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pile of books with lock and chain

***Update 12/12/11: Overdrive has posted a response outlining the limitations of availability of certain titles to certain libraries, as well as differing terms of use for certain publishers or titles.  See their response: Ensuring access to the largest eBook catalog for libraries.  In no way do they defend the secretive nature of concealing the effect of these terms from their customers, or answer many of the other questions I had posed to them.  They do, however, tell libraries to contact their Account Specialists with questions and to expect a response within 24 hours.  Perhaps you’ll have better luck with that than I did, as over a week was apparently not enough time for them to even acknowledge that I’d sent an inquiry.***

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Ryan Claringbole, the Digital Branch Librarian at the Chesapeake Public Library in Virginia.  He asked if I’d ever heard about OverDrive restricting certain libraries’ access to specific publishers’ materials, or, in other words, different libraries seeing different catalogs of eBooks available in the OverDrive Marketplace.

I said “no,” and furrowed my little investigative brow, thinking something glitchy was probably happening with the OverDrive Marketplace.  I asked him to give me specifics and Ryan came through in spades–comparing the limited results found in his Marketplace to titles perfectly publicly visible in other libraries’ online collections, which I then compared to my library’s Marketplace and holdings.  I then called several other libraries and confirmed the weirdness and differences that Ryan and I were seeing.  Ryan discovered something that I have never heard discussed by OverDrive or by participating OverDrive libraries.

OverDrive has different catalogs of eBooks in the OverDrive Marketplace for different libraries.  We’re not all seeing the same title or author selections.

How many OverDrive customers knew that?  How many libraries who have been given the restricted catalogs were ever informed that this is what was happening, or why?  How many of you are right this second logging into your OverDrive Marketplace to check?

This is completely indefensible bullshit.  I am not easily shocked by corporate greed and unethical behavior, but this business practice shocked me.  Shame on you OverDrive.

Instead of trying to explain all of this second-hand, I invited Ryan to tell his story directly.  Below is what he sent me, followed by screenshots from his library’s Marketplace and my library’s Marketplace for three different popular authors. Hint: They’re not the same.

Ryan’s story

The Chesapeake Public Library partnered with OverDrive in the summer of 2011. We were very excited about increasing our eBook access with the largest provider of eBooks for public libraries. We had been in partnership with NetLibrary/EBSCO eBooks for a couple years, but the selection they had was geared more towards technical non-fiction eBooks. OverDrive was touting the best selection of fiction and popular non-fiction eBooks.

We decided to divide up the selection process by Fiction, Non-Fiction, Teens and Children. The selectors began placing orders immediately with the $9,000 collection credit that OverDrive gave if we signed up. The selectors came to me stating that they were surprised that there wasn’t a better selection of items. We at first thought that this was more of an eBook/publisher issue, that the items, specifically newer ones, were not available in digital format right away. But then the selectors started checking out our neighboring city, Virginia Beach, OverDrive site. The selectors contacted me saying that Virginia Beach had items available to checkout and download on their OverDrive site that was not showing up in our OverDrive Marketplace.

I contacted our liaison at OverDrive to inquire why certain items were showing up on other library’s OverDrive sites, but not showing up in our Marketplace. OverDrive wasn’t sure at first, but then informed me it had to do with our non-resident cards. Since the Chesapeake Public Library System allows reciprocal cards and purchased full service cards for patrons outside of the City, certain publishers won’t allow access to their eBooks at all, according to OverDrive. And by “no access” it means that those items won’t show up in our Marketplace.

I asked a legal representative for OverDrive about the full service cards, as they are purchased by patrons for an annual non-refundable fee of $35.00. The legal rep. said that, unfortunately, even the paid full service cards violate this restriction and they would be blocked as well.

Basically the Chesapeake Public Library System has two options when using OverDrive:

  1. We can keep everything as it is and have access to a limited amount of items. The cost of the product does not accurately reflect what we have access to.
  2. We can ask OverDrive to restrict access to the OverDrive site by a specific field in the accounts. This would mean that patrons that live outside the City do not have access. The Chesapeake area is part of Hampton Roads, a large metropolitan area that has many commuters, and it is also on the North Carolina border, meaning we get many patrons from NC. I’m not sure of the statistic, but a large slice of our patron pie comes from outside the City.

Since I was not originally on the committee that went through and signed the contract with OverDrive I asked to see a copy of our contract to see where it specifically is stated that we cannot give access to OverDrive to patrons that are outside the City. I did not find anything until near the very end:

Access to the Application Services shall be limited to those patrons of the Library that have the required relation to the Library to receive a library card (“Authorized Patrons”). Library shall not provide access to the Application Services to any end users who are not Authorized Patrons. Authorized Patrons shall be defined as individuals who can provide proof of residency, employment, or enrollment in school or similar institution in the Library’s service area. Online library card applications and issuance, with or without any fees, that provide access to the Application Services without proof of the required library relation (as referenced in the foregoing sentence) shall not be permitted. OverDrive reserves the right to immediately terminate this Agreement if Library provides access to the Application Services to end users who are not Authorized Patrons.

In discussing this with other librarians within the system, one pointed out that technically the “library service area” is not defined in the contract, and we don’t define it as within the City limits. By definition, the library service area could be anywhere in the country if they decide to purchase a full service card. Our Director asked the OverDrive legal representative about this and he said that they (OverDrive) define it as the area that provides the majority of funding to the library system. In our case, it’s the City.

I have asked many librarians if they know if their systems are under the same restrictions with OverDrive. I have yet to find one that has even heard of such a restriction. I find this restriction misleading and poorly worded in the contract, and I find it baffling that the items that are restricted won’t even show up in the Marketplace.

But even if the restriction is poorly worded and not pointed out, even if the items are completely hidden in the Marketplace, why this library system has been singled out is the one question I’d like answered. And are any more libraries going to be victims of this restriction?

