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Writing about Reading: TotalBoox

In my professional life, one of my roles is as the New Products columnist for Public Libraries magazine, and much of what I wind up writing about are eBook products, since that’s where my big interest lies.  I just found this new product that’s been around for a while for individuals, and just launched into LibraryLand, so I thought I’d share about it here, too.  Note: this isn’t the text of my complete article, so I’m not breaking any agreements of not publishing anywhere else first

As if it weren’t hard enough to keep track of all the eBook models out there (simultaneous users, one book/one user, pay-per-download, etc,) there’s a new vendor on the scene with another potentially disruptive service model. Seemingly
aware of the statistics that show that most people do not read an entire eBook, TotalBooX, an Israeli company that just launched into the library space (and sponsored an eBook program at ALA Annual), has a model where libraries pay not just per book, but per actual page read by their patrons. Sounds complicated, but they’re committed to making it work for libraries.
One interesting note that differentiates it from other models is that the patron keeps the pages that they’ve downloaded. If they read an entire book, the book stays on their device “indefinitely.” So patrons can download hundreds of titles, but the library only pays for the pages that the
patron actually reads, and those pages stay on the patron’s device. A library signs up by signing a usage agreement, and then creating and adding funds to an initial account; the amount is determined by a
variety of factors including size. The pricing is as a percentage of the book; so if a reader only reads 10% of the book, the library is charged 10% of the book price.
They currently have about 20,000 titles available for download through some well known publishers including
F+W Media, Red Wheel Weiser, Sourcebooks and others. They claim that other partnerships are coming soon. The app for library patrons is available on android and iPads tablets.
The service is available for individuals as well as libraries, and I tried it out on my android phone. One thing that could be confusing is that they have two apps; one for library patrons, and a separate one for the general public.
So if my library is a customer, and I use them as an individual, I need to download two apps.
Because I don’t know any libraries in my area that are hooked into their system yet, I downloaded the individual app. Incidentally, it took three tries as I kept getting error messages. I’m not on the newest phone, but that still seems to require a certain amount of determination and perseverance from the user.
Once I create an account (I would assume with a library account that this would include entering a barcode and pin), I am greeted with a sadly empty bookshelf, and a message telling me to get books. When I click there, I’m taken to recommended titles. The top recommended titles all seem to do with vampires so I check out the other options.
They have browseable categories, as well as a “Shelves” button, which is a neat touch – there are different subjects, and I can download the entire “Shelf” of that subject, ie Fun Reading, which was created and shared by a librarian. So I could also put together shelves, say with books about the Hundred Years’ War, and share that shelf. If I see a shelf that interests me, I download the entire shelf, and again, I’m only charged when I read pages. This strikes me as a sort of “pinterest” for books. There is a Boy Scouts shelf someone created with first
aid and survival books. A Vegan Friendly shelf with books on being vegan. I could see a library taking advantage of these tools to create Shelves with local interest titles, or titles that highlight programming in the library, for example.
Even though I do read a lot of fiction, I downloaded a Shelf called “I don’t read Fiction.” When I went to My Library, the books were all there. I chose a book on the Vikings, and it downloaded easily enough. Once reading, the controls at the top allow me to go back to the library, go to the table of contents, change the font size (only 2 options, sadly) look at my bookmarks, and add a bookmark. One big thing I missed was the ability to change the background (from the cream/yellow and black text that is the default) or have a Night Mode, but I presume these
are advances that may come down the line.
I’m not going to keep the app on my phone – there are just too many eReading apps on my phone, and too many books easily available for me to add one more.  Which, incidentally, brings about a whole philosophical question on the nature of how books and music, which used to be reserved for the learned elite, are now so available that I have something like 6 ereading apps on my phone right now, all loaded with books, or linked to a library account where I can get more (or streaming, like Oyster, so I never run out).  I also have several music apps – Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Prime Music, PC Radio (which links to streams of all the radio stations in the UK – I use it to get Radio 4), and ClassicFM (the UK’s pop classical music station).
That begs the question of how we will value information like books and music in the future, when it is so readily available.  But that’s a different subject for a different type of column.  One thing is certain; it makes curation of all these options so much more important.