Common Stacks Episode 025: Steven Rosato and OverDrive


Steven Rosato is the Manager of the OverDrive Professional business unit, the division of OverDrive that specializes in serving HigherEd Academic institutions. He joined us to discuss the new CHOICE report, and the landscape of eBooks in academic libraries.

Read the full CHOICE Report on the OverDrive site.

Rough Transcript for Episode 025: Steven Rosato of OverDrive

Heather (00:06):

Hello and welcome to the Common Stacks Podcast. This is the show that brings together professionals from within the library world, as well as interesting experts from other professions to engage in discussions around the issues affecting libraries. Looking at the ways in which libraries are dispelling the myth of, well, this is how it's always been done. I'm your host, Heather Tesco. This is episode 25. It's an interview that Rob Karen did with Steven Rosato, the general manager of OverDrive Professional at OverDrive about their new choice report and some new data on eBooks in academic libraries. But first, your regular reminder that this podcast is brought to you by Library Lever, a new kind of buying club. Do you know how much you're paying in transaction fees when you purchase databases and resources through the buying club or consortium that you're using now? Most consortia at a surcharge of anywhere from between four and 12% to your price from the vendor.

Heather (00:58):

We have a different model. We don't do that. You can see how much you can save by pledging your support to Library Lever at library, library But now our interview with Steve Rosato of OverDrive. Let me introduce you to Steven Rosato. Before OverDrive, he was at Book Expo America and was responsible for many key initiatives and introduced a range of innovations that enabled BEA to continue as one of the leading book industry and publishing events in the world. That includes the inception of the Global Market Forum, focusing on librarian attendance at BEA and establishing co-location partnerships with the International Digital Publishers Forum and the book Bloggers Convention. As part of the Global Market Forum, he negotiated directly with the Chinese government to have the largest trade delegation of Chinese publishers to ever visit the United States. He also worked with the Book Institute of Poland to have Poland as the Global Market Forum Country of honor for B E A 2016. He was recognized by Trade Show Magazine as one of 20 of the industry Elite in 2012, and also the industry person of the year by the Association of Author representatives in 2010. So now let's hop right into it with Steve Rosato talking about the data around ebook usage in academic libraries,

Rob (02:34):

Good data from Choice and OverDrive. So maybe we'll just jump right into it and say, I was really excited to read the, the state of eBooks and academic libraries in 2022. It was a, a shared survey between OverDrive Academic and Choice. And why don't you just tell me more about the survey. Why, why should libraries take a look at this? What are they going to gain from reading it?

Steven (02:56):

Well, it's something we've been trying to be consistent with in the questions. So we sort of have a benchmark we can look from year to year. And it, the editorial is done by choice and they do a great job on that and we sort of parse a lot of the things. But it is interesting to see the continued evolution of the need for digital, how it's, I, I think it was somewhat forced during the pandemic and covid and it is now embedded into what is needed. It was at one point I think a bit reactionary and now I, I think as you see schools lean more into like remote access for classes and just just having kids in college and knowing that like, oh, I, I can come home more, like I can just get my class online. You know, just having those tools but also having the resources they need through the library available as well is what continues to drive digital adoption. I, I think there's always a fondness for physical books and there it's a pretty good invention. It's worked pretty well for, you know, a millennium or, or longer. I don't think it's going to go anywhere. And there's, it's a great way to give a gift, which we do a lot of in the, in the Rosato house for the holiday season. It's great to give people books, but given digital access, it just continues to allow a lot more flexibility for institutions and how they're supporting students and you know, how students have access to information.


Rob (04:20):

I thought the results of the survey were very interesting in a variety of areas. First, the, the, just the data-driven aspects of the survey. A lot of data for all sorts of libraries to look at, small, medium, and large. And one thing that really stood out to me as encouraging was the budget data. And you're in the market selling and engaging with libraries. How was your reaction to that budget data? It, to me it was very surprising in, in a good indicator for us to see going into 2023.