Sample of Authors Affected with Screenshots

[Update: Commenter Doug pointed out that Ryan had limited his results to eBooks only while I had not, which was a good point. I have updated the screenshots as a result. The differences in availability still apply, but the screenshots are more comparable now. Thanks Doug!]

1) Results for Kathryn Stockett

Kathryn Stockett results from Ryan's library

Kathryn Stockett results from Ryan's library










Kathryn Stockett results from Sarah's library

2) Results for Stieg Larsson 

Stieg Larsson results from Ryan's library

Stieg Larsson results from Ryan's library

Stieg Larsson results from Sarah's library

Stieg Larsson results from Sarah's library

3) Results for Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich results from Ryan's library

Janet Evanovich results from Ryan's library

Janet Evanovich results from Sarah's library

Janet Evanovich results from Sarah's library

What is happening?

In short, depending on the library card policies of your library and how you’ve set up authentication (e.g. do you somehow limit either cards or authentication to only people in “your jurisdiction”) you will see different publishers and titles available in your OverDrive Marketplace.  I’ll tell you one thing…this limitation is definitely not specifically mentioned in your contracts.  The closest you’ll get is the section Ryan quoted above.  There is pretty much zero information in the standard OverDrive contract about the content itself–it’s all about the platform.  There are no publisher guarantees, or guarantees of availability.  In fact, the contracts (depending on which version your library signed) say something along the lines of “OverDrive can add and remove content at will.”

One author in our brief list of three samples is from Putnam, one from Random House, and one from Knopf (a Random House imprint).  We were also able to track a few additional authors with problems.  But I’m wondering now which publishers exactly are affected.  Actually, I’m left wondering a lot of things because OverDrive hasn’t ever made this information available to its customer libraries.

Basically, OverDrive can and has created agreements with publishers that allow them to prohibit certain libraries’ ability to license their titles.  Except OverDrive never tells libraries this is happening.  The only way we’d know is by librarians like Ryan stumbling over inconsistencies in title availability and investigating.

And I hate to call attention to this, but nearly every library in California allows any California resident to get a library card–which means that unless every single California customer is authenticating based on zip code or another location-specific field in the patron record (which I know they’re not), then pretty much the whole state of California should be getting the limited catalog (according to what OverDrive’s legal representative told Ryan).

OverDrive has sold their “selection of digital titles” to libraries as though everyone is seeing the same thing, as though access is equitable across the board.  Pieces started to fall together, though, as I remember some librarians complaining bitterly about how horrible the selection is in OverDrive and others looking at them incredulously and saying they thought it was fine. Now we know why different people had different impressions of the selection of materials–because the selection of materials was not the same from library to library.

Why would OverDrive do this?

Money.  Why else?  They’re a for-profit company.  I’m guessing here, but I would venture that either OverDrive was told by publishers it had to agree to these limiting terms in order to get any of that publisher’s content for any of its customers and/or OverDrive got more money from these publishers if they put that limitation in place.  Now here’s the danger–how many more publishers are going to follow suit?

Why wouldn’t they tell us? Because, as usual, companies make risk calculations and decide in favor of obscuring facts about their services rather than being open and transparent about them with their customers.  The calculated risk here was whether anyone would figure out that there were differences in our catalogs of available eBooks, and if so, if we shushy-quiet-bound-librarians would be loud about it or do anything substantive that would cost them money.  And just as with the Amazon and user privacy issue with OverDrive–we’re going to start getting loud, aren’t we?

As for doing something about it, if you take the Kindle privacy violations and combine them with this news–anybody tempted to cancel their library’s OverDrive contract?  I know I am.  And if you’re looking at renewing or signing a new contract with OverDrive, watch out.  Look for the clause Ryan cited in your contract and be sure to ask your sales representative point blank whether or not your access to the catalog is a full or restricted version and get a response in writing.

Attempts to get OverDrive’s Comments

It is critical to note that I contacted three different OverDrive staff (Director of Marketing, our local collections rep, and our regional sales manager) and gave them ample time to respond to the issue, asking them specific questions to help sort the mess out in case something was just glitchy, or in case they wanted to comment on the reasons for these differences.  I never received even an acknowledgement of my emails.  Bad form, fellas.


  • How many different versions of your catalog of materials are there?
  • Are some publishers not willing to license content to certain types/sizes of libraries?
  • What is the limitation based on?
  • Is this information shared with OverDrive clients during the contract negotiations?
  • Is the limitation on selection noted in the contracts with affected libraries?
  • What publishers/authors/titles does this apply to?
  • Does OverDrive have a list of affected library clients?

I once more call on OverDrive for a formal statement.  Your customers are impatiently tapping their feet, and that may lead to those feet moving from tapping to marching into an Occupy OverDrive movement if you’re not careful.  Your corporate headquarters are in Suite N of the Valley Tech Center, at 8555 Sweet Valley Drive, in Cleveland, Ohio, right? I don’t particularly want to visit Cleveland in December, but hey…worthy causes and all that.

Ryan Claringbole is a rock star

I want to congratulate Ryan Claringbole on singlehandedly making a difference in libraries and revealing deceptive corporate practices for a company that has a virtual monopoly on popular eBook distribution in libraries.  Ryan broke this story wide open and I want to commend him for being a stellar library professional and noticing something the rest of us did not, and for having the courage to come out publicly about what he found.  Ryan, I salute you sir.

What you can do

Finally, I ask all of you library users and library staff to help us figure out what’s happening.  You can do three things:

  1. Check your own OverDrive Marketplace and see what results you turn up for these three authors.  What are you seeing?  Then check your own contracts to see if this limitation is in your contract, and talk to whoever negotiated and signed it to see if they understood what it meant and/or were possibly told they were getting a limited catalog of materials to choose from.
  2. Post your findings in the comments section of this blog post.
  3. Tell your OverDrive rep what you think, whatever that may be.  And just in case anyone wants to take that extra step to contact Corporate Headquarters, always a good thing to do when you feel strongly about something, here’s their phone number: (216) 573-6886. And why not go old school and also send a fax? (216) 573-6888.  Who knows? Print might get their attention better.  How ironic would that be?

