July 14, 2016 Last Updated 12:52 pm

First Look: The New York Public Library’s new eBook reading app, SimplyE

Libraries have been enthusiastic about digital magazines as a way to increase offerings, save space, and keep issues intact, but now some library systems have launched eBook reading apps so patrons can access eBook collections via mobile devices, remotely

This morning The Digital Reader included a link to a story in the NY Daily News on the new app for the New York Public Library called NYPL SimplyE which I thought about all morning.

NYPL-SimplyE-iPadAs TNM readers know, every once in a while I include an announcement from a library or library system about the introduction of digital magazine services. I remind readers that behind the scenes, while digital magazines may appear to be going nowhere in direct to consumer circles (read: app stores), firms like Zinio and OverDrive continue to sell their digital magazine services to libraries.

Digital magazines make a lot of sense for libraries. A library, which used to only offer a small selection of print magazines, can now offer many more titles, including international magazines. Also, readers have a tendency to rip pages out of the print magazines found in libraries. It’s hard to do that to a digital edition.

“I remember this from my days at Ogilvy,” Jeanniey Mullen told me in 2013 when she was then the CMO at Zinio. “I was on the distribution list for The Economist and I would get it two months after it would come out because it had to be rerouted to so many people before it could come to me.”

For magazines, Zinio’s early experience was that the digital program was not “cannibalizing print at all.” Libraries chose what titles to offer, and publishers decided if they wanted to be part of the program.

“One of the interesting we started to see was the libraries’ selection mix,” Mullen said. “The first thing is that a publisher has to approve being part of this program. It’s not just every single magazine on Zinio, and there are some publishers who have opted out at this time, and some who have said ‘sure’. So if you are in the consideration set, the library gets to choose which magazines they want. In the early days one of the concerns that the publishers had was ‘oh God, if the library is buying a print subscription to Car and Driver magazine, and they get it digitally, they are not going to buy the print anymore.’”

NYPL-iPad-bookBooks were another thing, though. While libraries might have been enthusiastic about offering digital version of magazines, where maintaining the selection was a bit of a headache (new issues come out on a regular basis, after all), book were another matter.

“For digital magazines, this is brand new territory for all of us,” said Mullen, “but the libraries are being extremely challenged with some indecisive book publishers, and in the book publishing space it has been crazy for them – some publishers are not allowing them to distribute e-copies, others are or giving them only a certain limited amount, some make you come into the library, some let you let you download it from home.”

The NYPL’s new eBook reading app was launched in mid-June, and updated just recently to fix some bug issues.

The app makes all of the Library’s 300,000 eBooks available to anyone with a NYPL library card. Free eBooks, in other words, and that is what I thought about all morning. It’s not that hard to get a library card. In New York state you have to be a resident and tax payer, but researchers who visit the state can get a temporary card, as well (though they have to be present to pick it up). The PIN that one receives allows the reader access to the collection.

One can see where this is going. Free always wins out, and though publishers may want to put the kibosh on digital, it is always hard for book publishers to say ‘No’ to incremental revenue.

The app project is supported by Library Simplified, which is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.

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