Hoopla – The New Pay-Per Use Face of Public Libraries

The digital media content providing service, Hoopla has been TAKING OVER the public library world over the last year. Going from only 13,000 titles in their catalog and a few hundred libraries subscribed, to over 350,000 titles and over 850 Libraries subscribing. Currently they are signing up around 15-30 library systems every month.


So what has made Hoopla catch on fire like this? Why are so many libraries signing up and promoting the hell out of it in local media?

Well, first of all it’s interesting to point out that a lot of libraries are touting Hoopla as a competitor to Netflix. Hoopla offers tons of streaming movies and tv shows. It also has ebooks, music, and comic books. Of course, libraries have been offering  these digital streaming movies, ebooks, and all that other services, for awhile now. But usually access to these titles has been clunky, limited, and disorganized. Libraries have had a multitude of services providers offering these services, and patrons were being forced to jump through a lot of hoops to be able to get access to the small amount titles offered.

Hoopla, however, offers all of these digital content in one user friendly place. As one of it’s co-founders, Jeff Jankowski, says “It’s one app that does everything.” And it pretty much does do everything.
1I’ve been using Hoopla quite a bit over the last few months, its been fantastic for finding lesser known movies and tv shows. Their app is amazing and easy to use as well. Public library patrons have been just loving it. From what I hear from my current local public library, the LPL, -who just launched the service in early October – is that it is getting extremely heavy use from patrons, and a lot of positive feedback.

What really makes Hoopla so earth-shattering when it comes to Public Libraries though, are how its payment model for libraries are set up.

Public Libraries don’t own the content that patrons see on Hoopla, nor do they license it from Hoopla, rather they pay an individual fee for each item accessed by a patron. A pay-per use model. This means when I check-out and watch a movie on Hoopla the library is charged a couple dollars for that movie. Unlike the DDA or PDA ebook models that we have seen develop in academic libraries, with Hoopla, a title purchase is not triggered by  a patron accessing that title. This means if I download and watch the same movie off Hoopla a month later, the library will be charged again.

This is big deal because public libraries pretty much have zilch experience dealing with pay-per use models. Usually when you check out a book, ebook, or dvd from your local public library, you know they have purchased and own that content. Your usage of that title isn’t costing the library directly. With Hoopla it will be. With Hoopla the Library also no longer owns the material it is lending out, but pays every time it accessed.

This has a lot of pretty fascinating implications, but I just want to point out a few more things before I dive into them.

3As mentioned above, Hoopla has its own catalog interface, where users can browse, select, and read, watch, or listen to titles. After users have created user profile, they don’t even need to go through the library webpage to access this catalog. They just need to go to Hoopladigital.com to access it. Same thing with the App. To library patrons Hoopla can appear pretty far removed and unrelated to their local public library. Also, because Hoopla offers a wide and diverse catalog of materials itself, who is to say that Hoopla won’t replace the actual public library catalog for some users.

Users could begin going to Hoopla for all their public library content, and leave the public library stuck to pay a fee for each title those users access.

Another interesting thing I want to point out about Hoopla is that Public Librarians have no say what titles appear in Hoopla. Hoopla has scrapped the bottom of the barrel to put as much content as they can in their catalog. Libraries can either subscribe to all of that content or none of it. Now, Hoopla does allow Libraries to decide which digital formats types they want to have in their Hoopla catalog – a fair amount of Libraries choose not subscribe to Hoopla’s ebook titles – but once Libraries have picked the formats they want, they are unable to weed or select titles.

(Hoopla does offer Public Libraries the ability to “post-weed” titles by hiding them from the promotional lists of titles that Hoopla shows to the user, but those hidden titles will still appear in search results and can be accessed)

So not only is Hoopla charging the Library individually for each title a user accesses, but there is also the threat that they will replace the library catalog, plus they also don’t allow the library any real collection development capabilities over the material.

Ok. So that’s a lot of doom and gloom. Am I saying that Hoopla poses a threat to the existence of Public Libraries as we know them?


4While Hoopla’s pay-per use model is pretty new for public libraries and their vendors. Academic Libraries and their vendors have been experimenting with different pay models like this for a long time now. It’s not surprising that Public Libraries are finally moving toward “just-in-time” instead of “just-in-case” collection development models as academic models have. I’m sure that now that Hoopla has broken new ground in payment models in academic libraries, we will see some rapid shift and changes in the public library vendor industry. (Check out the recent EBA model that Academic Libraries and their Vendors have recently started using, one of the most innovative and fair models we have seen yet)
A pay-per use model is also really cost-effective for low-circulating material. For a title that only one or two patrons will access in a year it makes more sense to pay around $5 via Hoopla then purchasing that title for $20. Also a pay-per use model allows users to have access to more content, all 350,000 of Hoopla’s titles, than a Public Library could offer through a ownership payment model. Public Libraries also often put lending limits in place to keep users from accessing to much content in a month (LPL’s is 8 titles per user a month).

Also, as mentioned before, a lot of Libraries choose not to subscribe to Hoopla’s ebook content. A lot of this ebook content is probably already offered by other library services (that is, Overdrive), and, obviously, a lot of libraries are uncomfortable with allowing one of the main services they provide (Books), to be not owned by them and hosted by a third party website.

However, Public Libraries are having endless issue with eBook pricing, single reader at a time limits, DRM, and circulation limits (Harper Collins books can only circulate 26 times before the library no longer owns that copy and has to buy another) with their current vendors. A very important benefit of Hoopla is that it has no ‘one reader one book’ rules, and a title can have hundreds of users at once – with the library paying for every user of course.

Plus, and this is the big thing, patrons want Hoopla. They want the convenience and mass amount of services it provides. For libraries who have been struggling with providing the access to digital content, Hoopla is the answer they have been looking for.

So good on Hoopla for coming out of nowhere and shaking things up in Public Libraries. It will be interesting to see how Public Libraries respond to this new payment model.


About Ryan Regier

Doing Library Stuff. Follow me on twitter at: @ryregier
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One Response to Hoopla – The New Pay-Per Use Face of Public Libraries

  1. Pingback: Is Demand Driven Access to Journal Articles the Future? | A Way of Happening

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