“OverDrive Has Different eBook Catalogs for Different Libraries”

  1. JD Thomas Says:

    This was very timely for me.

    I have been working out how to handle giving a Kindle 3G to my partner’s mom who has no real access to the Internet at home for shopping or use of a library website. I checked out her library’s web site in York County PA and saw they have Overdrive so I started looking up authors she likes and it was like looking for water in a desert. I gave up and logged into my own account at the Philadelphia Free Library system and had no trouble finding the titles she was asking about.

  2. Joanna Aegard Says:

    Wow. We also have OverDrive. I go the same results in the Marketplace as Sarah, but this is obv all super concerning. One other strange thing — when I searched for “Evanovich, Janet” (author) I got nothing, but “Janet Evanovich” got results. How dumb is that? Will def stay tuned for more info.

  3. Jenny Reiswig Says:

    Excellent investigation. Overdrive is behaving really badly here. If it’s in their contract that a customer cannot have patrons from outside theirr area, then they shouldn’t be selling contracts to those libraries at all, not selling them an inferior product without telling them.

  4. Laura Shea-Clark Says:

    Thank you Sarah & Ryan for letting us know. Let the battle begin!

  5. Kristi C. Says:

    Honestly, I am not surprised with all of the stories coming up this last year on territorial restrictions on ebooks. OverDrive is getting more and more specific about restrictions in their documents, as seen with the whole Kansas story. Unfortunately time and time again OverDrive is showing their own “if you don’t ask, we won’t tell until it comes up” policy they seem to have about providing relevant and timely information for their customers. These sort of restrictions should be spelled out beforehand.

  6. Margaret Says:

    Johanna – Overdrive’s search function has always been poor and obstructive. I’ve had several experiences of trying a title in the regular search bar of a book I knew we had and nothing coming up, then going into advanced search and finding it. Kind of a big glitch and at the very least frustrating for librarians, at the most it is a disservice to our patrons.

  7. Melanie Says:

    Ryan & Sarah, thanks so much for sharing this information.

  8. Katie D. Says:

    Here’s an example of how corporations are gaining more influence over public institutions. It is up to the librarian, the library board, and the public it serves to craft circulation policies concerning the materias that are acquired for that library. Digitization, subscription services, and DRM make it easier for corporate entities to dictate these policies.

  9. Mana Tominaga Says:

    Got the same results as you for our SJPL subscription.
    What irks me even more is how they’ve changed their reporting functionality – you used to be able to get detailed stats per format, but since they introduced the Kindle support, they’ve dropped that – so you can’t track per format!!

  10. David Dodd Says:

    Thanks, Sarah and Ryan. Extremely timely info, and excellent investigative reporting. We need to establish a Library Pulitzer to encourage this kind of reporting! I nominate the two of you for the first such award.

  11. Lisa Says:

    I did notice this a few weeks ago, but I didn’t really understand why it was. I checked the library where I work for a title, and then not finding it, and I checked another nearby library system. Not only did the other system have the book I wanted, they had more copies of certain books that were found in both catalogs. Not being privy to the details of our OverDrive contract (since that’s not my department), I just kind of assumed that maybe there were different “tiers” or options or something that could explain the difference.

  12. Jessica Goodman Says:

    And what are the implications for consortia? Thank you so much for sharing this.

  13. My new toy, Kindle Touch | Glancing Backwards Says:

    [...] blog entry about Amazon/OverDrive, I saw that her post from today discusses this very topic: “OverDrive has Different eBook Catalogs for Different Libraries.” I’ll let Ms. Houghton tell you about her theories in her own words…interesting [...]

  14. Ralph Says:

    Nice detective work. All you need now are pictures of Overdrive Staff in compromising positions. Alert the drones!

  15. Jeff Scott Says:

    They are very anti-consortia. I had trouble even trying to negotiating anything from them. I also have tried to get a library card from another California that had Overdrive and they wouldn’t let me because of Overdrive. They go against the spirit of California’s statewide sharing law. I see Overdrive has developed another layer, probably at the publishers request. You should find in state consortia and compare it to you own results.

  16. Paul Signorelli Says:

    Superb reporting–exactly the sort of information that can make a significant difference for many people. And it’s great that you noted that you provided company reps with time to respond before presenting what already appears to be a well-documented story. Kudos. And thanks.

  17. theanalogdivide » Blog Archive » It’s Not Just Overdrive. Says:

    [...] Houghton over at Librarian in Black dropped the latest library-world bombshell with her post “Overdrive Has Different eBook Catalogs For Different Libraries.” Her thorough research in the situation has uncovered an unmistakable conclusion: Libraries [...]

  18. Carl Says:

    This is what happens when you have a monopoly. They can do absolutely anything they want, and your choice is “or nothing.” Screaming does help, but libraries need legislative change around fair use of digital materials.

  19. Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian Says:

    I blame the library, and the committee members or administrator who didn’t READ THE CONTRACT! Seriously, people, it is a buyer beware world out there, and you need to carefully consider the ramifications of all of the contracts and vendor agreements you get into. Yes, it sucks that there aren’t many good options out there, but if librarianship were easy, we’d all have been displaced by expert systems by now.

  20. Toby Greenwalt Says:

    I went into this in greater detail in my blog response to this fantastic piece (see the trackback at comment #17), but I’ll reiterate it here. If the statement by Steve Potash from February is any indicator, this was a requirement put forth by publishers. Overdrive had the choice to either put this rule into place for its new contractholders, or not get any ebooks at all.

