Overdrive has been delaying the Kindle editions of e-books in the United States on titles from major publishing companies. No new Kindle edition has been available from Penguin since December of 2014 and since February 2015, not a single e-book from any major publisher has become available. Is this due to a falling out with Amazon or their current contract expiring? Or something else entirely?
Libraries all over the US have been caught off-guard by the revelation that Kindle e-books from major publishers has slowed to a trickle. Each library has its own library representative from Overdrive and they have not been forthcoming or proactive in letting their clients now what the situation is. It is not until they are approached directly that they acknowledge there is a problem, but they don’t know what it is.
The delay in Kindle editions are all from titles that stem from major publishers. This comprises of companies such as Simon and Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Penguin/Random House. The only e-books that are available in the Kindle format are the ones being sourced are self-published titles from Smashwords and small presses.
David Burleigh the Director of Marketing & Communications at Overdrive said they are aware of the issue and they can’t tell me what the problem is, because its confidential. They did let me know they are developing a new program though, and initially it could be the reason why there are bugs in the system.
“OverDrive is working on a new Preorder program that will make titles available to its partners early in the publication cycle, as many as 6 months prior to the date the titles are released to the public. In OverDrive’s Marketplace, partners can add Preorder titles to their public-facing sites, allowing end-users to place holds until the title’s street date. At that time, the title will be available for download/viewing. If any holds were placed on the title, they will be fulfilled.”
David went on to say “under this program, partners will not be invoiced for these titles until the titles’ street dates. This will ensure libraries are charged only when the titles go live. At launch, we will begin with a segment of our catalog, including the Big 5 publishers among others, and additional publishers will be added in the following months. OverDrive’s Preorder program is expected to launch in the coming weeks.”
I remain unconvinced that the refinement of a system to order e-books farther in advance is the root cause of Kindle e-books not becoming available. Libraries have always been able to preorder titles, as soon as its available in the publishers catalog. The only thing that is changing is being able to order it even further in advance, which is just a refinement of an existing system, not reinventing the wheel. (Overdrive just told me that and “to be clear, the Preorder program is an OverDrive program and has nothing to do with Kindle)
Many different libraries have been reaching out to me since I broke this story and we are (speculating) that Amazon is getting out of the library business and severing their relationship with Overdrive.
Amazon is likely getting out of the library business with their sole client because they have developed their own Kindle Lending Library and more recently their Kindle Unlimited subscription system. Instead of hyping a 3rd party, Amazon really wants to make these two systems work and are throwing all of their marketing efforts to promoting them.
When Overdrive was first getting started in marketing their digital distribution services to libraries, they were the only company to secure a relationship with Amazon. They leveraged the fact they were the only company to offer e-books in the Kindle format and used it as a competitive advantage to spread like wildfire all over the United States. 3M Cloud Library and Baker and Taylor both tried to enter negotiations with Amazon, but were meant with disdain and apathy. Ultimately the talks broke down. If Amazon was ever serious about the library business, why would they only deal with one company and not all of them?
Due to their relationship with Amazon, Overdrive is now the dominant worldwide player that offers audiobooks, e-books, magazines, newspapers, music and videos. They have gotten so far ahead of their competition that they don’t need to trump the Amazon card anymore to convince libraries on the virtues of going digital. Currently, over 95% of all libraries in the US have an e-book collection and for the most part its been provided by Overdrive.
Its important to note that Kindle e-books via Overdrive has always been exclusively available in the US. The service has never been available in Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom. Likely, Amazon pursued this relationship with Overdrive as a test, if it were successful, they would expand. USA first and everything second is apart of Amazons DNA. They always launch products and services in the US first, to see if it gains traction (Fire Phone, Fire TV, Fire Stick, Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Unlimited, etc etc) and then if its deemed a success they normally roll it out to key international markets like Germany and the United Kingdom.
The amount of money Overdrive is paying Amazon to support the Kindle e-book format is not financially viable anymore. There was a time when e-readers were the dominant device to read e-books on and most people took advantage of the “Send to Kindle” function. This has dramatically changed in the last few years as more people are using the Overdrive Media Console app on their tablets and smartphones. Everyone else is using the HTML5 solution and there simply isn’t a need anymore to support dedicated e-readers, like the Kindle Voyage or Paperwhite.
Update: The Overdrive Blog has been updated with the following information “Earlier this week, we became aware that a number of eBooks added to our catalog this year were lacking the Kindle format. This has now been resolved, and the Kindle format of the affected titles is now available in OverDrive’s Marketplace. All U.S. libraries’ digital collections will be automatically refreshed with the Kindle format for any titles they have purchased that may not have had the format at the time of purchase.”
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.