Hoopla, Midwest Tape’s pay-per-circulation media streaming service for public libraries, has been in beta-testing mode for close to two months, and early reports of both the service overall and its mobile applications have been positive.
Robin Nesbitt, director of technical services for Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML), OH, told LJ that CML decided to explore Hoopla initially because the service offered all three media types (video, audiobook, and music), Midwest Tape is a company they trust, and the customer experience, she said, “is seamless.”
Kirk Blankenship, electronic resources librarian at Seattle Public Library, WA, agreed. “It’s really slick and definitely meets the standards of what people expect from an app,” he said, adding, “We’re really happy with how it’s rolling out.”
While streaming media has been available to consumers for years through services such as Netflix, Audible, and Pandora, it wasn’t attainable in the library market.
Jeff Jankowski, vice president of Midwest Tape, explains that Hoopla’s model differs from what he calls the “one user one copy model” in that the latter requires a huge initial investment, putting emphasis on collection development and buying the right materials for the community. “It makes sense in the physical world, but less for digital,” he says.
Libraries that use Hoopla’s pay-per-circulation model provide their patrons with access to the service’s collection of media. Users can either go directly to Hoopla and sign in with their library card or begin at their library’s own website, which will direct them to Hoopla’s site to browse the offerings. When a patron checks out a video, audiobook, or album of music, his or her library pays a fee of between $0.99 and $2.99. The result, says SPL’s Blankenship, is that libraries “only pay for what people are actually using.”
Jankowski explains that this model makes it in Midwest Tape’s interest to work with libraries to market the service and make it as easy and appealing to use as possible since, he says, the company “doesn’t get paid until someone finds us and checks something out.” He puts the per-circ fees into context by explaining that a physical copy of an audiobook can cost libraries $90–100. If the normal borrowing time is three weeks, that audiobook could potentially circulate just 17 times a year. A $90 audiobook that circulates 17 times a year has a per-circ cost of $5.29.
In addition to taking some collection development pressure off libraries, a pay-per-circ model like Hoopla’s allows an unlimited number of patrons to check out an item simultaneously.
The difficulty with this sort of system is that it can be tricky to factor fluctuating costs into a tight budget. Most libraries will work around this by limiting the number of times individual patrons can check out Hoopla materials each month—Columbus limits it to eight, Seattle to 20—and basing the budget on the highest possible usage. “We have a yearly budget divided by month and can look any time to see where we are,” explained Marilyn Zielinski, technical services manager at Toledo-Lucas PL in Ohio. She added, “If we don’t spend the monthly cap, we can reallocate those funds.”
Deciding how to spread funds between streaming or downloadable and physical media is a difficult decision for most libraries, but one that Hoopla has not complicated so far for the test libraries. CML’s Nesbitt was adamant that patrons who don’t have the tools or inclination to use streaming media will not be left behind: “We didn’t raid the physical budget.” Toledo-Lucas’s Hoopla budget came out of what they would have spent on other electronic media, though Zielinski shares that “as e-materials become more popular, we are reexamining the number of physical copies we purchase.”
Toledo-Lucas does not allow patrons to use the service at the library itself for bandwidth reasons, while Seattle allows users to take advantage of what Blankenship calls the library’s “pretty robust” wireless network to stream video, audiobooks, and music on some library computers or patrons’ own devices.
Blankenship, Nesbitt, and Zielinski all praised the service’s ease of use. While the Toledo-Lucas librarians have had some calls from first-time users, Zielinski says, their questions were easily sorted out over the phone.
The only question the beta testers have at this point is whether Hoopla will continue to add content patrons want.
Jankowski shared that the company is expanding its available materials as quickly as possible, and is in final contract negotiations with a number of content providers. By the end of summer, he says, Hoopla is on track to have 9,000 audiobooks, 300,000 albums, and 7,000 videos.
When navigating collections of that size, of course, he noted the biggest challenge is discovery. Midwest Tape is working with its test libraries to develop discovery tools so patrons have immediate access to the newest materials and are able to tailor their browsing experience to their own needs.
At this point, only patrons of the test libraries (Columbus Metropolitan Library, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Harford County Public Library, Los Angeles Public Library, Orange County Library System, Seattle Public Library, and Toledo-Lucas County Public Library) can check out materials, but a free trial is available to anyone. The company’s target date to move out of beta mode is July 1.