    What’s scary about this is that eventually our contracts (that don’t have these geographic restrictions for a tiny slice of our patron base) will expire. Then the issue won’t be whether Overdrive has different catalogs for different libraries – it’ll be whether we can allow out-of-area residents buy in to our libraries. It’s bad enough for libraries like mine that have a reciprocal borrower program. But for states that offer broad library access, like California (as you mentioned here), Wyoming, and Massachusetts, eBooks (at least through Overdrive) may evaporate rather quickly.

  21. Overdrive and the fine print | plpinfo Says:

    [...] in the contract, so they aren’t doing anything wrong, but is it right?  Read the whole story here.  What do you think about these kinds of practices in our libraries?  Do you think libraries have [...]

  22. Jeremy Says:

    Wow, I am so glad I stumbled on this timely post. This past summer, I moved from Arlington, VA to Chesapeake. I regularly borrowed ebooks from the Arlington library, and was always impressed with the selection of books. When I moved to Chesapeake, I was incredulous at the horrible selection of books available. In Arlington, the list was heavy with popular best-sellers and contemporary literature. The Chesapeake selections consisted of a handful of young-adult and romance titles. I’m so glad that this mystery has been solved for me. I’m ashamed to say that at the time I thought the small selection was in some way the city’s fault–either for not spending enough money on it or because of mismanagement. I’m very disappointed that publishers and OverDrive are subjecting public libraries to the walled-garden approach, and it runs counter to everything a public library should be to deny access to some towns and cities based on their card policies. If anything, it creates a negative incentive for those libraries to restrict free access to people who might rely on it.

  23. Mary Gaspary Says:

    Very interesting article. Maybe it would be to our benefit to have Overdrive explain to some of these publishers that with a larger geographic area we might get a higher demand for their titles and subsequently we would purchase more copies of those digital titles. The fact is we buy more paper titles of a book based on the demand and the need to fill that demand. Wouldn’t most of us purchase more copies of a digital book for the same reason? Are there restrictions on the Baker and Taylor catalog based on the restrictions of the area we serve? Not that I know of. Am I being naive thinking that the situation should be the same? Why should format matter? Paper, cd, large type, no one is keeping libraries from buying these formats based on who we serve. Overdrive needs to explain the library market to these publishers. A better catalog means more purchases, more purchases mean higher revenue for everyone. Overdrive, get with the program.

  24. david lee king Says:

    I’ll agree with “Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian” here (though I’ll also say – dude, get a backbone and post using your real name!). It’s in the contract, and as Toby points out, was also mentioned by Overdrive awhile back. Ya gotta read the contract. And … you can always ask for changes in that contract, too! We always do that.

    Yes, Overdrive’s a monopoly (probably not for too much longer). Yes, contracts have weird language that’s hard to understand (but most of you have access to attorneys). But no – if you signed a contract, it’s not Overdrive’s fault that you didn’t understand it, or didn’t choose to ask about it.

  25. Doug Says:

    Some of these are comparing tangerines and watermelons. It makes a *huge* difference whether or not you include audiobooks in your search. It appears that Ryan was searching for e-books only, while Sarah was searching for both e-books and audiobooks.

    In particular, all of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books prior to the most recent were published by Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, neither of which allows OverDrive to lend any of their e-books. Those titles *are* available as audiobooks, though, and two of the three entries on the Evanovich/Sarah’s page are for audiobooks. “Explosive Eighteen” is published by Random House and is available as an e-book through OverDrive, so that one counts.

    There does seem to be a difference, but the difference isn’t as big as these examples make it appear.

  26. Sarah Says:

    You were right Doug; thanks for pointing that out. You’re absolutely correct and I have updated the screenshots so that they are limited to just eBooks in my library’s Marketplace too. But I still get results where Ryan doesn’t: 1 for Stockett (compared to 0), 2 for Evanovich (compared to 0), and 7 for Larsson (compared to 3). The numbers were of less concern to me than that there’s a difference at all. And what bothers me even more than that is the fact that OverDrive’s library customers simply aren’t told about this limitation or what it means.

  27. Barbara Fister Says:

    Amazing. Overdrive won’t tell libraries about things that publishers also won’t tell libraries.

    I was annoyed that publishers won’t own their own shit and tell libraries what their new improved restrictions are (much less say “we have issues, and we need to talk.” Talking – not an option. Much too scary to talk to actual people). Now it turns out nobody’s owning their shit. Not publishers, not Overdrive. Unbelievable. These people must be really introverted if they can’t even let libraries know that they won’t let them have their books. What’s the point of being headquartered in New York if you can’t grow enough attitude to tell people you won’t let them be customers?

  28. Ryan Says:

    @YFNL and David Lee King – I agree with both of you that whoever signs a contract needs to question and make sure they understand everything that is in it. What I disagree with regarding our contract with OverDrive is that it is stated access to the materials is restricted to those in the Library’s service area. We know what our service area is, but OverDrive has their definition of what that service area is, and it is not defined in the contract. I also would hope that OverDrive would explain the restriction to the library beforehand instead of staying mute. They exist to do business, but I do not believe that should include tactics such as this. I’m hoping the matter will be resolved soon so patrons can access all of the content, but it is important that libraries that are currently negotiating or thinking of joining OverDrive know that they need to ask the company what the terms are regarding patrons in the library’s defined service area.

    Really appreciate the comments and perspective that everyone is offering with this. And a special THANK YOU to Sarah for taking the time and energy helping me with this by producing a great post and getting it out there for us to discuss.


    [...] There is a great post on the matter here [...]

  30. wendy Says:

    Nicely put in theanalogdivide, “… the thing we should be outraged about: Our vendors have been doing this for years” …but ebooks may be the rallying point to turn this around. If librarians keep sharing this kind of very specific information with each other, we’ll give our vendors fewer hugs and put ourselves in a more powerful position to negotiate with them. Individual librarians are of course responsible for reading our own contracts but let’s continue to inform each other about exactly what they say. Thanks for this forum.

