Monday, January 30, 2012

The Game's the Thing: Working with a Video Game Collection

Last year, I volunteered to take over ordering the young adult video games for my library. Unlike the rest of my collection development duties, which are focused on materials at the central library (we also have nine branches), the games are a citywide collection. Although they are all located at one branch for security reasons--they kept wandering off when they were stored here--they can be requested by patrons anywhere in the region.1

I've done a couple of orders over the past year or so since I became responsible for this area, but hadn't really taken a close look at the numbers until recently. I ran a report (of course) and tried to break down what I was seeing in ways that would be useful for my collection decisions going forward. This is also the only non-print collection that I am responsible for, and boy are the numbers different from what I'm used to seeing, especially in comparison with the nonfiction collection!

The most prominent statistic was probably the number of missing and billed games. Out of the 219 games acquired since fall 2008 when the collection was started, 85 (39%) are missing, billed, or otherwise out of commission. This is similar to the attrition rates for my paperback collection, but more depressing because the cost of a new item is so much higher (anywhere up to $60.99--and finding discounts can be difficult2). However, to balance the loss, these relatively few items have circulated over 3300 times in the past four years (an average of over 15 circulations per item). By contrast, the average circulation for a paperback at my library, over a much greater span of years, is 6.5 times per item. Obviously we are filling some sort of need with this collection, the question is how best to spend the budget for the future.

Looking at the breakdown between formats, we have a pretty even split between PS2 (62), Wii (64), and Xbox (54), with PS3 (39) trailing behind, which is understandable since we didn't start ordering PS3 games until 2010. Playstation 2 is the best-selling console of all time, and circulation/theft stats indicate that it's still the most popular format among my patrons, despite the fact that it's ancient in terms of gaming systems. PS2 games circulated an average of 20 times an item, and the few patrons I've managed to corner and ask about their format preferences have indicated that this is what they want. However, it's not clear just how long PS2 games will continue to be released, or support for the product will extend. From what I've seen, very few new games are being released; a search for new releases at the vendor I use came up with one result (Major League Baseball 2K12). I can purchase some PS2 games used, but it's probably safe to say that it's is a waning format.

I do my best to split my budget between formats, purchasing as large a variety as possible--puzzle, sports, adventure, shooter, dance, and so on--given my limitations. I am not supposed to purchase any titles above a "T for Teen" rating, which cuts out a ton of the most popular (M-rated) games. In some ways this makes my job easier, because it blocks out a huge number of options. I also try to order the most popular games (racing, superhero, and wrestling) across all platforms. I don't really have enough information to see how the platforms perform against each other in terms of circulations for the same game, especially since it's incredibly likely that one or more copies will go missing.

In terms of reviews, I use Metacritic and The A.V. Club to get a sense of what's popular, and then see what's available from my vendor. I do buy older titles to fill out my order, because they're relatively cheap (in the $20 range) and everything that I order seems to go out. I occasionally get requests from patrons, which I try to honor.

Highest circulating games:

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (PS2; added 12/08) -- 60 circulations
De Blob (Wii; added 12/08) -- 57 circulations
MarioKart (Wii; added 6/09) -- 53 circulations
Metroid Prime 3 (Wii; added 12/08) -- 52 circulations

The highest circulating PS3 game is Lego Indiana Jones 2 with 34 (added 2/10) and the highest circulating Xbox game still in circulation is also Lego Indiana Jones 2, with 33 circulations (2/10). A billed Xbox copy of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground went out 35 times before someone decided not to return it.

When I posted some of these statistics on Twitter, I got a few questions about the Nintendo DS format and whether we had any in our collection. We currently don't, but I'm going to add a bunch to my new order and see how they do with my patrons. I have had a few kids asking me about DS games, so I'm optimistic that this venture in to handheld games rather than console games will be successful.

Any questions? Suggestions? Speak up in the comments.


1 This presents a problem in terms of publicity, because those who tend to want video games are not always keen on placing holds, even though they're usually younger and more tech-savvy. I know that I need to do more in terms of getting the word out about how to find out what we have in our collection and how to order it. Browsing isn't really a concern, because they're almost never on the shelf.

2 Several people, including me, have asked why we couldn't buy used games from a local store to supplement the collection and perhaps replace some of the high-interest titles that have gone missing. At first I was told that the city's purchase-order labyrinth would make such a thing impossible, and that I shouldn't purchase anything with my own money. However, I recently asked again, and it turns out that the Friends organization is willing to spot me $100 to go to a local store and acquire some bargains! This is great news for my patrons--and for me, since I love shopping.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Guest Post: The More Formats Change . . .

Here at Collection Reflection, we're aware that we spend a lot of time talking about ebooks and weeding and EBOOKS, and we're going to start featuring some guest posts on topics outside of our immediate realm of expertise. One of these days, we might actually find someone to talk about something other than public libraries! Today's post comes from one of Robin's colleagues on the topic of collection development and audio CDs and DVDs.

--

Hey Chicken Little, the sky is still up there. I mean, that acorn that fell on your head has fallen down, but there’s still plenty of sky.

As a music and film librarian, I get asked almost daily about “when are we going to stop carrying discs?” My answer is always, “when people stop checking them out.” Which I’m guessing will be for a while, since my circulation numbers are still healthy and iTunes is over a decade old. Let’s face it, we only got rid of our VHS collection last year--and the few that could still play were still going out.

