LiB on Music in Libraries – “we’re doing it wrong”

I’ve been meaning to post a link to this incredible post by the Librarian in Black. I’ll be using it in my classes from now on as a perfect overview of what’s happening with downloadable music in libraries. If you haven’t read it, be sure to do so and don’t miss the comments. For example:

Overdrive & Alexander Street Music are very similar.  Overdrive users download a music file in a DRM-protected format that will self-encrypt and be unreadable after the designated circulation period (e.g. 3 weeks). Update: Alexander Street Music offers -streaming- access to classical, jazz, and folk. And sadly, the selection is not what most of our users want.  Most people aren’t looking for classical and folk music.  Libraries with these services get very poor use of them (according to my anecdotal discussions with other eResources managers), and frankly, I personally don’t think they’re worth the money we pay for them.  Check your usage stats and do a cost per use calculation.  You’re likely to find you might be paying $5/song.  Ri-freaking-diculous.

Freegal is very different.  The songs are popular ones with a lot of well-known artists in different genres like rock, R&B, and country.  And in a lovely change of pace, the songs are provided as DRM-free MP3s!  But — and I stress the but — the library can only offer these in a very limited fashion because of cost.  The library pays for the number of downloads per year they want to fund.  Then divide that by 52, and there’s your weekly cap.  If you hit the cap, then no users can download anything else for the rest of the week.  As a result, Freegal suggests that you limit the number of songs any one user can download in one week.  For our library in San Jose, that number is 3.  Yep, you get only 3 songs per week, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to log on before we hit our weekly cap. Update/Clarification: SJPL no longer has a weekly cap. So if you want to download an actual album, you have to calendar yourself to come back for at least 4 weeks to get one single album.  How many users are going to do that?  For us to pay for enough songs for our users to access a full album per week, we’d need to spend approximately $500,000 per year.  And that’s not happening, nor should it in my opinion.  That’s a ridiculous proposition for a collection budget.  Is this token offering of popular online music to our users enough to interest them and an attempt at a successful model, or does it merely show that libraries are clueless once again about what our users really want with digital formats?  Again, please check out the cost per use of the service and I can just about guarantee you it’s costing you more to offer songs via Freegal to your users than it would to simply buy them the songs they want directly from iTunes, Amazon, or whatever other service they use. But what other choices do we have?  To do nothing. And that stinks too.

I have never had much interest or faith in what the library vendors are trying to sell libraries to compete with iTunes, Amazon or the like. Most of the time, I consider my music/content consumption as if I were  a consumer, not a librarian. I want things to work and work well. Yes, I admit to my Apple fanboy status but it works for me.  I’ve been well-served by my iTunes and Amazon account for many years. These days Hulu+, Netflix streaming and my satellite dish are serving my consumption needs nicely as I mend my fractured bones.  I’m so happy SJCPL went the iPod route a few years ago. I also tried to use  an iPhone app for downloadable content and never had success accessing the collections at my library. If it’s hard to use, limited in weird ways or doesn’t have “interesting to me” content, I’m gone. iTunes and Amazon fit the bill very nicely – as do the actual physical CDs I purchase from a very small number of artists.

Because I’m no longer working in libraries everyday, I’m glad folks like Sarah are actively sharing their insights with our community. It benefits me as an educator and it will surely benefit librarians who may be considering one of the services or options out there. I hope we can continue thinking, talking and sharing about this issue.