  31. Megan Says:

    For the record, I’m at an academic library in Canada, and I got the same results as Sarah. (But it took a few tries with identical searches to get results for Larsson; not sure why)

  32. Carol C. Says:

    I agree with Ryan’s comment above. One of the things I find most disturbing about this is that OverDrive is taking it on themselves to define a library’s service area, and they aren’t sharing that definition with the library until forced to do so. In our state we have an agreement among many of the counties to allow any resident of those counties to get library cards from any of the libraries. Our OD contract doesn’t specifically exclude those patrons, but we know that libraries that participate in the agreement and have signed up with OD since we did have been told that only patrons from their county can use their OD content. I haven’t seen those contracts so I don’t know how clear the language is in that section.

  33. Rich Allen Says:


    Overdrive’s CEO Steve Potash did mentioned this matter in his February 24, 2011 letter on the HarperCollins 26 load restriction:

    “In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.). I can assure you OverDrive is not interested in managing or having any say in your library policies and issues. Select publisher terms and conditions require us to work toward their comfort that the library eBook lending is in compliance with publisher requirements on these topics.”

    “Another area of publisher concern that OverDrive is responding to is the size and makeup of large consortia and shared collections. Publishers seek to ensure that sufficient copies of their content are being licensed to service demand of the library’s service area, while at the same time balance the interests of publisher’s retail partners who are focused on unit sales. Publishers are reviewing benchmarks figures from library sales of print books and CDs for audiobooks and do not want these unit sales and revenue to be dramatically reduced by the license of digital books to libraries.”


  34. Chris H Says:

    We are as outraged as everyone else to discover these deceptive tactics, both by OverDrive and the publishers. Mary Gaspary had a very good point – more selection means more purchases. More demand means more holds equals more purchases. How can we collectively put the pressure on to change the publisher’s minds about restrictions?
    Will the state library associations and ALA be able to team up to address these issues legally? Particularly the service area definition interpretation by OverDrive, which appears to be applied differently between libraries and without disclosure. Like many others, our interpretation of that section of the contract was literal. We require documentation providing proof of residency in California – no proof, no card – therefore all patrons with library cards are Authorized Patrons.

  35. Conrad Yamamoto Says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Excellent website you’ve built, superb content. I guess you can go back home professionally speaking. I wish you great success at San Rafael. BTW – great info on the Overdrive article! -conrad/foster city

  36. School Library Lady Says:

    Not sure I want to spend time in Ohio either but hey – what’s up with that?
    I purchased ereaders for students and encourage them to use overdrive but thought it suspicious when we couldn’t find titles listed in our local public library and thought perhaps the library didn’t purchase them. This is a whole new wrinkle and I will be calling them.

    Shame on you Overdrive!!!

  37. News You Need to Start the Week | Says:

    [...] has picked up on a report by Sarah Houghton on her Librarian in Black blog, that claims that “OverDrive has different catalogs of eBooks in the OverDrive Marketplace for [...]

  38. A. Says:

    We specifically asked one of our Overdrive Reps this before we signed our final contract (as this was a concern for us… ) and they told us (in email) that the Marketplace would be the same for all Overdrive users.

    Good thing I save all emails.

  39. Jessica Fessler Says:

    I work for the Chesapeake Public Library system and have been aware of the issue of limited titles for the past few months. I find Overdrive’s response to be vague and evasive. So, basically, Overdrive is saying that it has the right to define a library’s service area, not the library itself. The City of Chesapeake serves the Hampton Roads area locally and the state of Virginia at large. We require “proof of residency, employment, or enrollment in school or similar institution in the Library’s service area” before a patron can get a library card. So what’s the deal Overdrive? The way you are enforcing your policy is not by a library’s service area, but by the county/city in which the library is located. If this is what you mean, say so in your policy and quit being so shady.

  40. Noutopian Librarian Says:

    Sarah, As much as I admire your passionate advocacy on behalf of libraries, your efforts will amount to nada if you don’t recognize and join with others to address the salient point, which should have been obvious to you before you began your rant. It was certainly obvious to me, as it has been for almost 2 years now, and I’m just a hapless librarian on the sidelines.

    Overdrive states this succintly in their blog post:

    “Each publisher or author has the ability, on a title-by-title basis, to set the permissions, copyright protection settings, price, and other rules associated with digital lending of their eBook or other digital content.”

    That is the environment we exist in, not only with books, but with all digital resources that we want to provide our patron communities. Until this situation is successfully addressed, either in Congress or the courts (or both), your rants and demands to vendors and publishers will earn you admiration of upset library staff (though not much admiration among those who could potentially be allies in changing this situation) and ensure noteriety in the library community, but will be ineffective in addressing the underlying issue.
    Thank you for your consideration of this perspective!

  41. Sarah Houghton (Librarian in Black) Says:

    @Noutopian Librarian – You’re right that we need to work through Congress or the courts. However, I think you’re wrong that this article has no positive effect. It raises awareness, encourages librarians to read their contracts with all vendors including OverDrive and understand them before signing, and to advocate for full access to materials to the companies they do business with. If the publishers and vendors get mad at me, personally, that’s fine. Someone has to peel back the veil on the deceptive, obfuscated, and confusing world of digital content…both for libraries and for consumers. The more we know, the better armed we are to effect change. If I have to be the sacrificial lamb that draws the ire of those corporate entities, so be it. I’ll also remind you that I did try to work with OverDrive on this by reaching out to them and asking repeatedly for a response. I did not get one. They chose not to work with me, not the other way around.