Steven (04:56):

I think it's a port of what we, we were seeing firsthand. Certainly on the community college side, they're probably more challenged and that sort of comes through when you sort of parse the data from public and private and, and that sort of stuff. But it was also nice to see that there's continued investment across the board and the bigger schools who are, you know, maybe in a little bit more stable position having kids going to University of Connecticut give them a shout out here in the state school. I think a lot of the top tier state schools are seeing more kids return to it. So

Steven (05:30):

I found it reassuring that it continues to there's more stability than I thought I was, you know, because we do hear a lot of, you know, budget cuts more so on the staffing side and I, I think we'll talk a little bit about that later, but you see where people are retiring and they're not back filling positions or they're waiting longer to fill those. There's a lot of schools I'm talking to where, and I don't want to name anyone specific on that sort of stuff, but the, where they've had 20 plus people which a significant part of their department, they're either not going to fill the positions ever or they're going to hold off on it. And so you have fewer people doing a lot more and being asked to do more with less.

Rob (06:14):

Well that's always an opportunity for the industry, whether you're a service provider, a content provider, a platform provider. Overdrive is pushing all of those categories and you're filling a need. And I think as libraries change their staffing. W what specifically does OverDrive do differently than them just going out to the market and buying eBooks from a publisher or from an open society here, are you helping with curation? Is there print analysis? Academic libraries tend to buy eBooks maybe through DDA or EBA A and you offer those models, but why is OverDrive different when you engage them? What, what do they like to hear from?

Steven (07:01):

Well, one thing that has changed dramatic, and I'm probably going to hop around a little bit so you may have to reign me in, but like pre pandemic, I was getting a lot of calls for around accessibility and different formats that they want to make available and that sort of went away. But one thing that I never got requests for was help on curation or buying. And I mean, going into probably the start of 2022, the previous three years, I maybe had a handful of those requests. That's part of, I would say every other conversation I'm having on almost like what sort of support we offer. And I think that speaks to what I was talking about earlier. There's just less staffing and they're having to do more with West. So we do have a digital content librarian who will help put together a start a collection, whether it's, you know, if they need help with Chinese language materials.

Steven (07:50):

We have people, we have something like 40 some odd librarians on staff and they lean on each other if they don't have particular areas of expertise. But it is having stuff ready for them doing that self curation where they give us direction and then we will have carts ready for them and they do the final approval. So it is a lot more of that support and there's tools that OverDrive doesn't have that we've been able to develop, but you know, maybe a ProQuest or reps go and people always ask us like, you know, I guess if they're fantastic services, but I always compare them, I don't know which is, which one's a sports car, one's a tractor trailer, both get you from point A to B, but they do two very different things. And they're much more journal and database driven. But they have more robust academic search tools than OverDrive has.

Steven (08:39):

I mean we, you know, we came from the public library side and we've been challenged to do that. We've developed some of those tools and it's been really helpful to get that feedback from Librarian. So it is doing that development, we've been able to do that on the human side. And then also we've been providing some tools, so if you want to go in, we don't have preset collections. You know, a a big differentiator with OverDrive is we don't bundle things. And I always think that sounds bad cause you on a bundle bundle's great, but you're not forced if you want, you know, to kill a Mockingbird, it's not part of a collection of 25 titles that you have to get those other 24, you didn't want to get that. So we can curate collections for them and they pick and choose what they want from there. So we just make it, we lighten the load for them, we make it easier for them. And then also just providing those tools you can go in and search sociology or psychology or, or you know, certain specific subject areas. And that's something that libraries have challenged us that we're able to do this year and they go in in real time and see what's available based on BIAC codes and, and that sort of data. So I I I think I addressed the question. I I went a little off field there.

Rob (09:48):

Yeah. Libraries need to engage the market and look at options differently. The sometimes lens of judging everybody the same way tends to limit conversations and come into situations with maybe some bias of, oh well you don't have this, therefore there's no value. But giving libraries choice and giving them the ability to have a pick and mix model, I'm sure you have very many different business models that are available in the academic space. Well, what's the size of your catalog? Right? I think libraries sometimes look at numbers to, to drive their decisions to say, Hey, you have enough, let's look what, what's the OverDrive catalog today and where's this kind of going in the future?

