The National Library of the Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB) is obviously aiming to set up a country-wide ‘subscription service’ for Dutch ebooks via www.bibliotheek.nl. The ebooks can be read on ebook readers, laptop’s/pc’s, tablets or smartphones.
According to the plans of the KB, national library users can subscribe to a ‘digital only’ national public library membership and will be provided access to – currently – about 10,000 ebooks from Dutch publishers, independently of their membership of the local city library — which caused some confusion among publishers and local libraries, who “owned” the users so far. The service, announced by the KB, has been rescheduled, but is nonetheless about to start in 2016.
Currently, the KB seems to be negotiating a national license fee with the publishers for their service. A „substantial number“ of titles is supposed to be part of the base subscription. For new front list titles, a so-called „pluspakket“ (additional plan) shall be introduced, for which users will have to pay extra.
„The KB is in charge to come up with a suggestion for a license fee, which is being discussed with external stakeholders such as local libraries, publishers and the Dutch association of public libraries (VOB). The negotiated fee will then be proposed to the ministry (of Education, Culture and Sciences) for a final decision.“ (Quote KB, via Boekblad.nl, my (free) translation, S.P.)
Details on the possible deal are missing.
In my recognition, this is the first time, a national library is offering a paid ebook subscription service for national users, backed up by a national budget for a license agreement with the publishers (bibliotheek.nl already offers audiobooks (LuisterBieb) and selected commercial ebooks (VakantieBieb, Eboek Eregallerij) for some years to anyone downloading their free apps, without the need for a library membership.)
I doubt that this move by the KB would have been possible without a general political support and a hefty multi million budget (although, I am not an expert in the Dutch publishing market and cultural politics). But as seen from the outside, in the context of a) Amazon, about to launch their Kindle service in the Netherlands, and b) Scribd, not being able to come up with a sustainable business model for their service, this news sheds a new light on 1. the future of subscription services (like Mofibo and Bliyoo in the Netherlands), 2. the future of library aggregators (offering aggregation of content and lending service applications for public libraries), and 3. the future development of services, which are offered by the national libraries, directly.
Update, 22 September 2015:
After the shutdown of Oyster, “the Netflix for books”, the questions I have raised above have become even more relevant. Oyster has been backed up with $17 million of venture capital, but this was obviously not enough money (time) to come up with a sustainable business model and convince publishers to participate and offer content through the service. The strategy to get such a significant number of users that would make publishers accept ‘reasonable’ terms (i.e. reasonable for the service; which could as well have been a strategy for publishers, that might eventually have to deal with KU, alone), did not work out – for Oyster.
The solution might be as proposed by the Dutch National Library: Back- and midlist availability, publicly funded, through services offered by public or national libraries; frontlist availability, patron driven and paid by users through ‘additional plans’.
Update, 11 November 2015:
The Royal Dutch Library (KB) in Den Hague has announced a price tag for their library ebook subscription service: For 42 EUR (45 USD) per year you will be able to read (available) ebooks, which is supposed to be „close to the costs for commercial subscription services“. Via http://www.bibliotheekblad.nl/ (Google Translate)