  42. Tuesday Midday Links: News and Deals - Dear Author Says:

    [...] lent or will be windowed. Not only does HarperCollins demand repurchase after 26 lends. But now comes word that Overdrive has restricted catalogs for some libraries and not for others. A couple of weeks ago [...]

  43. Anne Says:

    Now that I think on it, this policy is a bit odd for a company that would want to sell as many copies as possible. Making a smaller catalog for places that have reciprocal borrowing doesn’t make good sales sense.

    I wonder if Overdrive understands exactly what reciprocal borrowers are?

  44. Starbookzz Says:

    How is it a good business model for publishers to sell one copy of an eBook that is instantly available to anyone in the state of California? At least with tree books the item has to be picked up at the library, which limits access.

    I’m sure everyone has noticed the huge increase in the price of OverDrive eBooks. All of us are subsidizing the super-consortia and state-wide systems. The profit has to come from somewhere or the product will cease to exist. That’s just the way the world works, kids.

  45. It’s a wonderful life–library edition « bringyournoise Says:

    [...] a lovely and welcome contrast to the week in ebooks. First there was the revelation that OverDrive possibly (probably) has different catalogs for different libraries/service areas–a condition that was not necessarily conveyed fully to participating library customers. This tidbit [...]

  46. Is OverDrive Being Selective of Libraries? | Readers Entertainment News Says:

    [...] clear, but either way money seems to be the deciding factor in what titles a library receives.You can read the entire blog here. If you utilize OverDrive for your eBook purchases, I encourage you to read and respond to this [...]

  47. CB Says:

    I’m wondering if some of the discrepancy in search results has to do with the various “levels” of Overdrive that, as far as I understand, a library can subscribe to. We’re a pretty small library, so we can only afford a more basic level (with limited selection). However, there are other libraries in our system that have purchased a pricier plan that includes more titles. Had the libraries compared in this investigation purchased the same “level” of Overdrive? (I apologize if I’m not using the correct terminology, but hopefully my meaning is clear enough.)

  48. Rebecca Says:

    I have also been aware of this issue for some time now. When we first started with Overdrive back in July we also had a limited MarketPlace. I compared it to a library that I had worked at previoulsy and saw that they had many more options than we did. When I contacted Overdrive they told me that they had us as serving patron outside of our County even though we had given them the limits so that only in county cards could access Overdrive.

    What I find more interestying and I had just found out last week is that since our checkout limit is 3 items at a time our patrons can only check out 9 items in a 7 day period. This was not in any contract that we signed and when I contacted them they said that the over all checkout limit for 7 days was based on 3 times your checkout limit; the only work around available to us is to increase the total checkouts patrons can have.

    Has anyone else ran into this?

  49. Sia Stewart Says:

    I did these searches logged in to our consortium account and to this library’s Overdrive Advantage account. The results in both cases were the same as the results Sara got. 2 hits for Evanovich, 7 for Larsson, and 1 for Stockett.

  50. Ryan Says:

    @Rebecca – Hello, Rebecca. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about your OverDrive/Marketplace experience and to also discuss more about your 9 item limit. Is there a way to contact you to discuss this in detail? Please DM @librarianry if you’re able to. Thank you!

  51. Ed-Tech Weekly News Roundup: Khan Academy Goes to China | Hack Education Says:

    [...] Librarian in Black did some sleuthing to discover that library e-book provider Overdrive appears to offer different [...]

  52. Ryan Says:

    @Rebecca – Rebecca, just so you know I’ve just encountered that 9 item checkout/7 day limit. I am talking with OverDrive in a couple days and will ask them specifically about this issue.

  53. John Says:

    If you are a private company with a subscription service, you have to have some way to relegate access to your product. What incentive would libraries in neighboring areas have to pay for Overdrive if they could just redirect them to the next library down the road who already pays for the service? There has to be a physical limitation somewhere, and limiting access by residency is one of the few ways it can be done.

  54. Ryan Says:

    @John – I agree that a private company cannot be completely open and restrictions are necessary to a point. What I am having trouble with specifically is that they are not detailing what their restrictions are to their customers. I believe good business practice is to openly show what your services and restrictions are before having the customer sign the contract, not after, or, in their case, not even telling them until it is discovered.

  55. Final LOL (lots of links) for 2011 | How To Write Shop Says:

    [...] Interesting (to me, at least) because I know nothing about library lending policies. Apparently some digital books are available to some, but not to [...]

  56. DT Says:

    @John – that might be a reasonable explanation if this restriction were coming from Overdrive, but they are at pains to say that it is *not* their policy, but one imposed by the publishers.

    I’m a loss to understand how publishers can claim an interest in where library patrons live, or why they think doing so is a benefit to them. Just the opposite, I’d say limiting access to legitimate sources for books only furthers piracy. The number of books a consumer is interested in reading–or at least having a glance through–is inevitably going to be smaller than the number they’re actually interested in owning. Libraries fill that gap, and users who are willing to go to the trouble to get multiple cards, or even pay for access to libraries, should be cultivated by publishers. They are likely the high-volume consumers interested in (or whose knowledge is only limited to) legitimate copies. They’re *more* likely to pay to own copies of the books they want to keep.

    On the other hand, if you throw up roadblocks and make it difficult for them to access the various books they have a passing interest in checking out–things they were hardly likely to bother paying for in the first place–you drive them to investigate other sources. And once they learn their way around the world of book piracy, that’s knowledge that can’t be unlearned. No hold lines, no return dates, no cost? Heck, at that point why even go back to libraries let alone bookstores. Congratulations, your restrictive policies have just helped to create another pirate.

