Removing Barriers to Access: DRM-free EBSCO eBooks Improve Access for Users

Library Resources | Kara Kroes Li| March 26, 2018

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Today’s researchers are mobile-based, which brings the need for flexible, accessible e-books without restrictions. EBSCO’s Kara Kroes Li describes the advantages of DRM-free e-books, and why DRM-free content is important to librarians.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is technology used to control the use of digital content on devices after purchase. Although the intention is to prevent unauthorized redistribution, this technology creates certain restrictions and device boundaries that can impact user research.

Today’s researchers are mobile-based and connected to more than one platform. They need a flexible, forward-thinking solution to improve e-book access. By using DRM-free digital e-books, users can download files that are portable and are transferable between devices and operating systems, encouraging uninterrupted research. We talked to Kara Kroes Li, Director of Product Management, who explained why EBSCO developed DRM-free e-books and the advantages they provide to librarians and researchers.

What makes DRM-free content so important to libraries and end users?

DRM-protections impose limits on the number of pages that can be saved from an e-book and require special software to enforce protections on downloads. These create barriers for efficient research — if a chapter is longer than the page allotment, for instance, and the user can’t quickly save it, it creates tremendous frustration that doesn’t exist with articles or e-books from other sources. When we impose those barriers to research, we turn our users (and customers) away. It’s important that we minimize those barriers so users come away from our products with a positive (and efficient) experience.

What type of market research did you conduct and what was some of the feedback that informed the development of DRM-free EBSCO eBooks?

Our product development team, which includes many librarians, relies heavily on speaking directly with librarians and end-users, and we combine a number of research methods to inform new initiatives and ongoing enhancements. For DRM-free specifically, we probed users on their actions when they encounter DRM-limits, their response to those limits, and how they feel about e-books generally. We learned that e-books are actually preferred over print for research because of their convenience, but when we impose restrictions and force the user into circuitous pathways to get to the e-book content they need, we undermine that convenience. We also learned that it’s important for users to have autonomy and flexibility in how they consume content for research — sometimes they want a chapter, sometimes they want the whole book, and they always want to obtain that content quickly, without multiple logins and additional software.

In terms of developing the specific terms, we went back and forth between librarians (from our advisory boards and focus groups) and publishers to make sure we offered something that was sustainable for everyone. This is key, because when a model is unsustainable for libraries and/or publishers, we see pricing instability and publishers reduce their participation. So that’s how we landed on the unlimited user terms, preserving the single user option for libraries that don’t need the expanded permissions.

By acquiring DRM-free titles via EBSCO eBooks, libraries have the convenience of purchasing both DRM-free and non-DRM-free titles through one aggregator.

Libraries currently have DRM-free titles available from other sources. What makes the EBSCO eBooks DRM-free solution different and appealing for libraries?

DRM-free content on other platforms is limited — either it’s limited to a single publisher or it’s limited to specific scholarly and backlist titles that publishers are comfortable providing to certain platforms. That means libraries have to go to multiple places to get their DRM-free and non-DRM-free e-books, even from the same publisher. Since EBSCO can offer both DRM-protected and DRM-free content, publishers can choose which content is suitable for which models, and EBSCO is able to load 100% of the scholarly books that publishers make available in e-book format to our platform (97% of those are released simultaneously with the print version). That choice also means that many of our DRM-free titles are frontlist titles, and many publishers are participating in DRM-free for the first time with EBSCO. By acquiring DRM-free titles via EBSCO eBooks, libraries have the convenience of purchasing both DRM-free and non-DRM-free titles through one aggregator.

What are some of the workflow advantages that DRM-free e-books provide researchers?

The primary advantage is that we’re granting full autonomy to our users, we learned from user research that this is very important. If they need a chapter, they can download the entire chapter, no matter how long it is. If they want to read the whole book, or multiple chapters, they can download the book in two clicks. If they want EPUB format, because they’re reading on a device, they can select the EPUB version. And, they can do all of this with software and apps native to whatever device they’re using.

Can you give us some insight into the amount of DRM-free e-books that will be available and the types of collections that will be created?

We have an initial list of 70,000 titles from around 40 publishers. These publishers include many top University Presses, like University of Michigan Press, University of California Press, Princeton University Press, etc. De Gruyter is also participating and contributing thousands of titles. Since the press release, we’ve had six new publishers sign on, so the list is growing, and we expect numerous additional publishers to be signed within the coming weeks. EBSCO collection development librarians are creating collections so that customers can find the content easily within their acquisition workflow. To start, we will offer a number of broad collections such as Social Science, Arts & Humanities, Science & Technology, etc., and some smaller more curated collections in high volume use areas like Social and Public Welfare and Educational Theory and Practice, but as our DRM-free holdings continue to grow, we will see more targeted collections that contain 100% DRM-free content. One such collection will be part of the In Demand series which leverages EBSCO usage and sales data to identify popular high-use titles in specific subject areas and market segments.

What’s next for DRM-free EBSCO eBooks?

Our publisher relations team will continue to work with publishers to increase their participation. A number of publishers have expressed interest in our DRM-free model and are waiting to see how the initial release goes. We’re hopeful if we can show publishers a positive uptick in sales of DRM-free content, it will lead to increased participation and more DRM-free e-books for libraries and end-users. Another outcome of DRM-free e-books is that they provide an even greater level of accessibility, so we will continue to support accessibility improvements throughout the user experience.

Our DRM-free e-books product will be launching in April 2018.

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Kara Kroes Li
Director of Product Management, EBSCO

Kara has ten years of experience working on e-book products and services. In her current role, she helps EBSCO distill the evolving needs of libraries and end-users, placing special focus on helping customers make the most of their e-book investment. Current projects and interests include e-book user experience and user research, mobile workflows, analytics, digital preservation and accessibility.

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