Library in partnership with publisher

In 2012, Swedish libraries could only use one distributor for e-books, Elib, with one model for e-books and a single, set fee for libraries to pay. The publishing house Ordfront decided not to join Elib, thus, no libraries could let their users borrow any of Ordfront’s e-books. This frustrated the Stockholm Public Library and so, to solve the problem, the library formed a partnership with this publishing house. 

Mikael Petrén Photo: Annika HjerpeIn November 2012 the partnership project began. Mikael Petrén, Director of the Digital Library, Stockholm Public Library and responsible for issues concerning e-books, explains that at that time it was becoming more and more common for publishing houses to delay new e-book titles and not release them as e-books for library users to borrow until they were older, and that there were publishers who withheld some titles completely from Elib e-book distribution.

“When I met Pelle Andersson, CEO and publisher at Ordfront, we both felt that we needed to learn more about e-books and their mechanisms. Both libraries and publishing houses based their relationship to e-books on assumptions and shared anxieties and we agreed that we should work together, because raising the level of knowledge is best done by approaching each other. We formed a partnership for the sake of reading and literature,” says Mikael Petrén.

His experience is that libraries and publishers can agree overall about why literature is important in the development of good language, good reading ability and reading comprehension

“We agree that literature and language are essential and publishers also think that libraries are important. It is when we get down to details about compensation that we start to disagree. We need to find structures for a new compensation model and when Pelle Andersson and I discussed this we ended up with an access-based model,” Mikael Petrén says.

Mutual learning 

In the access-based model the library acquires access to a catalogue of titles from the publishing company through a distributor. The number of simultaneous ebook loans per title is limitless and every loan represents a cost to the library.

“We wanted a differentiated cost where new titles cost more than old ones. Our partnership has been about evaluating the outcome and learning more, so we have had meetings where we have been looking at this together. The effect has been that the level of compensation to the publisher and the authors has been higher but the cost to the library has been lower. Since Ordfront didn’t want to distribute their ebooks through Elib, we used another distributor, Publit, and they charged less.”

The library wanted to learn more about e-books and to analyse the driving forces, concerns and possibilities together with a book publisher. The mutual learning has been positive.

The digital library

”We have increased our selection of ebooks and the increased competition on distribution has been a positive thing. We have learned about driving forces and possibilities from the commercial aspect and from the lending aspect. These are pieces of the puzzle that I think point to the fact that borrowing of e-books leads to a greater interest in literature, something that is positive for all parties – for libraries, for authors, for readers, for publishing houses and for distributors.”

“And we have learned to work with the digital library, how to better present the titles in the digital library. It is important how the digital library is designed, how the physical library is working with signage can also affect the digital library, it is possible to make a big difference with the way you curate.”


He explains that, earlier, e-books were only presented in a best seller list in the digital library, but that they are now presented better and that the catalogue of titles has a more regular quality. And that they use signage to display both paper books and e-books in the library.

“I have gone from being the director of an IT unit with responsibility for a web page, to being the director of the Digital Library, Stockholm Public Library. The Stockholm Public Library is one of about 40 public libraries within the city of Stockholm”

Future partnerships 

The publishing house Ordfront has been very important to the Stockholm Public Library in its work with e-books. And the distributor Elib, is now working on changing and differentiating its fees.

The function of libraries is, amongst other things, to promote reading and convey knowledge. The increase in digital book publishing demands new agreements between libraries and the book industry, so that everyone’s right to literature can be assured, regardless of how it is published. In Sweden, SKL (Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions – SALAR) is working to make such an agreement a reality, and Mikael Petrén is one of their negotiators.

Project prolonged

“One of SKL’s standpoints is that no books should be withheld. We want accessbased fees and a model where publishing houses charge more for new books than old books. The last piece of the puzzle is a technical and national structure to handle friction, the level of availability. If you work with accessbased fees and availability is very high, costs may become very high for the libraries so they must be able to handle the level of availability either through number of loans per lender and per week, or by having a bud-get cap and stop lending when the cap is reached. This is not good and we must find better ways.”

The partnership project was supposed to end in the middle of July 2014, but it has been prolonged by 12 months.

“This is because the reasons why we started the project remain, but I can sense changes that eventually will make our partnership unnecessary,” Mikael Petrén says.

Editor-in-chief National Library of Sweden