Steven (10:33):

That is what has really made us compelling in the pandemic. Any academic institution is going to have to have ProQuest and EBSCO just to have the, the support of those databases and journals. And they've always looked at OverDrive as sort of the nice to have sort of leisure reading. And I think we'll talk about that later. But we have roughly 4.1, 4.2 million titles. We add about 50,000 titles a month. So every time a new Penguin Random House title comes out, they automatically add it through their Onyx feed comes in to drive. We're at publishers all the time. We have roughly 30,000 or so publishers. And the thing that we have learned through the pandemic is what's made us compelling is they need faculty needs books in a digital format. And whether that's audio or just, you know, an a good old fashioned deep book, <laugh> OverDrive has it where they can't get anywhere else. And a lot of schools have come to us through the pandemic, like, I couldn't find this anywhere else and I noticed OverDrive has it. And then we, we do usually have more than one lending

Rob (11:30):

Model. Yeah. Business models are at least difficult to kind of capture. And we would suggest to, to reach out to you at OverDrive for the introduction to the academic models. We'll make sure your contact information is in the show notes. And it's a, a variety of different opportunities and it's kind of a topic that most people don't like to discuss in our interview is, well how much does this book cost? It's not relevant to where we are in our conversation. Because I think a lot of information coming out of the Choice survey really shows that libraries are looking for different content and what's really driving these decisions to look outside kind of that scholarly curation model to more of non-fiction and fiction materials.

Steven (12:19):

You know, OverDrive has been very successful and, and what we, and even internally call like providing leisure reading and we see schools that use OverDrive a lot or for a long time, number of Ivy League schools, big state schools that it is a lot of stuff that you might also see in the public library, but it is being approached very differently. It is being requested by faculty and that's one of the reasons why they come to us. But it is supporting things like mental health and it is diversity, equity and inclusion. D e i stuff has been a huge driver in driving schools to try and find stuff that OverDrive has an abundance that they can't get elsewhere. We have a lot of indie presses, that's something else that we provide and do. We do a diversity audit just to let them know like what their collection, you know, how it compares, what is missing, where they have opportunity to add, like where they might be over-resourced in a specific area or genre.

Steven (13:14):

It, it, it is a process. We, it goes through our business and systems analytics team and they've changed their name a few times, so we affectionately call them bsa, which probably doesn't sound very good on here. <Laugh>, people like bsa, what is that? So the business and system analytics. But what they're able to do is match up bicep codes against ISBNs based on what's in, it's a lot of human intelligence in there. It just based on what videographic information is available in the metadata, you, you don't know if an author is a person of color or their national origin that's not necessarily tagged. So it does take some, a human to go in there and sort of recognize this author has this sort of lineage or represents this perspective and make that part of the process. But that has been something that's been used. We get a few requests a month, so it's almost on par what we get from the public library side and considering how much more we have in the public library, that's what we find surprising. And I think it's been a great addition for, you know, serving institutions, just helping them provide that additional value.

Rob (14:21):

And is this a shift in like academic leadership? Is this a covid bump? I know there's a lot of factors pushing this, but you're seeing something different and, and clearly the the choice survey brings that out. But in, in your conversations, are you finding that the, the engagement with libraries is addressing student wellness? Is it driving patrons into the library? I, is it just new library leadership for them to really take a substantial shift in their funding position that go from, well, we need to support our curriculum to know we need to support our students, our, in our community. Wh where, where is that coming from?

Steven (15:00):

I think it's driven mostly by faculty where they staff are trying to support what the faculty needs and have those resources available for students and they come to us recognize they can, and I, I think it is eyeopening when they see what is available overall to them. Like, I didn't realize you had, you know, this wealth of university presses and independent presses where they can't get anywhere else and it, it is having it in that digital format. There's a, a large, you know, statewide institution with, you know, six figures in students and it came through the student affairs and they wanted it available across all their campuses and it was something that OverDrive was able to do. And when you look at the amount of money they're going to end up spending, it's really not very much. I mean this is going to end up serving close to a hundred thousand students and they're probably going to spend in the first year, you know, 12 to $15,000.

