Kansas & OverDrive – The Future of the Consortia Model of Contract Negotiation

Italicized portions from (Kelly, 2011b), read the full article here

The state librarian of Kansas is playing country hardball with ebook vendor OverDrive, rejecting contract renewal proposals that, in one case, would have increased administrative fees nearly 700 percent by 2014…

…A subsequent proposal would have reduced the state library’s administrative fee and, instead, levied (through the state library) fees on member libraries based on the population served. The fees would have ranged from $600 for the smallest libraries (service area up to 1000) to $12,000 for the largest (service area over 100,000).

Yet under the consortia model, when one library or library system (say Johnson County Library), purchases content to be added to the ebook collection, that content is then available to ANYONE within the consortium, not just the library who paid for the content. While this may provide for a larger, more diverse collection, it also means libraries buy content that their patrons may seldom get to use. To pass on additional administrative fees for volume usage without also loosening rules about lending of ebooks to allow libraries to make sure their own patrons get to benefit from the money their library is spending seems like charging more money for the same flawed service, which makes no sense.

OverDrive said the higher fee for the larger libraries in the state would help defray the costs of “product development,” according to Donna Lauffer, the county librarian for the 13-branch Johnson County Library in Overland Park.

“The OverDrive product is difficult to use and so we spend a lot of time explaining how to use it,” she told LJ. “And there isn’t really a competitor to OverDrive…. So, now we’re being asked by OverDrive to contribute money to help develop their products as well as to buy the content. We expect them to develop their product. They should have been developing their product all along,” she said.

Would you agree to pay Microsoft or Adobe more money for the use of the same flawed product for explicit purpose of increasing their R&D budget? Of course not! This is supposed to be the advantage of the open market, competition for business drives innovation and cost-cutting for the benefit of the consumer. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a viable competitor to OverDrive at the moment, leaving Kansas Libraries hamstrung over the content already purchased via OverDrive. OverDrive knows this, hence their attempt to remove the clause of their original contract with the Kansas State Library which requires them to help migrate content to a new platform should the library consortium choose to end the relationship with OverDrive. Fortunately, the Consortium caught the change:

…”It doesn’t feel like we’re at the table out here in Kansas. We don’t feel like we are a partner.”
The question of access may pivot around clause 11.4 of the current contract, which has been excised from the renewal proposals, Budler said. The clause, Budler believes, obliges OverDrive to cooperate in the transfer of content to another service provider in the event the contract is terminated.

“We noted that they have tried to pull this clause, and we will be looking more deeply into that,” she said…

In my admittedly inexperienced view, there are two major things at stake here. The biggest one is the consortium model of contract negotiation. While the Kansas model is not ideal in terms of serving local patron needs with e-content as noted above, from a contract negotiation stand point the bigger issue will be the ability of the state system to stand its ground with a for-profit partner and effectively advocate for the needs of its member organizations. Any individual Kansas library or library system, short of perhaps Johnson County Library (a 13-branch system), doesn’t represent enough revenue to OverDrive to be worth playing hardball with. If say, Leavenworth County Library (a single library, no branches) tried the tactics being used by the Kansas State Library, OverDrive would simply stop doing business with them. Individually, we’re not big enough fish in the revenue stream to effectively advocate for ourselves and our patrons. Only collectively do we have the purchasing power to take a meaningful seat at the table, rather than simply accept the terms offered us or be shut out.

If the Kansas Consortium is not able to effectively bargain with OverDrive and must resort to letting individual libraries fend for themselves, we should expect more price gouging and increasingly restrictive licensing agreements ala HarperCollins.

The second issue is the nature of e-content provision itself. This situation raises the question of what kind of partnerships with for-profit service providers are we utilizing and do they best serve our needs and the wants and needs of our patrons? Can we effectively compete in the popular media e-content market, or do we need to look to another model that allows greater local control and can forego the kind of liabilities inherit in these relationships? There is a serious question as to whether Kansas Libraries OWN the content that has been purchased through OverDrive, or if it has simply been licensed. If the latter, it may be impossible to force OverDrive to migrate that content to another system regardless of what the original contract states.

Perhaps we in Kansas should look to the e-content model being pioneered by a pair of libraries and a group of small regional publishers in Colorado. This system, set to go online this summer, allows the libraries to directly own and service the e-content they lend and supports the regional economy by providing a pass-thru buying system that puts money in the pockets of other Coloradoans, not a third-party platform provider (Kelly, 2011a). The system is still an attempt to force a print-based model on e-content, but at least it’s one that puts content creators and libraries on equal footing.

Looking further down the road, what are our alternatives to the print-limitations being artificially imposed on e-content? A single digital copy of something is effectively an unlimited number of copies. Why treat it like it’s a book? Digital media is fundamentally different than print media (Griffey, 2010). This difference is what part of what makes e-content so exciting, because it effectively eliminates the limitations of physical space and location that are a fundamental part of print media. We are artificially placing this limitation on content to meet the demands of content providers and intermediaries? Let’s get creative here, what new compensation models are out there that let us reward people for their work and respect their intellectual property rights without hamstringing the best advantages of the medium?

Whether you care about Kansans’ access to e-content or not, this debate will have huge ramifications for the field as a whole and will set a precedent for library-to-private-industry relationships for years. Either we’ll be partners at the table, or peons subject to the dictates of for-profit enterprise. I for one hope that Kansas will walk away from the table, keep its money, and develop something uniquely suited to our needs, wants, and situation. Not a realistic solution perhaps, but I’m just a student. For now I can afford to dream.


Griffey, J. (2010). Ebook Sanity. Library Journal, 135(13), 25-6. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/communityopinion/885940-274/ebook_sanity.html.csp

Kelley, M. (2011, March 17). Colorado Publishers and Libraries Collaborate on Ebook Lending Model. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/newslettersnewsletterbucketljxpress/889765-441/colorado_publishers_and_libraries_collaborate.html.csp

Kelley, M. (2011, April 6). Kansas State Librarian Goes Eyeball to Eyeball with OverDrive in Contract Talks. Library Journal – LJXpress Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/newslettersnewsletterbucketljxpress/890089-441/kansas_state_librarian_goes_eyeball.html.csp

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1 Comment

Filed under Content Creation, Partnerships, State of the Profession, Technology

One response to “Kansas & OverDrive – The Future of the Consortia Model of Contract Negotiation

  1. Pingback: Kansas Library to swtich to 3M – Another Litmus Test for E-content provision | Goat in the Stacks

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