The E-BASS25 Project will be drawing to a close at the end of February, so after of Monday’s wrap-up event in London, I thought I’d drop a few lines reflecting on the work completed so far.

On the nature of PDA…

The project has been successful at defining the following four models for PDA, which could be used by individual libraries, or within the context of a consortium of libraries looking to purchase e-books together.

The four models apply different principles to the concept of PDA.  The first three (PDA Purchase, PDA Rental and PDA Usage) are variations on a theme of payment.  Effectively, the spread of titles your customers are able to access varies according to the library’s attitude towards payment and ownership.

Imagine a library has £1000.  If the library wishes to use this money only to buy new material then PDA will allow them to do this easily, but they will buy few books.  If the library is happy to use some of the money to rent, then it will end the term with fewer books, but its patrons will have accessed a wider spread of content.  A library wishing to spend all the money on micropayments will own very few books for the money, but its patrons are likely to have accessed the largest number of books to some extent.

This brings us to the fourth model, PDA Evidence.  Seemingly the most popular amongst librarians and publishers alike, this model allows patrons to access a whole range of content during the course of the agreement, with the guarantee that all the money will be spent on whole books at the end.  Sounds ideal?  Well, almost.  Here’s the rub.  The library can choose which books they buy at the end of the agreement.  This is great for library choice, but surely this is not actually PDA? There is an intervention between the patron and the purchase.  Surely this adds an administrative burden that PDA was designed to eliminate?  Perhaps this model could still achieve cost savings when scaled up to a large consortium?

On the Nature of Consortia…

Library Consortia are organisations I have known of and dealt with for years, but it is only really through E-BASS25 that I have spent time pondering and analysing the nature, structure and purpose of various library consortia.

As detailed in the project, there are certain consortia with a strong sense of identity (normally national, regional or subject-allegiance) which have a successful history of consortial purchasing.  This type of consortium is often to be found within a single US state (OhioLINK) or a small group of adjacent states.  This side of the pond, these consortia are often found in smaller but well-developed Western European countries with populations of around 4 million (e.g. Finland, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland).

Larger consortia can be unwieldy and can contain very diverse organisations.  In these types of consortia, opt-in deals are the way forward, and considerable leadership and administration from the consortium is needed to manage the deals.

The Way Forward…

I believe that consortial e-book purchasing through M25 can work, but it needs strong leadership to bring the deal together.  The consortium would need to assert the way the deal would have to look, its model, parameters and content, giving its members the chance to opt-in to achieve maximum savings.

A consortium has strength to strike a deal with a publisher because its size maximises sales for the publisher and reduces their overheads of dealing with individual customers.  Libraries similarly benefit through reduced overheads and similar costs so consortial purchasing in an obvious win-win.

Through the size and diversity of its membership, M25 has the capability of putting together a sizeable consortium for the acquisition of e-books and it seems obvious that the only way this could be achieved is by using the evidence-based model.  Those wishing to participate would club their guaranteed spends together to achieve the highest possible discount.  At the end of the term, those books every partner wants would be bought.  The remaining fund could be divided up in line with the initial deposit, with each partner choosing their books.

A number of publishers may also be interested in trilling this approach to see if success could be achieved in practice.  Such an approach would be a departure from conventional purchasing practices and would require significant guidance from the consortium and there is always a chance it might not work, but, hey, perhaps M25 should give it a try?  If we don’t give it a try, we’ll never know.  Over to M25…

-Dominic Tate, M25 Project Manager