EBSCO Partners with Publishers to Expand DRM-free Options for Libraries

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EBSCO Information Services is releasing a new DRM-free e-book solution in April, and is leading the way in user experience and library choice. 

There has been a growing chorus of demand for DRM-free e-books among academic librarians. Customers have been adamant that DRM limitations impact their purchasing of e-books and have asked for more visibility into DRM-restrictions at the point of purchase. Users have expressed a long-standing frustration for print and download limitations, and special software requirements have turned many users off of e-books all together. In a recent Library Journal Survey of college students, more than half of students said they were always (3%), often (19%), or sometimes (34%) frustrated by DRM restrictions. Some 74% believe that library e-books should have no restrictions at all, and more than a third have taken a principled stand and only use e-books that are free of restrictions.  

DRM-free e-books are not a new concept – publisher platforms have been using the allure of DRM-free e-books to incentivize e-book purchases on their own platforms. But many libraries prefer the convenience of aggregator platforms to streamline their workflow, view usage data more easily, and provide a more uniform user experience. EBSCO’s new DRM-free offering is the first time DRM-free and DRM-protected content will be made available on a single platform. This gives publishers the choice to allow some content to be sold DRM-free while retaining protections on other titles, and it gives libraries the option to purchase either unlimited-user DRM-free content or a lower-cost limited user option when unlimited access is not needed.

The flexibility for both publishers and libraries is the key to the success of EBSCO’s initiative. To date, it’s been difficult for large aggregators to provide DRM-free e-books because of the wide variety of content they host. Platforms typically deliver content in one mode – DRM-free or DRM-protected. Therefore, publishers choose their content placement based on platform functionality, and content availability on most platforms is limited in some way. For publishers to participate in DRM-free with EBSCO, it was important for them to withhold some titles from DRM-free delivery, such as course adoptions or titles that have a high risk of piracy. However, scholarly monographs and specialized books are good candidates for DRM-free availability since publishers are already making the distinction between these types of content when they select which titles to place in unlimited-user models. It’s important to EBSCO to continue hosting 100% of the scholarly e-books publishers make available to libraries, so EBSCO made the decision to invest in supporting both modes of delivery.

Publishers also felt strongly that DRM-free delivery should be in line with pricing for the unlimited-user model, to reflect the expanded permissions and utility of these titles.

While libraries generally agreed that DRM-free provides extra value, they conceded that they wouldn’t always need this option and wanted the flexibility to select lower-cost limited user access as an alternative. With that in mind, EBSCO worked for months on the backend systems, end-user experience, and acquisition portals (GOBI® and ECM) to support both DRM-free and DRM-protected models.

The commitment to meeting the needs of both publishers and libraries is evident in the numbers – more than 70,000 titles from more than 40 publisher partners will become DRM-free in April with the list growing rapidly as more publishers sign on. Many of these titles (more than 10,000) are frontlist and as new scholarly content is published, new titles will be DRM-free upon release (many simultaneously with the print release). This is a great enhancement to EBSCO’s selection of more than 1.1 million e-books from 1,500 major academic publishers.

DRM-free e-book delivery is the latest in a string of ongoing investments in the EBSCO eBooks™ user experience this year. Users can now export e-book content (chapters or DRM-free e-books) directly into Google Drive, easily download chapters from the Table of Contents, as well as automatically include a citation in the preferred format when copying and pasting text. EBSCO continues to invest in the EPUB format, the technological standard for e-books, both for mobile access and in the online presentation.

Online, EPUB enables rich links to end-of-chapter references, reflowable text within a browser, and native accessibility to screen readers. For a large and growing percentage of EBSCO eBooks, libraries get both EPUB and PDF versions with their purchase and end-users can select the format that best meets their needs. Each new feature released has been fully accessible, not only to screen readers but for keyboard navigation as well as for users with other cognitive and visual impairments. This contributes to increased accessibility of the overall platform with each release. EBSCO eBooks are also preserved through a partnership with Portico, which includes post-cancellation access provisions should EBSCO ever fail to meet its hosting obligations to its customers.

EBSCO believes that the growing number of DRM-free e-books will improve the overall user experience and perception of e-books uncovered in surveys such as the Library Journal survey. Unlimited-user access coupled with no restrictions on saving or printing removes frustrating barriers to efficient research. Students can download unlimited DRM-free chapters or complete PDF or EPUB e-books in either PDF or EPUB format, view them in any application, and transfer them to any device. EBSCO’s DRM-free e-book experience matches and often exceeds the functionality students get in consumer e-book products, leading the way for increased usage and adoption of e-books in the academic setting.