Overdrive was sold by Rakuten on Christmas Eve to KKR, the same company that owns Recorded Books and their various publishing imprints. In an email to all of their library partners, CEO Steve Potash outlined how this deal will affect their audiobook and ebook business and what libraries can expect in 2020.
“It was recently announced that New York-based private equity firm KKR will acquire OverDrive from our current owner Rakuten, Inc. The transaction is scheduled to close in the coming weeks, and it moved forward with the full support of myself and OverDrive’s leadership team. I am excited to continue to lead OverDrive for years to come, and KKR fully supports my leadership and OverDrive’s commitment to be a reliable, trusted, and value-based partner in service of public libraries, schools, and readers.
In 2017, OverDrive became a Certified B Corporation which is a very important part of our culture. Certified B Corps balance purpose and profit, and to maintain this status, OverDrive is required to consider the impact of our decisions on our employees, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. KKR supports our mission and recognizes that our enterprise value only increases when we earn your investment by delivering cost-effective content and technical services. I am excited to leverage KKR’s broad publishing, media, and technology relationships to further enhance how we acquire content for your digital collection and deliver solutions to your staff and readers.
As we start a new decade, I reflect on how we arrived here. Having worked with many of you for nearly two decades, I fondly remember and will be eternally grateful to the hundreds of extraordinary librarians who shared their experience, ingenuity, and wisdom with us. These include Ruth Ann Copley, who led North Carolina Digital Library and fought to fund and establish a statewide service for their youngest readers (NC Kids); Maria Cipriano, who obsessed over digital book merchandising strategies for ever-increasing circulation of Toronto Public Library’s digital catalog; Peggy Murphy, who cajoled me to “quit wasting her time” and improve OverDrive Marketplace’s collection tools so she could focus on driving Los Angeles Public Library to be the highest circulating US digital library in 2019; and during the entire span of OverDrive’s library experience, I am grateful and inspired by the innovation, leadership, and advocacy by former ALA President and Cuyahoga County Public Library Director, Sari Feldman.
For 18 years, you welcomed OverDrive into your library and permitted us to experiment and develop solutions for digital library lending and reading. Thank you, Tish Lowrey, Cindy Orr, Tracy Strobel, Felton Thomas, Robert Hubsher, Jennifer Wright, Rivkah Sass, Michelle Jeske, Janet Ryan, Michael Ciccone, Mindi Simon, David Cooksey, Mike Hawkins, Jennifer Russel, Michael Santangelo, Miriam Tuliao, Charlene Rue, Christopher Platt, Michael Colford, Scott Colford, Kerry Cronin, Laura Irmscher, Sheryl Katzin, Lisa Rosenblum, Rachel Martin, Tom Horne, Kirk Blankenship, Jim McCluskey, Nancy Messenger, Angela Nolet, Jed Moffitt, Samantha Everett, Bruce Schauer, Lisa Sallee, Clyde Scoles (deceased), Tracy Montri, Rita Hamilton, Kady Ferris, Deb Lambert, Joe Salamon, Eileen Chandler, Kris Minschke, David Slater, Terry Thompson, Anne Marie Fryer, Pat Losinski, Daniel Barden, Sarah Beasley, Bobbi Slossar, Chuck Sherrill, Migell Acosta, Robin Nesbitt, Sara Gold, Stef Morrill, Stacey Aldrich, Steve Potter, Stephen Sposato, Vicki Terbovich, Marion Bryant, Rohini Bokka, Renelda Sells, Ophelia Lo, Jim Flury, George Kalinka, Shannon Crary, Sean Beattie, Stephen Edwards, Lori Bell, Anne Kennedy, Kim Edson, Scott Reinhart, Bob Kuntz, Monica McAbee, Valerie Piechocki, Su Min Kohr, Shong Seng Siow, Su Wei Lee, Barbara Genco, Vailey Oehlke, and so many other dedicated public librarians worldwide who guided me and our team in this journey.
While 2019 was a year of progress, we also experienced a few setbacks. We are frustrated and disappointed by the few publishers that imposed more restrictive terms for library lending. We strongly oppose any embargo or limitation on an institution’s right to acquire every digital title published under fair terms. We advocate with authors, agents, and publishers that their economic interests are best served when their works are easily discovered and available to borrow from every library in every format. This past year, we provided funding for the Panorama Project, including recruiting the New York-based project lead, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez.
Our success depends on how your libraries and schools maximize the value of your digital collections to attract, engage, and delight an ever-growing audience of readers of all ages. To that end, last year we introduced more popular titles from leading publishers in cost-per-circ pricing (CPC). Publishers are also being encouraged to opt in for simultaneous access permissions for their catalog. 2019 was a robust year for community digital reading programs including Big Library Read and a record number of OverDrive-powered library “Digital Book Clubs” across North America and worldwide.
To further reduce wait times for your most popular titles and satisfy more readers, we launched “Lucky Day.” Now librarians are curating shelves of the most sought-after titles that provide instant, no wait access and increase circulation for every unit. A record number of publishers participated in OverDrive Marketplace sales and discounting this past year, maximizing the value for your ebook and audiobook budgets. Hundreds of thousands of best-selling titles were discounted 30-50%.
Throughout 2019, we supported American Library Association campaigns including our multi-year corporate sponsorship for ALA Libraries Transform. I was proud to add our voice to ALA Legislative Day and advocacy initiatives in Washington DC, and OverDrive proudly supports PLA, AASL, ACRL, SLA, and numerous state, regional, and international library associations and events. To attract new patrons to US public libraries, Instant Digital Card is adding thousands of new users to your services each month. We recently reached a milestone 250,000 library patrons who are enjoying digital collections using their mobile phone number as their digital library card.
To continue to delight patrons, the award-winning Libby app recently added numerous librarian-and reader-inspired updates. These include new notification options for loans, holds, and other bookshelf activities. Libby also enhanced discovery and onboarding new users with librarian-curated catalog guides, Libby Academy tutorials, and a friendly and efficient chat bot for FAQs. Tech and consumer publications honored Libby last year, including PC Magazine for Best Free Software of 2019, Best Android Apps of 2020, and Popular Mechanics for one of the 20 Best Apps of the Decade.
After several years of working with school librarians, educators, and literacy experts, OverDrive Education introduced Sora, the student reading app. Sora was designed to engage students with a singular goal: read more books. More titles, more minutes, more stories, more words defined, and more comprehension of assigned and self-selected titles. Sora has been embraced by students, teachers, administrators, and librarians and is now in use in over 20,000 schools and classrooms. In 2019, OverDrive Education was honored to receive the AASL Crystal Apple Award, and Sora was named one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019.
In addition to curriculum-based books assigned to students in the classroom, Sora enables the 50 million US K-12 students to discover and borrow juvenile, YA, and appropriate adult titles from the public library. As public libraries have invested in ebooks and audiobooks for young readers, the “Add a Public Library” feature in Sora has already proven to dramatically increase student reading time and circulation of public library age-appropriate materials.
For 2020, our product and development teams are preparing updates to improve accessibility for Libby and Sora. Libby will soon be adding world language support and other user-requested features to help reduce reliance on our legacy OverDrive app. We’ve made it easy for you to promote Libby at your library with logos and graphics you can add to your website or social media, as well as print materials you can customize with your library logo. We will continue to enhance OverDrive APIs that support billions of interactions each year with your catalogs via integrations with your ILS, discovery, OPAC, and third-party apps.”
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.