Steven (15:54):

That's still a significant amount of money. But when you think about the amount of students that are going to be able to be served by that you know, I I think as they get more attraction and see more use out of it, they, they, it would need to be better funded because you just need to have enough books in there. And OverDrive has some public domain books that we provide. It's a, it's actually a pretty robust collection. There's roughly 4,000 titles in there. What we did, it's called our Duke Classics. We have gone in and put them in a brand new epub format and put nice jackets on it so they render really nicely. It's a good reading experience. But that's a nice way, you know, it's, you know, things like pride and prejudice that are just perpetual in demand, whether it's literature classes or just for, you know, those evergreen sort of titles

Rob (16:39):

And the funding of the, these newer collections. Is this coming from budgets outside of the library? Is it gifts to the library? You gave an example of like the student body funding this, we, we understand budgets are difficult scenarios, but the door is opening to finding money to support these new collections and it seems like lots of options out there for libraries that think differently to fund these particular

Steven (17:08):

Well we definitely get it because the requests are coming to the library because they're in the best position to, to serve everyone. They already know how to, you know, they have the infrastructure in place with their, you know, entering area library system so people are authenticated and have access to all the data and whatnot. So whether it is the athletics department and which is a rare occasion, but we might get requests for the athletic department and or student wellness or student affairs. And we're seeing, we work a lot more closely with our colleagues over at Canopy who are part of OverDrive and they are definitely seeing that more so where video is being used as part of the curriculum increasingly. But different parts of the universities are looking for access to video content. So we are talking with them like it is something that I think we could do a better job in communicating so they know what's available and how to access it and make it available for the library.

Steven (18:04):

Just, you know, I always told my people on my team we're, we're not on sync, don't stop selling, start helping. And if you could help people, you know, they're going to end up buying stuff because you're, you know, no one wants to be sold anything but everyone wants to buy. But we want to make sure that we are meeting a different definite need. And I think trying to reach out to some of those different parts of the universities that have budget and more specifically have a need that's hard to fulfill that could be done through the library is, is trying to communicate to those or reach those like, hey, there's the resources available, Hey, we could partner with the library. They already have people in place and it's easy to to put it in place and then it's readily available to students and that's what they want. That's what the value is at the end. So if we could help them meet what they want to do, then yeah, that is the ideal goal.

Rob (18:58):

Yeah, yeah. It's, to me, it's fascinating to see how curation and collection development are different but, but similar at the same time. And those librarians that maybe have an experience in public libraries that come into the academic space probably can drive a, a agenda for curation and, and selection. Where, where do you start the conversation with libraries? Is it usually a lead that comes to you that starts with, Hey, we're looking for these particular, you know, university press titles. Where is that self-discovery for the librarian in noti in knowing that your catalog has grown beyond research and scholarly

Steven (19:41):

Information? Well, I always ask 'em like, usually you, you haven't used this before, what is drive from this need? It's usually something acute. Someone came to you and asked you for something that you couldn't get. Probably, I, I've probably spent more time trying to talk people out of using OverDrive just to make sure. And I always tell 'em like, listen, I, I do it cause I'm selfish because if we can meet a need, then we're adding value and then you'll be a long time customer. But we always take it from there. It's usually asking them that very point of question, what is the challenge that you're facing that you couldn't meet through your existing resources? We're, we're never going to replace ProQuest or EPSCO for what they offer. We we're not going to get in the database or journal business. You know, there's other sources for books. And the other thing with OverDrive, I I do think the reading experience with Libby is really pleasant and to be able to go across platform, meaning like the easy access to eBooks and magazines and video all in one place just makes it a lot easier for them.

Rob (20:38):

Yeah, and and that's a good point. You raise your platform and your app which I believe the name is Libby, that's constantly, constantly developing and you're constantly enhancing that. Is there an academic version of that with kind of canopy folded into the future and where you are today? Will there be developments that will be specific to academic libraries within Levy or is that still in discussion within kind of

Steven (21:05):

Overdraft? I can say with confidence that we will and it, it's not going to be anytime soon. It won't be in 2023, but we are actually just ahead of this phone call. I was approving research for a firm to reach out to a lot of our academic libraries. It's something we've been conducting, so we want to make sure that, you know, we're addressing things from the library perspective and then from the user perspective, not from what OverDrive things we want to make sure it's it's valid in field needs. Cause lib, you know, much like I I reference print technology still works pretty good. Libby's just a great reading experience, but there's going to be features and tools that libraries need and some of it is going to be on sort of the backend on how libraries search for academic content. But we, you could already take notes and highlight and Libby pretty easily and export those notes. There's probably additional tools that will benefit students that we can guess at, but we need to make sure. So yeah, we, we are taking those first steps. We definitely we've hired research companies to start that research. We have internal resources that have been working on it, doing customer reviews. It is a long process.

