The Toronto Public Library had 3.7 million audiobook and e-book checkouts via OverDrive in 2016 and their total digital circulation was over 5 million if you factor in Hoopla, OneClickDigital and Zinio. These type of loan figures are the byproduct of a unified strategy to put the emphasis on e-book discovery via their website and promote the library system in the city of Toronto.
The city of Toronto is the e-book capital of Canada and many of the most popular digital companies are located there. Wattpad is the current undisputed market leader in fan-fiction, short stories and serialized fiction. Readers spend 15 billion minutes on Wattpad every month and more than 500 writers have published completed works that have been read more than a million times. There are over 350 million stories, in 50 languages, on the site. Kobo is also located in Toronto and they are known all over the world as being the number 2 e-reading company, next to Amazon. They have a digital catalog of over 5.1 million titles and millions of readers consume digital content each month. Booknet Canada specializes in analytics and data on the entire Canadian digital publishing and traditional publishing industry.
The Toronto Public Library loans out the most digital titles consistently for the past three years. Maria Cipriano is in charge of adult eBook purchasing and curating and gave her thoughts on how she approaches audiobook and e-book curation to serve the needs of the community.
“Our ultimate goal is to promote the enjoyment of reading and to facilitate this by uniting readers with the books they are seeking in the most user friendly way possible. The curation of eBook collections is an integral part of our service and providing easy access to great content significantly enhances the user experience for our customers, here are some key points.”
As eBook collections grow, the ability to browse 100,000+ titles becomes problematic. Customers get overwhelmed by choice and struggle to find good content to read. We use curated collections to guide customers to great books by breaking down the collection into manageable chunks. Many readers want to be guided by the library, an institution they trust.
Reader’s advisory – getting beyond this week’s bestseller list
Libraries have finite budgets and are unable to purchase enough copies to provide immediate access to his week’s best sellers (unlike bookstores) and the hottest titles will, inevitably, be checked out with lengthy holds lists. This is where curation plays a key role in providing a readers advisory service – we can create collections of great reads with available copies that allow customers to find something to read immediately. Customers can read something else while they wait for the latest blockbuster title they placed on hold on. We guide customers to last year’s bestsellers (books that they never got around to reading and forgot about), award-winning titles, best books lists, slightly older books that had media attention, books library staff personally enjoyed, etc. We actually have to work at this a lot harder than online bookstores who have unlimited copies of new books and don’t have to promote mid and backlist titles that much.
Highlighting local authors and indie titles
In Canada, our customers like to read books by Canadian authors and we can easily gather these together for them. Libraries play a role in promoting indie titles as well. For example, I curated a list of 295 titles of books set in Toronto – it is fun to read books set in your own backyard. I am sure this is the case for readers in San Francisco, Auckland, etc.
Highlighting content with seasonal interest or to celebrate annual cultural events
Every year customers seek out books on dieting & exercise in January (New Year’s resolutions), cookies in December (holiday baking season), books by black authors in February for school projects (Black History Month) – we use curated collections to gather these books up to make it easy for our customers to find what they are looking for.
Providing easy access to trending topics
Right now the political climate in the US has resulted in a keen interest in dystopian fiction – we can ride that wave by putting together a list of these titles and featuring them. For example, I featured the eBook & audiobook versions of Orwell’s 1984 two weeks ago over the weekend. Luckily, we had always available copies of the audiobook. That promotion resulted in 433 checkouts and 165 holds on 1984 over a two day period.
Gathering “like” content that is difficult to find without doing significant research
Most of the curation of our eCollections is done by two staff members with additional help from another librarian during peak vacation season. I purchase and curate the adult collections and my colleague purchases and curates the teen and juvenile collections. We put together our lists from many sources – our personal favourites, other staff members’ recommendations, book reviews, media stories, best book lists, bestseller activity, customer checkout patterns, GoodReads rankings, and many more sources. We basically try and keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening in the publishing world and we use this information to curate content that our public is seeking. In short – know the market and know your customer.
Maria wrapped up our interview with the following statement. “The key to success with curated collections is to keep the collections fresh by adding content to existing collections regularly and/or creating brand new collections regularly. TPL does both. I curate collections daily (Monday to Friday). One of our most successful initiatives has been to feature a single eBook and a single audiobook on our OverDrive landing page under the heading “TPL Staff Picks”. The books selected have to meet certain criteria – the have to be quality titles with lots of available copies. We sometimes switch out these staff picks multiple times a day when all the copies get snapped early on. On a typical day, doing this results in over 200 checkouts of the featured titles. Over the span of a year, that can translate to over 70,000 checkouts from doing something as simple as this. Customer feedback has been very positive with respect to the featured titles and it is great for the library because we get a better return on our investment in these titles. eBooks can be prohibitively expensive.”
She went on to say “If you consistently recommend good titles and switch out content often (keep those collections fresh!) you will build a following of dedicated users who go to the curated collections on a regular basis. This helps drive circulation significantly.”
Here are some of our most popular collections:
- Hot Releases 2016-2017 – Updated daily. This is the place to find the buzziest books. Not much will be available but customers like to check out the offerings so that they can place holds on the titles.
- TPL Staff Recommend – staff favs, plus bestselling and well-reviewed titles that predate 2016. There will be lots of available quality fiction and nonfiction to choose from.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.