A Question about the Classics

May 18, 2012
Posted in: Board Member Posts, Buzz, Uncategorized

Recently, Overdrive ran a promotion called the Duke Classics Giveaway, by which libraries that spent more than $3,500  on digital content received access to Overdrive’s Duke Classics Max Access collection for one year. All Max Access collections have an unlimited access model that is obviously desirable for libraries. Some libraries started noticing these titles in their Overdrive sites and asked about it, because they hadn’t received any notification about the addition of this collection to their sites. What titles are in this unlimited access collection?

‘“Dracula” (the original vampire—sorry Edward!), “Pride & Prejudice,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “Tale of Two Cities” and more!’

So, this is the first problem: this collection, which contains public domain content, was used as an enticement for libraries that spend more money on digital content. Why should a library subscribe to content that is publicly owned?

“Maximum Access plans will be added to collections at no cost in mid-April. Subscription length is one year from live date.”

This collection of public domain content has had DRM applied to them, because this collection automatically expires. Also, these titles count against patrons’ checkout limits, even in Open ePub and Open DRM formats.

Another problem that I see in this promotional offer is that these titles are already in every library’s Overdrive site through the public domain collections.

Duke Classics is the publisher of this collection, but it doesn’t take more than a quick scan of the home page to see that this is an Overdrive web site. Its logo, a picture of the dog, which appears on the public domain cover art that fronts each public domain title, is charming, and the imprint’s name seems evocative of another esteemed private university’s famed classics collection.

Duke Classics offers some enhanced content for these ebooks:

Our introductions present information about the author, the era in which he or she wrote the book, and how the title came to be. You may just learn more about the story than you were expecting.

When you purchase an enhanced package that combines and audiobook and eBook, you will also receive a transcribed version of the special introduction with your eBook.

I guess, if libraries received these titles for free, the special introductions promised in the copy above may not be included, so I haven’t been able to assess how good these introductions are. No samples of this added content are provided on the Duke Classics website.

I imagine this collection isn’t very expensive (pricing data was not available on the Duke Classics website); but I don’t see how Overdrive can bake enough value into these ebooks to make them worthy of subscribing to, or using as an incentive for further spending, when the original titles are in the public domain and already part of Overdrive sites. If this Max Access collection functions differently than collections of paid content–if the collection in fact doesn’t expire, for instance– then the language used in the promotion doesn’t reflect that.

I would like to understand how this promotion and this subscription model for public domain content add value for libraries.

Matt Weaver

Board Member

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