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  • PDA and the University Press
  • Joseph J. Esposito, Kizer Walker, and Terry Ehling

a report prepared for the andrew w. mellon foundation

The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Cornell University Library gratefully acknowledge the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in funding the research and preparation of this environmental scan and analysis. [End Page s1]

I. Summary

Patron-driven acquisitions (PDA) is a method by which libraries acquire books that delays purchase until the moment of first use. The aim of this report is to provide guidance to publishers, especially university presses, as to how to offset any sales losses from PDA and, through a tighter weaving of publishers’ and libraries’ interests, even identify means to augment sales and to improve the service that libraries provide for their constituencies.

While patrons have always influenced the titles collected by libraries, beginning in 1998, with NetLibrary’s entry into this market, library vendors have developed sophisticated systems to enable patrons to directly trigger purchase or rental activity. PDA deployment is becoming widespread, with about four hundred to six hundred academic libraries around the world now using such systems, a figure that is likely to increase sharply in the coming years.

Libraries generally look to PDA for three reasons: to reduce costs (by declining to purchase books that no patron has requested), to better align the library’s collection with current user requirements, and to [End Page s2] present a much larger number of titles to their communities. Publishers are rightly concerned that the goal of cost reduction by libraries will reduce publishers’ sales, but they may find that the second reason to implement PDA (better alignment of the library collection with the needs of the library’s patrons) is congenial, especially for mission-based, not-for-profit publishers. The third reason, the presentation of a larger catalogue, is in everyone’s interest, as it serves to satisfy user needs even as it potentially opens up new opportunities for marketing additional books.

To get at the financial impact of PDA, it is necessary to come up with some good market estimates for the sale of books, especially university press books, to academic libraries. Based on a number of interviews with people active in the community now and extrapolating from data provided by the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), a reasonable estimate for library sales of university press books is about $80 million a year, about 25 per cent of the total sales volume for university press books. PDA programs, which include titles that go far beyond the lists of university press books, have now reached about $20 million in volume each year, with approximately $13 million of that constituting the publishers’ share. University presses make up approximately 25 per cent of PDA volume, making the market for the presses somewhere in the range of $3–4 million. Two notes of caution here: The figures are estimates based on piecing together a great deal of informal information and are thus subject to correction, and the market is growing rapidly, making it probable that these figures will be outstripped within a year’s time.

PDA is not likely to be implemented by all libraries in a uniform or comprehensive fashion. For the most part, libraries are including PDA programs as simply one additional way they add titles to their collections. Even as PDA becomes more widespread, it is not likely that it will ever become comprehensive: All libraries may someday have PDA programs in place, but for some libraries PDA budgets will likely remain but a small part of overall spending on books. Thus, publishers’ concerns that PDA could rapidly and totally transform the book market overstate the case.

What could transform the library book market and PDA as well would be a large-scale marketing effort by Amazon, whose importance to all publishers and certainly academic publishers grows every day. While hard figures on Amazon’s sales to libraries are not available, we estimate [End Page s3] they could account for as much as 10 per cent of all book purchases by academic libraries, a figure that is far larger than is generally supposed. Publishers should be aware that Amazon...


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