Rob (22:17):

Yes, the keeping users delighted is a long term requirement with a tremendous effort into it. And I do think it shifts is technology moves ahead and how just the world is in embracing AI and, and machine learning. Are those conversations that are kind of active in, in OverDrive today? I I'm sure at some point AI will change your environment too early to talk about that at OverDrive?

Steven (22:47):

No there's definitely I don't have anything specific other than say there's a lot that's being looked at and what we can incorporate and based on current whatever is, is currently in our development pipeline always. We always have different asks and it's like, all right, that's great. What do you want to get rid of that we've already promised? So that is always the argument that you're bumping up against something a little bit aside and something I've advocated for and I I share it here because I think librarians should voice this loudly to publishers and whoever they're talking to. There is a lot of pushback on, there's been huge advances in AI and machine read audio that you could, if people want to know, audiobooks are very expensive cause they're very expensive to produce. You, you hire a narrator, I'm just trying to think of the Dutch House is the Anne Patrick book I read last year, right?

Steven (23:38):

I, I listen to audio, so I call it Reek. But it was narrated by Tom Hanks. You convert an EUB file, it's, it's a couple hundred dollars, you know, you get, you hire Tom Hanks to, you know, produce an an ebook. It's a little different cost structure, the ability for AI and machine read audio, the quality is really good, but there's going to, there's a host of books out there that will never be made into audio because there, there just isn't the value in it. And right now part of it is it exists, but no one is populating the metadata with whether this is human narration or ma you know, machinery narration. And that's a very big deal. I know Audio Publishers Association is trying to tackle this. There's a lot of movement out there. Narrators feel very, I think threatened by being replaced and I think that's a very reasonable concern that they have.

Steven (24:36):

But I don't think it's real. I think they're more audio and making books available in an audio format that never would be, is just going to make it more accessible and easier for students. I'm a big advocate for that. Overdrive has taken a neutral position just based on the way the market is treated. It is, it is a controversial thing out there, but I think of academic library and started asking for this stuff more loudly people would see there's a market out there for it. And I am hopeful that it'll come. And OverDrive actually just had an announcement with and I should have read it more closely, particularly ahead of this with Apple is going to start to make books available in sort of an audio format. And they're starting with, as you would expect, or more sensibly like indie publishers, people who are not making those audio books and fringe stuff. And there's, there's a, a little bit of tb d but OverDrive was just had that press release last week. But I'm, I'm excited but I, I think that's the first step in the direction of getting that sort of machine read because that is what it essentially is going to be.

Rob (25:37):

Well that's a, it's a great, a great answer where we don't know where we're going with AI yet. We always circle back to this question when we look at how quick technology is advancing AI and machine learning and it kind of points to like patron privacy, right? That all this intelligent is out there. All these companies now know exactly where readers are in the app in their book, where they're leaving and where they're exiting. What's the mindset at OverDrive to stay ahead of the privacy concerns of, of patrons and, and researchers and faculty particularly as your technology advances?

Steven (26:17):

Privacy is absolutely paramount and built into everything that we do. I mean, we are serving K through 12 schools, we're serving public libraries, we're serving, we serve corporate libraries and there's probably more requests for personal information, but based on our foundation, we can't always give them everything they want because of the ppi personally, there's a pi I, sorry, personally identify information. We only take enough to make the platform function. So if you request a book on hold that it identifies you, but that information is not accessible and it's not accessible to OverDrive either. I mean we could see who is reading, you know, romance or things like that, meaning like numbers, not who specifically, but we know a specific institution, Hey, you guys do a lot of mystery books or a lot of non, whatever it may be. We do look at information in aggregate, but based on, you know, the trust we have in the institutions that we serve, that is the top at every single decision that we do. We serve a lot of prisons too and ask for a different stuff and article the team like is like, that is not a risk we're willing to accept on some stuff. And I mean the first thing they look at is like, we can't be put in that position. We can't put publishers in that position for, you know, the platform and so on. So it, that is always paramount,

Rob (27:37):

