.  For the 50 most popular titles, audiobooks outperformed eBooks by 24 percent.  There were 10 titles on both the audiobook and eBook top 20 most popular titles list.  Matching up head-to-head with the option of audiobook or eBook, audiobooks outcirc’d eBooks by 21 percent for the same titles.  

For academic libraries, there is little difference between fiction and nonfiction audiobook circulation.  Nonfiction represented 53 percent of circs compared to 47 percent for fiction in 2021.  However, looking at the top 10 BISAC subjects by circ, it’s totally dominated by fiction, with the lone exception being Biography & Autobiography/Personal Memoirs.  An incredibly interesting fact that speaks to the pull of fiction in the audiobook format is that the 20 most popular audiobook titles included all seven Harry Potter titles, and none appeared among the 20 most popular eBook titles.

Lending Model Options Expand Efficiency

While audiobook as a format is bringing more students to digital collections, having options for lending models is making it easier and more cost effective for academic libraries to expand what they can offer.  OverDrive advocates for our publishing and supply partners to make their titles available in multiple lending models.  Doing this empowers our academic library partners to use their budget efficiently and confidently by adding new and diverse content with minimal investment and risk if it’s not used as anticipated.  

When it comes to lending models, academic libraries strongly prefer two things:  simultaneous use (SU) and perpetual access (two different, and separate lending models).  In 2021, OverDrive saw circs of SU titles grow by 33 percent.  There are many valid reasons why colleges and universities value these lending models, as they can be an inexpensive way to provide unlimited access to specific content that can support specific courses or, with the single title example, a way of offering an all-campus read for an incredibly reasonable price.  However, the SU must be offered not with perpetual access but with specific time period access to provide more financial certainty for publishers. 

Fortunately, there are lending model options that bridge the divide, giving institutions the flexibility and access that SU provides while still being acceptable for publishers.  Below I’ll provide OverDrive-specific examples, while noting other platforms will have similar options.  Learning the available options from your vendors will help your library best serve students and faculty while getting the most out of your budget dollars.  

One option OverDrive offers is the ability to select from SU titles organized by individual publishers that work like a subscription.  These titles are bundled by participating publishers for a flat annual fee based on the size of the academic library’s user population.  An example from the OverDrive catalog of one publisher-aggregator  that represents 600+ quality publishers:  Unlimited SU for any 25 titles selected from a catalog of 24,000 titles for an annual cost of $749 for Tier 1 schools, which serve up to 2,000 students.  Another publisher has a uniquely innovative approach in which they offer a collection of 2,000 titles with SU for one month and the cost ranges from $3.98-$110.00 per title.  This applies to a Tier 1 school, with larger schools receiving different rates. 

OverDrive has also seen an increase in popularity in the Cost Per Circ (CPC) lending model, with use up 52 percent in 2021.  CPC titles can be added to a college or university’s digital collection, and they only pay a low fee (on average of $2-$4 per circ) when a title circs.  This means an academic library can add hundreds or even thousands of titles at no up-front cost.  An example to illustrate the power of CPC:  1,000 management titles could cost $50,000-$75,000 to purchase under traditional lending models.  Those 1,000 titles in a digital collection used to support a business program may only circ 200-300 titles in a semester.  In that case, with the average CPC price of $3 per circ, the cost would only be $600 -$900 to provide students and faculty access to more than 1,000 titles.  OverDrive enables colleges and universities to limit the amount of spend for CPC, so budgets remain fixed and predictable.  

Lastly, OverDrive offers another option that has surged in use:  Metered Access/Concurrent Use (MACU).  This lending model puts a premium price on a title but allows up to 100 circs concurrently.  A title may cost $85 for perpetual access for one user at a time (OverDrive terms this One Copy/One User or OC/OU), while under MACU it would cost 125-200 percent of that OC/OU price.  At 150 percent, the title would cost $127.50 and be available to 100 students simultaneously.  This can support core class reading by providing wide access without having to purchase dozens or more copies of the same title while delivering significant savings.  

Student Interest in Broad Variety of Genres 

Students borrowed a wide range of genres from their college or university’s digital collection in 2021, as illustrated in the list below.  From titles on contemporary women and thrillers to historical fiction and family life, more and more academic libraries are meeting the holistic needs of students and cultivating learning and curiosity with eBooks and audiobooks. 

Academic libraries of all shapes and sizes are also extending beyond eBooks and audiobooks to better engage students.  Digital magazines and streaming video are now available to offer as part of existing digital collections, and colleges and universities are leveraging this exciting advancement to support curriculum and offer unique entertainment and cultural experiences.  From crafting courses and guitar lessons to personal and professional development resources, libraries are embracing this new world of content and further establishing themselves as crucial resources for all aspects of student life.  Happy reading in 2022!

Top 10 Circing Genres (of Digital Books) from Academic Libraries in 2021

1. Fiction / Literary

2. Fiction / Contemporary Women

3. Fiction / Thrillers / Suspense

4. Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs

5. Fiction / Historical / General

6. Fiction / Classics

7. Fiction/ Family Life / General

8. Fiction / Coming Of Age

9. Juvenile Fiction / Action & Adventure / General

10. Fiction / Action & Adventure

Top 10 eBook Titles Borrowed from Academic Libraries in 2021

1. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

2. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

3. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

4. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

5. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

6. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

7. The Guest List by Lucy Foley

8. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

9. Educated by Tara Westover

10. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Top 10 Audiobook Titles Borrowed from Academic Libraries in 2021

1. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

2. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

3. Atomic Habits by James Clear

4. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

5. Becoming by Michelle Obama

6. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

7. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

8. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

9. Educated by Tara Westover

10. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Bolding indicates titles that were in both the top 20 eBooks and audiobooks lists.

These lists are based on calendar year 2021 data from the OverDrive network of academic libraries.  

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