  57. DT Says:

    “The number of books a consumer is interested in reading–or at least having a glance through–is inevitably going to be smaller than the number they’re actually interested in owning.”

    rather, “inevitably going to be larger”

  58. Overdrive Critiqued « Readerspeak Says:

    [...] that happens to patrons post-borrowing a Kindle book via the library and, more troubling, Overdrive’s practices of having different books offered to different libraries! Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  59. OverDrive, Amazon Privacy Disclaimer Pops Up in Wisconsin; in Virginia, Questions About Catalog Disparities — The Digital Shift Says:

    [...] branch librarian at the Chesapeake Public Library in Virginia, has raised a question (via the Librarian in Black blog) whether different libraries see different catalogs of ebooks available in the OverDrive [...]

  60. Not really everything you need to know about e-books | Alyson's Welsh libraries blog Says:

    [...] service received different collections of stock to offer their customers, and only found out by mistake.  This article in the New York Times entitled ‘Publishers vs. Libraries: An E-Book Tug of [...]

  61. Everybody’s got one | Says:

    [...] Who Reads A Lot have issue with is that apparently, Overdrive is not an equal opportunity lender. Librarian in Black, a blog that I follow, posted about how not every library has the same access to all the books [...]

  62. Margaret Says:

    I’d be very interested to know if there are efforts underway to take this issue to Congress or the courts? Is ALA or any state library association pursuing legislation to address what Noutoupian librarian raises in comment #40? Basically, publishers are allowed to charge a different price to an individual vs. a library, and limit digital access to libraries, It seems obvious that a corporation is not the same as an individual, but the Courts have ruled otherwise; why can’t we use this in our favor to get a ruling that publishers have to treat libraries like individuals?

    Has this issue been tackled in other countries?

    I appreciate you uncovering this issue and raising awareness. Now, what do we DO about it?

  63. I just started using Overdrive to order e-books... Says:

    and I agree that the Overdrive “Marketplace” has a clunky and limiting search capabilities. HOWEVER, I think some very broad generalizations are being made about available content and a lot of the specifics are not being addressed.

    Something that I noticed today:

    Content that our Overdrive consortium owns and is available via E-media Library is not available in the Marketplace for Advantage purchases.

    Here’s Why: Publishers change their policies/relationships with Overdrive. AND While we do not lose access to titles that we had previously licensed, and we can purchase additional copies of titles we already had as Advantage titles, we cannot purchase an Advantage copy if we didn’t already have one – therefore it is not in the Marketplace. This is why “The Help” and Kathryn Stockett searches are yielding strange results. Amy Einhorn Books (publisher of “The Help”) is an imprint of Penguin, which has severed their relationship with Overdrive. SO, if your library did not purchase an Advantage copy of the book before the relationship with Penguin was severed, you can’t buy one. This is as a result of the PUBLISHER’s decision, not Overdrive limiting your selections for no reason.

    Doug points out a related matter much earlier in the discussion. I feel like a lot of the inconsistencies being pointed out can be attributed to situations that arise from publishers and their relationships with Overdrive, and thusly, Overdrive’s limitations on libraries.

  64. The Kindle Ebook Reader   | My Ebook Reader Says:

    [...] can read more about digital book readers at John's website, Ebook Reader Comparison Info. The Kindle Ebook Reader   Article by John Gergets …ce. What would have seemed like magic just several years ago becomes expected or worse, commonplace. [...]

  65. Bob Says:

    The info about non-resident card holders and limitations on content access, here and on the linked-to document from Overdrive, were helpful. Thanks for the post. Rock on.

  66. Morris Brown Says:

    In a world that’s rapidly advancing with technology weaving in and outer of our lives, my question, comment or complaint is simple. I am a resident of the the Hampton main library in Hampton, Va and when I try to use the overdrive system for borrowing an ebook, I run into a wall because I can’t. The reason why I can’t is because the available libraries that offer the overdrive library system do not accept my libarary card because they (the neighboring libraries) are of a different county. How can we get the overdrive system in Hampton, va to avoid this dilemma? Thank you for your time and patience in resolving this matter.

  67. Sarah Says:

    To get OverDrive at your library, you would need to ask the library to pay for a yearly subscription to the service as well as spend additional dollars to obtain content (eBooks and eAudioBooks). You could go to the library’s board or commission meeting (every library has a governance body like this of some sort). You could speak to the director, or the head of collections/acquisitions. Try making the suggestion, and asking why they don’t have it yet. It’s possible that it’s too expensive for their budget, or that they don’t think it’s a good service for the dollars spent.

  68. Aaron Says:

    Well written contracts include definitions and clarifications. Otherwise companies leave themselves open to lawsuits over misrepresentation and matters of interpretation. It happens too often in the corporate world.

    >>Overdrive states this succintly in their blog post:
    >>“Each publisher or author has the ability, on a title-by-title basis, to set the permissions, copyright protection settings, price, and other rules associated with digital lending of their eBook or other digital content.”

    A blog post is not a contract. That information need to be included in the contract.

  69. Pamela bourque Says:

    I shared the site with my local library, and dearly pray and hope someone will end the monopoly! We need more people with a heart like Ben Franklin’s, God rest his soul, (but I wouldn’t be averse to his haunting a few key people at overdrive.)

    Our digital library encompasses the entire southwestern region of louisiana, after all, there is one major city, lake charles, and hundreds of small towns. My screen shots had more of some, and less of others, for instance 11 for janet.
    And beyond the ridiculous in the amount of holds on popular books one has to wait through until it’s your turn. Don’t get me started on the wait for an interlibrary loan…..

  70. Pamela bourque Says:

    what I really don’t get is how it’s the publishers business once the sale is made, as to who the hell can read it.( I guess they don’t realize most every book bought is loaned to various friends and relatives)

    DT, you make a great point. I’m certain I’m not the only frustrated voracious reader wishing they could a way around this….

