This Week in LIS - 6 September 2013

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Headline of the Week: Oyster - Netflix for Books?

A Wired article this morning shared the story of a soft launch of an offering from a new company called Oyster. Back in October of 2012, the startup received $3M in funding to create something like a Netflix for electronic books. It seems they have completed the development of a minimal useful quantum of capability. They have 100,000 titles in their collection, a business model that is coming online in a controlled “by invitation” fashion charging $9.95 per month for access and a reader application that, so far, works on the iPhone.

In their “preface” they describe their value proposition. The first value changes the book buying transaction. With Oyster the transaction is the monthly access fee instead of a transaction associated with each and every new book, just like Netflix. Presumably once you have access to an extensive collection then what’s left of the transaction is selecting your next read and more time will be left for actual reading. The second value is in the area of discovery. They will use recommender technology (e.g. like Amazon) to algorithmically suggest reads as well as letting you find friends within the system to see what they are reading and what they might recommend. There is a social media element to the offering as well. Finally, they want to create value by enabling you to read on your phone in all those “in-between” moments when you are riding, waiting, taking a break, etc. You can imagine that with the revenue machine operating, they will extend their collection and extend the range of devices they will support. As they collect more and more data about their clients, reading the accrued data can give them a strategic advantage over others who might want to compete with them.

Within LIS we have had a number of conversations about all this electronic resource licensing that we do (and every other library does) on behalf of our communities and speculate how the models will evolve and what new models might emerge. We aggregate our buying power with other libraries through consortia to negotiate better deals, but we are all still making licensing decisions and deals for collections.

Books, like videos, enjoy the long tail phenomena. There’s neither funding nor room in bookstores and libraries for all the books one might ever want to access, but there is likely demand for even the most esoteric books if the demand could be found and access could be provided in an affordable way.

We are enjoying perhaps an intermediate step. We have access to on the order of 200,000 eBooks. The cost of this access is much, much less expensive than purchasing physical books so we use these eBook collections to complement our physical book collection. Yet, 200,000 is a very small number given the number of new books published annually is on the order of 1 million, and that number is growing with more and more self publishing.

We can’t see the nature of Oyster’s initial collection yet, but it is reasonable that it might focus on more popular, leisure reading titles. Might we imagine an academic offering at some point? At some point people only have so much time to read and can only read so many books in a month. It seems reasonable to imagine a modest monthly fee that could compensate writers and publishers while providing access to enormous collections if a large enough body of people contributed. Netflix created value for media houses by making their shelved collections visible and accessible. They also created value for customers by making a much broader range of titles available and provided discovery guidance.

How would the economics of book writing, book publishing and academic libraries be impacted by an academic Netflix for scholarly books?

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

Oyster: A Gorgeous New App Offering Unlimited Books for $9.95 a Month

Facebook Page for OysterOyster Raises $3M From Founders Fund To Finally Create An Unlimited Subscription Service For Books

Oyster, A Preface

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LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

The following articles are sampled from those available on the LIS Blog:

Notes from LIS Council

LIS Council is the leadership team within LIS. Among the topics discussed this past week were:

  • LIS Operational Agenda - Council members will be reporting on LIS operational views (metrics for processes and status of projects) regularly at LIS Council meetings. This week’s reports included the following:
    • Network & Systems
      • To fully leverage the Luther College network we require users to register their devices on the network. For laptops and desktops, registration requires that their operating systems are current with patches and that they have an instance of an active virus scanning product installed and operating. As of our meeting, Adam reported that we have had about 4500 registrations so far and growing.  We peaked last year at 5700 devices on our network. iOS based devices such as iPhones and iPods make up the largest share followed by Windows based devices, Mac OS X based devices and then Android devices.
      • We have been marketing usage of LCWireless5G network. The 5Ghz frequency offers more simultaneous channels than the 2.4Ghz frequency. Our intention is that if more connections are made with 5Ghz, then more capacity is available for devices that can only do 2.4Ghz. This is especially important in high density areas such as Towers which has only wireless capability. This summer Adam and his students installed more than 80 new access points in Valders, Sampson Hoffland and Main which enabled LCWireless5G in those venues. The campaign is having impact. More people are using 5Ghz network
      • When students return to campus they bring new devices. Many of them, by default, offer wireless connectivity. That is, they emit/export a wireless network. The vendors believe this is an ease of use feature and perhaps it is within home environments. However, in an enterprise wireless environment this leads to contention and deteriorates the wireless performance. We refer to these devices and their networks as rogues. It is important for students to turn off that capability and leverage the Luther network for wireless connectivity. Sometimes students are unaware their device is creating a rogue network. In LIS we work to discover them, find the owner of the rogue device and work with them to disable the contention.
    • User Services
      • Diane shared stats on move-in day from 2010 to present. Numbers were very low for walk-ups this year as compared to past years. Other work order numbers are about the same. This could be attributed to a variety of factors including: more students are moving in earlier, our spring antivirus campaign, students registering before arriving on campus, and Windows 8 computers come with antivirus installed. We did have more smartphones to register this year than we have in the past.
      • The Windows and Mac labs and classrooms are ready to go for the start of the Fall 2013 Semester.
      • New faculty have what they need, other than those for whom we are waiting on information.
    • New Items
      • LIS Council Reports
        • We have adjusted the schedule for which team will be reporting when in LIS Council based on schedules and when break and holidays fall this year.
      • Vendor Management for SaaS
        • We discussed recent performance issues with WMS, our new library system, and plans to further research and resolve them.
    • Returning Items
      • EduCause CORE Data Survey
        • The EduCause Core Data Survey is due September 13 and sections have been assigned as appropriate. The approach is to complete each module, determining if a group work is needed to complete sections that cross departments within LIS.
      • WMS LDAP Update
        • OCLC has made the necessary adjustments to authenticate users to the new WMS system with our LDAP as of Thursday evening.

    Upcoming LIS Events

    Click on the event below for specific information and for a link to register. More information on training and development events is available.

    Event Date Time
    African Book Club: Intro and Information Session Tuesday, September 10 7:00 pm
    Web Content (Reason) Training Thursday, September 19 9:45 am
    Family Weekend: Treats and Treasure Hunt in the Library Saturday, September 21 2:30 pm
    Web Content (Reason) Training Tuesday, September 24 4:00 pm
    Web Content (Reason) Training Thursday, October 3 9:45 am
    Web Content (Reason) Training Tuesday, October 8 4:00 pm
    Web Content (Reason) Training Tuesday, October 22 4:00 pm
    Web Content (Reason) Training Thursday, October 31 9:45 am

    Training and instruction is provided to the Luther Community through Faculty Development Sessions, Library Instruction Sessions, Product Demonstrations, Skills Training, Workshops, 1-on-1 Sessions, and Online Materials. To schedule a session, contact the LIS Technology Help Desk at x1000 or enter your request online at

    This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.Content is made available under Creative Commons license.