Tuesday, April 10, 2007

LibraryThing for Libraries: Pricing?

Wow! A big response to our offer--send us your ISBNs and we'll show you what LibraryThing for Libraries can do. I just received ISBNs from two more libraries, both US publics, each with over 500,000 ISBNs. I guess we'll get to stress test the database earlier, not later.

Best of all, both half-millioners had 51% overlap with LibraryThing (see UPDATE below). Considering that patrons do not look at random books, but focus more on popular ones, I'm guessing this means LibraryThing has data on something like 75% of the OPAC lookups performed in large US publics. The data available will vary, but it's a good start.

I received a very thoughful email about pricing, from one of the top "library geeks." This part deserves quoting:
"The problem with not charging a lot of money for this is that it doesn't look like you're serious. Anything that's changing the functionality and the look of the catalog is going to be a big deal no matter what you charge (at least for medium-large public libraries -- academics are less inclined to worry about their patrons getting the vapors). If it costs a lot, it'll be treated like a project and taken seriously, and is more likely to happen. If it costs a little, it'll just be treated as a hassle. Last piece of free advice would be to price based upon #checkouts/year. That'll correspond pretty well towards the amount of web traffic that'll get generated.Of course it's hard to know what the price should be without seeing the product in action."
Sad, but probably true. Maybe we can have it both ways. Charge $1,000,000/year to show we're serious, but give everyone 99.9% discounts.

Tonight: Fire up Photoshop and try to make a logo that doesn't suck.

UPDATE: And a third, this a mixed consortium with 590,000 ISBNs. Their overlap was 52%. This is turning out to be Planck's constant!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The logo sounds like a good contest, not that I am really that interested in it.


4/10/2007 6:34 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

I wouldn't totally buy into the assessment that libraries think that cheap == bad. Look at EZProxy, for example, it's probably the cheapest piece of enterprise level library software available, and at $495 for (I think) a lifetime subscription (or close).

Anyone that's used it also swears by it. In fact, I think it was Art Rhyno that mused that EZProxy, by being so cheap, easy and successful, has singlehandedly prevented Shibboleth from gaining ground.

I guess what I'm saying is that being able to exceed expectations (and mostly hearing that their peers have implemented it) is more important that arbitrarily raising the price so people will think you're serious.

4/10/2007 10:55 PM  
Blogger Dystopos said...

Public relations pioneer Ed Bernays observed repeatedly that the more people paid for his advice, the more likely they were to follow it.

4/11/2007 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Roseline said...

Tim, the best discount is 100%! Please keep it that way.

4/12/2007 12:15 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Believe me, we have to charge libraries for this. Even modest success will result in us storing hundreds of millions of ISBNs, titles and authors, serving them out from fast database and web servers. And there is a market for it. Your average medium-sized city pays maybe $100k/year on their OPAC. This is criminal—a gross violation of how tech should work—but it gives you some idea of what good add-on features might be worth.

4/12/2007 12:32 AM  
Anonymous kate said...

EZProxy is a great example of cheap=great! Like ross said, if you do something well, high price won't convince people you're serious, it'll just shut out broke libraries.

I can see the wisdom of not undervaluing yourself. Knitters always say that if they charge $30 for a handmade scarf, no one cares, but $90 and they sell like crazy. I don't think that's the case here- the enthusiastic response should tell you that libraries get it. Look at how many libraries use Blogger. We know good tech when we see it. Besides, our ILSs cost a lot and our OPACs suck.

Anything that gives us some wiggle room with our ILS is welcome- they're tiny monopolies. An alternative to paying an arm and a leg to a company that already owns us doesn't have to be free, just reasonable.

4/12/2007 10:38 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Another question is whether the pricing should be set based on some obvious external factor—number of people with a library card, number of libraries, number of bathrooms, etc. or whether we can base it around ISBN overlap--the number of ISBNs that LibraryThing has information on. The latter maps best to our real costs, and to the real value to a library. And it would allow, say, a British library with lots of patrons but lower overlap to pay something appropriate. But it also means the price isn't knowable until you upload the ISBNs. And that's a problem.

4/12/2007 10:58 AM  
Anonymous kate said...

i'm imagining some sort of excel nightmare for you running isbn lists through comparethis or similar software and price generation based on a secret algorithm of isbn overlap and collection development policy.

4/12/2007 12:38 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

I'm not sure that scaling pricing based on library size or library budget is necessarily the way to go. Library size does not determine how much value said library will get out of LT4Lib, so the wrong sliding scale will just price bigger libraries out of the market. Bigger libraries may have more money to play with, but they can also come under close scrutiny for large purchases or subscriptions.

I work in the IT department of a medium sized public library. Our budget is huge, bigger than any other department by far. How easy do you think it is to add something new to said budget? How easy do you think it is to add something new and expensive to said budget?

I'll tell you: unless the director personally falls in love with it, something expensive won't even be considered.

I've been looking at federated search lately and the one thing that webfeat has over the other vendors, what's going to most likely get them our business, is WebFeat Express's open, simple, and relatively inexpensive pricing. The other thing is the ability to sign up for a live working demo that shows off the front end and the administration features.

If you (and by you I mean I) have to make a tough sell, it's a lot easier when you can actually show the higher-ups how a product works, or verify that it actually does work the way a vendor claims and make sure it there aren't any unforeseen problems between new and existing products.

4/20/2007 4:35 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Good points all.

The question is, what's expensive and what's cheap? Give me a sense of scale?


4/21/2007 6:04 PM  
Blogger Jenny said...

Cheap/expensive is going to vary by library. My library is a well-funded medium-sized public library. For us, inexpensive would be less than $1000 per year. We are paying about $2000 per year for Syndetics book covers & reviews. More than $2000 per year would be expensive.

Syndetics pricing is based on annual circulation. Pricing by the total number of titles in a library's collection seems fairer to me.

4/21/2007 8:49 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Shoot me an email, if you want. I'd love to figure the numbers out with you. If you're, say, $750, then what is the price/item...

4/21/2007 10:34 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Good question. If we're talking hundreds of dollars, that's dirt cheap and we could slip that into the budget any number of ways without raising any eyebrows. We could probably even put it on a credit card and avoid the whole PO fiasco that we have to go through for larger purchases.

Up to a couple of thousand would probably be doable if it's "really cool" or adds a lot of value. It would require making a good case, but admin could probably be sold on it. Aquabrowser is costing us $3,750 per year for support and maintenance. We actually loathe Aquabrowser, but Admin clearly sees some value there. Would LT's service be seen as adding more value? Less? The same?

After discussing this with my boss, she is of a completely different mind. She's not swayed by the "how much value are we adding?" argument; she thinks it would really not be fair for a library with 50,000 patrons to pay the same as a library with 500,000 patrons. So I guess there are just opposing views on how this should be done. My boss has been in libraries for longer than I have been alive, and I've only been here for 3+ years, so her views may be more indicative of those who will actually make the decisions.

On the other hand, this hasn't been a problem for WebFeat Express. I guess it would be useful to compare their pricing model with other federated search companies and see who is doing better. Of course, pricing structure is only a part of the equation...

4/21/2007 11:26 PM  

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