Good to hear as the pushing of technology really thins the line between what is too much to share and where patrons and individuals tend to lose their interest in marketing and, and all of that gets even more aggressive. But clearly OverDrive values your, your users, your clients and your customers and, and privacy first is is a really good position to have and I'm sure that's part of the team that's growing the most within OverDrive and staying ahead of that has to be a, a, a, a substantial challenge. So thank you for that. It's, it's really good information for us to share with our audience. Just a few more questions and I think we're all wrapped up here. If, if I'm engaging a small library of library levers out there talking to an institution, where do we start the conversation with them as it pertains to this leisure reading and engaging their patrons? Is it addressing it from a collection development perspective, the budget perspective? What can we do to share the results of this survey, but more as a call to action?

Steven (28:50):

The one thing we've learned and Leisure Reed has been our bread and butter in the academic market, but that is probably the worst term we can use as far as academic librarians go. There is a, where we've seen success and where we've seen the greatest use in adoption, it is students. There's a movement out there, the whole student and leaning into academic missions and it is the schools that are trying to you know, they're part of it is they're, they're competing a little bit more for students. It's a shrinking pool of students out there. There's, you know, fewer kids graduating high school, I mean the population, the client, all that sort of stuff. But it is being able to provide that both curriculum support, that mission support and having access to, yeah, we've talked about a lot of sort of what I call trade reading, the stuff that you might find in a bookstore, but we do have an enormous amount of academic and scholarly content too. So it is just, you know, finding out the need. And there are schools that, you know, are perfectly served by like they, they have to have some of those database and stuff ProQuest and epsco. That's fine. You know,

Steven (29:56):

I don't want someone to get OverDrive just to have for the sake of having it. I want to make sure we're meeting a need and fulfilling something that, you know, they can't get elsewhere.

Rob (30:08):

Well, you know, OverDrive is taking a lot on your shoulders to try to solve that need question really as academic libraries shift from A to B and I think it's safe to say that academics didn't change for quite some period of time and now we're just seeing rapid cycles of change within the library. So we're optimistic that OverDrive becomes more of a conversation of libraries and we'll take your advice from looking at this from the sense of need and, and really supporting wellness and the overall student. I'm happy to see that's part of the culture and mindset at at OverDrive because patrons are people and people are students and students are are children or are cousins and it's all related to the industry we're in. But putting people first I think is really important. And want to thank you for your time here and what we'll do is we'll put in our show notes where people have to sign up and download that survey and I'm assuming there'll be a follow up survey to this or

Steven (31:11):

Yeah, we do. I think it's a biannual survey we do with them. So this is the, this was the third edition then. And we try and keep that same sort of baseline so we could sort of see where there are shifts in, in the market, but you're, as you go through it, there's always new things you want to find out too. So it's trying to that fine balance of like make sure that we have something that is we can compare against to see like, wow, that is a significant change versus like, there's new information.

Rob (31:37):

Well we appreciate your time and, and thanks for giving us good data points for us to engage when we go in the market and, and talk to libraries and really appreciate your time and expertise and

Steven (31:48):

Thank you for Common Stacks having me here. Wrap. Always a pleasure. It was great to, I saw you at the Charleston conference this year. Got to see you at a concert at New Haven as well, so it's always a pleasure seeing you anywhere, anytime.

Heather (31:57):

Thanks for listening everybody, and thanks to Steven Rosato for the chat about eBooks in academic libraries and how OverDrive is working with academics. Hop into our community to discuss your It's free to join and you don't have to be a member of Library Lever to hop in. We'll be back again in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, we'll see you online. Thanks for listening.

About the author 

Heather Teysko

Heather Teysko is head of community and engagement for Library Lever, and she loves running the Common Stacks Podcast. She's been in Library Land for close to 20 years, with a career that has focused on technology and ebooks. She is also passionate about history, having built a website on Colonial American history in 1998 that got to #1 on Yahoo (when that was a thing) has been podcasting on Tudor England since 2009, and her podcast The Renaissance English History Podcast has a social following of over 50,000 people. She has published several books including Sideways and Backwards: a Novel of Time Travel and Self Discovery, which was negatively compared to Outlander in several Amazon reviews, despite the fact that it is set in a completely different time period, but the comparison still feels like an honor.
You can follow her on twitter @teysko.

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