No good history of the book in the late 20th and early 21st century will overlook this part of the book’s value chain. In covering the earlier eras, the outstanding historians — Chartier, Davenport, Eisenstein, Johns, Lefèbvre and Martin, McMurtrie, Pettegree, Pollard, and Suarez — touch on distribution and retail to varying degrees. When it comes to our era though, the effect on the book itself of the distribution/retail roles played by Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Apple, Google, OverDrive and a host of other smaller key players such as Project Gutenberg will loom larger. (So will that of self-publishing if we consider BookStats‘ report that self-published ebooks represented 30% of ebook sales in 2012. What the effect will be, though, is harder to say.)
Around since 1986, OverDrive has its roots in the production end of the industry, providing publishers with conversion and formatting services from diskettes to CDs to ebooks. Its owner, Steve Potash, set the foundations of its contribution to distribution and retail in 1999-2000 with his participation in the Open eBook Forum, now the International Digital Publishing Forum, and his creation of Overdrive’s Content Reserve. As of this writing, Content Reserve contains over a million ebooks; it is the “overdriver” behind the firm’s library distribution service and the OverDrive Retail Kiosk.
If the OverDrive Retail Kiosk becomes a key to unlocking the way back for book retail in the “real world,” it will by its own definition contribute to the evolution from the printed book to the ebook. Anyplace — in the mall, the main street or high street, the coffee shop, canteen or library — can become an outlet for the purchase of ebooks, which will feed back into the supply and value chains.
No doubt, historians will note that OverDrive required no physical ereader of its own, no Kindle, no iPad, etc., to reach this point in the evolutionary path but rather, it was its dual focus on finding an effective way to rationalize the delivery of multiple formats while pursuing a standard (EPUB) and on meeting the distribution needs of libraries then retail that put OverDrive in its current position. That position is symbiotic with both “closed garden” ereaders and apps as well as books-in-browser solutions.
Just as the Gutenberg press would not have taken off without the regular supply of a more relatively standardized form of paper, the digital book has had to await — is still awaiting — a more standardized format and mechanism of delivery. In reinventing themselves and these parts of the book industry’s DNA, OverDrive and others contribute to the evolution of the book.
- OverDrive’s Upcoming APIs to Allow Ebook Checkouts from OPAC (thedigitalshift.com)
- eBooks and OPACS: OverDrive and Innovative Interfaces Announce Plans for “Deep API Integration” (infodocket.com)
- OverDrive and Sourcebooks to Launch Ambitious Ebook Data Experiment (lj.libraryjournal.com)
- Overdrive Unveils Big Library Read Pilot Project (goodereader.com)
- New Report Reaches the Obvious (And Wrong) Conclusion: There’s No Technical Justification for Incompatible eBook Formats (the-digital-reader.com)
- Hands On With OverDrive Retail eBook Kiosk (the-digital-reader.com)
- App Wars (cathybarandiaran.wordpress.com)
- OverDrive/Who We Are
- From format war to sustainability fight, Tim Boezeman, FutureBook, The Bookseller (futurebook.net)
- The Business Rusch: The Changing Playing Field (kriswrites.com)