Patron-Driven Acquisitions: New Challenges / by Christina Peter

Art libraries, while lagging behind other disciplines in embracing e-books, have been quick to adopt the patron-driven acquisitions (PDA or DDA) model as a way to introduce e-books on demand into their collections. Referred to as a ‘just-in-time’ practice by Stephen Arougheti in a recent article1 as opposed to the traditional ‘just-in-case’ model of acquiring books “in excess… for the potential they might someday offer,” the new model “dictates that patron demand is the primary impetus for acquisition and the purchase process remains delayed until the user requires access to the title”. Driven by a desire to keep costs down and to give patrons a more active role in collection development, libraries load records for e-books into their catalogs and mediate a loan or a purchase once a title has been selected by the user.

The Frick Art Reference Library started experimenting with PDA a year ago, choosing the E-Book Library (EBL) as its vendor. After considerable investment of staff time spent in discussions, negotiations, setting up a contract and hammering out the technical details, in 2013 ca. 35,000 EBL records were loaded into the library’s OPAC, with newly released titles added on a monthly basis. A relatively modest amount of acquisitions funds was dedicated to the project, considered an experiment and closely monitored by the librarians. A few months into the experiment we all agreed that time and money were not wasted: the project caught on with the public, albeit on a modest scale; dire predictions of a budget overrun failed to materialize; although the filtering options were not quite to our satisfaction, the users’ selections mostly fit in with the library’s scholarly scope.

Just about the time we decided that the PDA model was working, however, we were suddenly facing a new challenge: a substantial increase in the price of e-books and the costs of short-term loans. The model of delaying purchases by gauging demand first proved to be a cost-saving measure for libraries – while obviously resulting in loss of sale for the publishers. The potential for such a development has been pointed out in Joseph Esposito’s blog entry from May 2012: “An unintended consequence of PDA is that it will drive up book prices. Publishers will raise prices not only to offset the lost sales from PDA but also to offset the delay in sales for books that a library ultimately purchases. Some of these increases will be masked in the migration from print to digital formats, as the two formats have different cost structures. But PDA will inevitably make books more expensive.”2

We launched the program with the premise that the cost of a seven-day loan would average 10% of the e-book’s list price. Early in 2014 I started noticing with some alarm that the percentage of the short-term loan (STL) costs was inching up towards 20%. But the real shock came with the decision of several publishers to increase the price of the short-term loans through all aggregators as of June 1st, joined by another batch of publishers on July 1st. According to the new schedule, the 7-day loan fees increased to 45-50% – and, in some cases, 60% – of the list price, but even 1-day loans can reach 25-40% of the list price. As libraries are already acquiring e-books at a higher price than the general public does, absorbing such a steep increase of STLs into their acquisitions budgets will certainly pose a challenge.

In our library this difficulty was brought into sharp focus recently, as we received notification from our provider that the cost of a requested one-day loan would exceed 25% of the list price (a cap over which we decided to review loan requests on a case-by-case basis). The work in question happened to be a venerable classic, Sir Leonard Woolley’s “Excavations at Ur”. The list price of the e-book through our aggregator is $450; the cost of a one-day loan, $75. The Kindle version of the same edition of this work is selling for $31.69 on Amazon, and can be rented for $15.

In the burgeoning literature on the PDA model3 cost-effectiveness is mentioned as one of the leading reasons for its popularity in libraries. “Ostensibly, the just-in-case model failed due to unsustainable increases to costs and reduced acquisitions budgets,”4 according to Stephen Arougheti. Will unsustainable increases to costs threaten now the alternative just-in-time model? And will libraries backtrack on short-term loans, right as they were gaining such popularity? Although we are probably not at the tipping point yet, the tendency is certainly worrisome. If forced to withdraw from PDA plans due to the scale of increases described above, libraries will be facing a considerable loss of investment of funds and staff time.

(1) Arougheti, Stephen. “Keeping Up With… Patron Driven Acquisition”, American Library Association, June 17, 2014. (Accessed July 12, 2014)

(2) Esposito, Joseph. “A Publisher’s Strategy for Patron-Driven Acquisitions (PDA)”. Blog post. The Scholarly Kitchen., May 12, 2012. (Accessed July 13, 2014)

(3) For a good overview, see: Kaczorowski, Thomas. “(E-book) Patron Driven Acquisitions (PDA): An Annotated Bibliography (2013). Staff Publications. Paper 1. (Accessed July 12, 2014)

(4) Arougheti, op. cit.


Christina Peter, Frick Art Reference Library, July 2014.

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