Sometimes, my answer also includes “when did you last listen to a CD or watch a DVD?” People seem to think that EVERYONE is streaming and downloading everything except, of course, for themselves. I've heard “but I’m old,” or “I don’t like watching things on my computer,” or “mp3s don’t sound as good as cds” or whatever excuse they have for using physical media they feel sets them apart. But there are lots of people who think the same way. Sometimes you stream, sometimes you use a physical product, sometimes you use broadcast. The market is fragmented to be sure, but there’s room for all kinds of content delivery. In fact, physical CD music sales were UP in 2011. Blu-ray disc sales were also up. People like “stuff” and that means they will, at least for the near future, continue to have players to play this stuff on.

Libraries are wonderful providers of stuff, especially stuff that not’s always readily available. Redbox isn’t going to have a DVD on doing ceramic tile, and it just wouldn’t be cost effective for Netflix to acquire streaming rights for something like that. Titles for homeschoolers, How-To guides, documentaries, language instruction, and tons of other things are just made for the library market--and I don’t see the demand for that going away.

I’m not saying that there won’t come a day where there are no discs. Content delivery is completely in flux right now. But there are a lot of bandwidth issues alone that would have to be sorted out before any sort of streaming completely takes over. Another complication is the question how digital rights management is going to shake down. It’s just too soon to tell what is going to happen and how libraries will fit in, or if even more options for content delivery will be appearing on the market. It’s impossible to know what will be created or what will be chosen by the public. The only thing I do know is that the majority of the public moves pretty slowly. Libraries need to stay abreast of new content delivery advances, but also need to stay aware about what their patrons are actually using. Right now, that’s still discs, and I’ll bet we’ll carry on using them through the 2010s.
Amy Dalton is the music and film Collection Development Librarian at the Indianapolis Public Library. You can also find her at Criminal Element, where she is a contributor.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My philosophy on: ebooks

I promised Anna I wouldn't be so heavily ebooks focused. Never trust a lawyer, Anna.

Ebooks generally divide people into two camps:

Group A: Love them! Will do anything for them! I don't care what you charge me or what usage restrictions you place on me, just give me more more more.

Group B: No thank you. I'll stick with print. I know what I'm getting, I can do what I want want it. Straighten out the formats, stop the vendor wars and then we'll talk.

I'm actually not in either of these groups. I'm more of an A-/B+. I love ebooks, but not to the exclusion of everything else. I hate the angst surrounding them, but not so much that I'll refuse to buy them.

Over the weekend, news leaked out that there was going to be an ebook summit between ALA and the publishers who won't sell ebooks to libraries (Simon & Schuster and Macmillan--Penguin is invited along too). This is great news. Wouldn't you love to be a coffee cup on the table in that boardroom? So, everyone is talking. What are my concerns?

Concern #1: Libraries have been referred to as "places of free reading" for so long, people are starting to accept it as the truth. Yes, even those people who write tax checks to their government for library privileges. This is one of those things that is so often repeated that even librarians start to tout it. "We let people read books for free!" No. We don't. Tax payers have pre-paid for those reading privileges. That is money we, in turn, use to BUY library materials. Libraries need to push back against the scary specter of freeloading readers because it isn't true.

Concern #2: We're coming in to these "negotiations" late. Nothing to be done about that, but it does make things more difficult. Some things have already been done that will not be undone. For instance, price of ebooks. Consumers, raise your hand if you'd pay $25.99 for an ebook. Consumers? Hello? Librarians, raise your hand if that price even registers on your radar.

Exactly.

We are so used to paying regular hardcover price for ebooks that it doesn't even warrant a mention anymore. Even though I swore I'd never do it. Yep, I did. I swore it to the New York Times. That was silly. They never forget anything.

But we're not starting from a blank slate where we can negotiate a downward price on ebooks, even if we're buying multiple copies. The status quo is hardcover price (or 2x hardcover price. Or 5x hardcover price...) and a publisher who is already selling you 0 copies has absolutely no incentive to sell you any copies for less than their competitors, right? 

Concern #3: Show me the models. We started with a model of one book/one user. Libraries grumbled a little, but it made sense. That was the way the print world worked, so it was easy to explain to patrons. And, it made sense to us from a business perspective too. We get that publishers wouldn't want us to buy one copy and let 1,000 simultaneous users read. Forcing holds forces us to buy more copies. All things we are familiar with. The world turned in harmony.

But is that the model a publisher coming in to the library market would use as their beginning bargaining position? I don't think so. I wouldn't. If I were a publisher, I would start with the 26 use model because that is a better position for me. Why would I start bargaining from a position of unlimited circulations when you're already letting my competitor set limits? So we start at 26 and bargain from there. But wait, right now you get exactly 0 loans of my material, so 26 seems excessive. This is new for us, we're not sure how this lending thing will work out, so maybe we should make it 15 loans. Or, perhaps, 10. 10 is still better than none, right?

Is everything on the table? Re-licensing after every use? Copies sold in batches instead of single items? Licensing for time periods instead of uses? A model where we could stop licensing a title? Ownership? Is ownership of titles on the table?

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Stat Check

A quick peek into some digital book numbers from Robin's (@Tuphlos) collection at IMPCL:

Some end of the year Overdrive statistics:

Overall checkouts (audio and ebook) up 143% in 2011 over 2010.

Ebook checkouts were up 470% in 2011 over 2010. Those numbers are without Simon & Schuster, without Macmillan, and without buying new HarperCollins items since March 2010.

Audiobook checkouts were up 35% in 2011 over 2010.

Overall holds on items went up 151% in 2011 over 2010. Ebook holds, specifically, were up 558%.

Current Overdrive collection size: 41,084 titles (11,925 audio, 29,159 ebook).