Tuesday, August 28, 2007


For months, I've been suggesting that libraries adopt the Netflix model to get rid of their overdue fines: library customers can keep out a certain number of books or other materials for as long as they want, no fines required. If you want another item when you are at the limit, return something. The library could recall the book when it's needed by someone else.

Instead of a library offering this service, welcome to BookSwim, "the Online Book Rental Library Club Netflix-style," to quote their banner. For about $24 a month, you can have up to five books on loan from the club for as long as you want.

How many libraries get $288 per capita annual support? As the person who pointed me to this site noted, "Like a library. But less free. Possibly more convenient..." Time is the new currency, even in this topsy-turvy economy. Be afraid. Be very afraid.


Anonymous said...

You want to be even more afraid? Go read the comments of librarians who've laughed off BookSwim. It's still not as good as a good library... except for home delivery (which is a biggy; even if we watch one Netflix movie per month, it's paid itself back by its delivery model)... but it's a heck of a lot better than a mediocre library.

waltc said...

I note (a) the complete lack of absence of any membership numbers at BookSwim (funny how NetFlix frequently states its numbers), (b) their goal: To have rented one million books by 2010. Let's see. U.S. public libraries circulate about one billion books a year. So, by 2010, if BookSwim is as successful as it hopes to be, it will have circulated one book for every 4,000 that America's public libraries circulate over that time. (OK, even if half of those circs are not books, it's still no more than 0.05% of library circulation)

A small minority of Americans use NetFlix or its competitors (I'm part of that small minority). I'm sure there are some people who value convenience so much more than money that they'll pay for BookSwim...but apparently even BookSwim doesn't expect it to be all that many.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't imagine that a brand-new service would post its membership numbers... I'm sure they are extremely low, and for all we know will stay that way. But Bookswim may contribute to the perception that home delivery is a standard expectation.

Regarding Netflix, it claims to have 6.7 million subscribers. No doubt much of this represents household subscribers, but considering it is limited to the subset, "households with people who would want to rent a video in the first place," that gets larger than "a small minority." Now add in Blockbuster Total Access (very small no doubt, but still a presence) and Comcast On Demand, and it becomes clearer why so many video stores have closed.

BookSwim is not a decisive death knell for libraries, but if it has even modest success, it could go far in changing delivery mode expectations -- or even expectations of what a library could or should offer. Nothing wrong with changing expectations... as long as we continue to meet them.

(If I'm not mistaken, Pete Bromberg is working on a home delivery plan for his region.)

Nora Daly said...

Well, as you may or might not know, some libraries are adopting netflix as a service, not as a model! It works best in the small rural libraries such as the Vernon Free Public Library up in Vermont. The library has a subscription and will request items for patrons that are not available in the collection. The Brooklyn Public Library is going a more formal route and exploring an official service agreement with Netflix. No word yet on how that's going. (Links to all this stuff are on my blog)

In any case I too say 'AWAY WITH FINES!'

Anonymous said...

Bookswim as a new company is not going to get big anytime soon not with the fees and all.

While Netflix is a good model a lot of people have dumped them for their competitor because they now deliver the same service and you can access them locally anytime.

Anonymous said...

And then you have the libraries that *depend* on fines as revenue to offset costs...

Anonymous said...

The biggest threat to libraries of services like BookSwim is "skimming the cream." There are many services provided by libraries that can be provided equally or better by niche businesses for the wealthier consumer segments.

The challenge for libraries is to provide a wide enough range of services for all citizens, without becoming solely a service for the people without other alternatives (aka poor people). If middle and upper class people don't perceive libraries as serving their needs, they won't support them.

Unlike cherry-picking businesses,however, an essential part of a library's mission is to serve all segments of society.

Unfortunately, some of the essential concepts of democracy such as "we're all in this together" , and the idea that some services can actually be provided more efficiently by government have taken a beating in recent years.

The rules of the game are different for businesses and for libraries. If libraries try to compete as businesses, they lose. If libraries continue to engage their communities in a variety of ways, unmatched by any competing business, they win.

Jess Shambler said...

I'm sad to hear such a pervasive defensiveness on the part of libraries when other "competing" book services come along. I have to agree with the anonymous poster above that libraries can and do provide a completely different service than these businesses do, and the real challenge is not competing with these businesses, but publicizing the special skills and services the library can provide, and to make libraries a place people want to go to in order to take advantage of those services.

It's especially sad to see this defensiveness when the businesses are willing and excited about collaborating with libraries, like BookSwim is: http://www.bookswim.com/content.php?id=45

If, as Nora points out, some libraries are using Netflix to supplement their video collections, why not use BookSwim to supplement their book collections? Instead of being intimidated and rejecting new kinds of book services, why not embrace them and accept their support? Are book swaps on LibraryThing going to make libraries extinct? Did Amazon do libraries in? We should embrace these different aspects of book culture. Anything that gets people reading is a good thing and should be seen as another opportunity for libraries to get involved.

Anonymous said...

I've used BookSwim. I had the 7-Book plan, I stayed with it for a few months then eventually had to cancel due to going back to school full time and not being employed.

I'll say this, if I lived in a big metro town with a huge library, I wouldn't need this service.

But living in a small town, with a crap library. It was worth it, at the time I had books totaling over a $100 bucks out, that my library didn't have in-stock or I wouldn't be able to afford, in my situation worth the $20.

Anonymous said...

My husband got me bookswim gift certificate for Christmas. What a huge disapointment. Example...I send back my recent books May 4 they still not have received them. I live in AZ. It's usually 5-6 week turn around on books. That, by the way, are no doubt bought from a gargage sale, even had the
.50 sticker on the inside.