  71. Ibanez – Ovation – Steinberger – Fender – Guitars | Top Guitar Reviews Says:

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  72. Dawn Says:

    Pamela, I totally agree with you on this one. In my family, when one of us buys a printed book, it goes through the whole family. I save my books from one child to the next. Is this somehow illegal now? The book was purchased, publisher and author paid with US Dollars. At the point of sale, the item becomes the buyers own property, to do with as they wish. But it seems when it comes to ebooks, we are only allowed to read them on ONE reader, or buy many different forms of it for all the different readers. That is like telling me I can only read it in the kitchen, but it is illegal to read it on the beach.

    I firmly believe that Libraries, which are suffering from funding costs already, should be able to lend their books, ebooks, etc to all their patrons. This may be the only way some can even get their hands on a book. Sometimes I think there are those so money hungry, that they bite off the hand that feeds them. I think it is sad that Libraries are being limited, and scary too, the more the Libraries are limited, the more they will be a dying breed.

  73. Navigating the library blogosphere and why it matters « bringyournoise Says:

    [...] are lots of these blogs, many of which I do not follow. But many of which I do. These include Librarian in Black, Librarian by Day, Agnostic Maybe, The Unquiet Librarian, and Across Divided Networks by Andromeda [...]

  74. DAlma Says:

    Interesting. I’ve had two library cards for a few years — one for Scottsdale, AZ and one for San Francisco, CA — and if I can’t find a book at one overdrive catelog, I switch to the other. They are always different results, including different numbers of copies, different books on record, and different numbers of people on the waitlist. I’ve always assumed this was just because each library system purchased different books.

  75. Liya Cornelius Says:

    I just came across your blog while searching for this very exact topic. I’m a resident of California and I have library cards for San Francisco City and County, Sacramento County, Orange County, and now Folsom which is in Sacramento County but has a different Overdrive catalog. I was going to make a little bucket list project out of getting a library card for every county in CA, but now I realize that Overdrive has different catologs combining some less populated counties and breaking out cities from counties, etc (i.e. Oakland and Berkeley are cities next to each other and are both in Alameda County, but all three have different Overdrive catalogs). They certainly have created quite the racket for themselves.

  76. Dutt Says:

    In today’s world when more kids and grown ups are watching tv and playing video games, there are a few folks like us who love to read books and it is frustrating that overdrive is restricting our access to ebooks. I have personally experienced this. I enjoy reading Harlequin Presents series of books and the selection available to San Mateo county is less than a dozen where as the members of San Francisco public libraries have access to way more books. I don’t mind if overdrive charges me extra on a monthly basis but they should allow us access to more books. Very frustrating.

  77. hello Says:

    Does anyone know is there a way to be notified of any of the following. OD seems a closed shop
    - new authors added to catalogue this month
    - new titles of existing authors added to catalogue this month
    - new publishers added to catalogue this month
    I have been exploring the differences and so far it appears libraries are grouped into segments. I dont know if these segments indicate more influence to OD or why they are chosen. Not sure of the criteria. But i was trying to get clear on the segments.
    Acces to = their clientele can recommend books into their local library.

    segment A – access to Simon Schuster bundle (e.g. Atria, Touchstone, Henry Holt, Houghton Miffen, Scribner, Free Press, Farrar, t Martins). This bundle is only recenty been available. I think in last 3 months some time. – 2 libraries found with this access
    segment B – no access to SSbundle. Access to Penguin GUS. I think this was annouced by OD mid Sept 2013. – >10 libraries found
    segment C – no access to SSbundle. Access to McGraw. Access to Harper – 2 libraries found
    segement D – the main general catalogue. no access to SS bundle. no access to McGraw, Harper.

    but then there are many publishers in the OD catalgoue, that I cannot find libraries have access to.
    hodder & stoughton
    harvard business
    addison-wesley (pearson education)

    and these publishers have books in catalogue, but i cannot find any library with access to and new books
    wharton school publishing
    basic books
    faber and faber
    create space

    any difference experience, please lmk

  78. john, who is incognito and definitely not at work Says:

    Hello: Penguin eBooks have been available through OverDrive since September 2013. Libraries may or may not buy any of the titles because they are metered access titles (libraries have to repurchase them after a certain number of downloads) and possibly also because, up till about a week ago, Penguin was (stupidly, I would say, and pettily) refusing to send Kindle eBooks to Kindle apps through OverDrive, allowing them only on actual Kindle devices and only on those devices through sideloading via USB (as opposed to sending them wirelessly, like every other Kindle-format eBook). Penguin has finally lifted that restriction.

    McGraw-Hill titles only became available in OverDrive in late November 2013. They focus more on professional and educational titles than on popular titles, so that may explain why you’re not seeing them much in various library collections, especially if you’re focusing on public libraries.

    As for libraries’ influence with OverDrive, yes, there is some variance, but I’ve seen that mostly in which libraries get to be part of pilot programs (like, e.g. the Simon & Schuster offerings which NYPL and Cleveland have).

  79. Mimo Says:

    My goodness, this is interesting stuff.
    I’m in Australia, I use overdrive and my public library for audio books. my library didn’t have some that I wanted, so I explored others. I used Sue Grafton for my search and found that several libraries with Overdrive had the volumes I wanted and also allowed interstate ( or non resident) membership. Also, a couple of American libraries allow membership for a fee. Great news!
    However …… I noticed the Australian libraries, although allowing membership, will not allow access to ebooks and audio books from those not living in their area.
    Now, before sending off my money to The Philadelphia Free Library or the Public Library of New Orleans, I need to find out if, after paying money, I will be allowed acces to e books and audio books.
    I would have thought that paying subscribers would be welcome extra income for any library!

  80. Sarah Says:

    Licensing contracts with the companies who provide libraries with eBooks (OverDrive, 3M, Baker & Taylor, etc.) explicitly prohibit non-residents from gaining access. They require us to validate not only that the library card is current, but that the person resides in our jurisdiction. Therefore, unless the library where you live offers eBooks, you won’t be able to access a library eBook collection.

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