Acquiring E-Books

So you want to acquire some e-books for your library? Overdrive isn’t the only game in town. There is a huge and growing number of ways for libraries to acquire e-books. I thought I’d compile a list. The main pathways I see (although the boundaries between them are by no means solid) are aggregators, vendors, and publishers. This list is far from complete. My knowledge is primarily in the North American academic library arena. If you have information to add, post a comment.


Aggregators gather titles from a variety of publishers and present them on a single platform. Titles can typically be licensed on a rental or purchase model and are available in subject packages or on a title-by-title basis. The delivery platforms vary as to their features and functions.

ACLS Humanities E-Book:
The American Council of Learned Societies. Primarily a subscription service. Files: page image, PDF, txt.

Business, finance, and IT focused collections. Files: HTML (all web-based platform).

Credo Reference:
Over 500 reference books. Files: HTML (all web-based platform).

Dawson Era:
From British bookseller Dawson Books. Don’t know much about them.

Aggregator of Spanish-language e-books from Spain, Caribbean, and Latin America. Variety of purchase and lease plans, including subject collections. Files: PDF, HTML.

Australian company (but widely available). Multi-publisher, multi-subject collections. Strong on academic material. Variety of purchase options, including user driven. EBL was an early developer of the “short-term loan” for e-books. Files: PDF, EPUB, multiple concurrent users, and downloadable. Download requires Adobe Digital Editions.

Ebrary (Proquest):
Wide variety of publishers with materials for academic, public, and school libraries (although academic is the main strength). Variety of use options, including user driven and short-term loan.  Variety of use options, including user driven acquisitions. Files: PDF, downloadable. Download requires Adobe Digital Editions.

“E-book collection from Ebscohost” – includes the former NetLibrary collections. Variety of use options, including user driven and short-term loan. Files: PDF. Download requires Adobe Digital Editions.

Pay-per-use model from Library Ideas. Popular reading? File: EPUB?

Not yet available. Will include aggregation from major university and commercial scholarly presses.

MyiLibrary (Ingram/Coutts):
Aggregation platform serving Ingram and Coutts customers (public, school, academic, and professional libraries). Variety of use options, including user driven acquisitions. Files: PDF, downloadable. Download requires Adobe Digital Editions.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Primarily life science and healthcare titles, most with free download and purchase on demand. Files: HTML, selective PDF.

NetLibrary (See Ebsco)

Widely used in the public library world. Various purchase options available. Files: PDF, EPUB, Kindle, audio.

Primarily science and medicine topics. Files: ?

Project MUSE:
Platform host for the University Press E-book Consortium. Various purchase options. Content integrates in with Muse journals. Files: PDF (DRM-free).

Safari Books (direct and through Proquest):
Direct from Safari is designed more for individuals or as an enterprise model. Through Proquest there are a variety of purchase models. Files: HTML?

A new player in the e-book market, although not new to library services. The 3m Cloud Library has a lot of unique features, link kiosks and dedicated ereaders, but not a big track record. Files: EPUB?

Aggregator platform of bookseller Casalini Libri of Italy. Includes Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish e-books. Variety of use options. See also EIO – Editoria Italiana Online for Italian titles only. Files: ?




As with print books, vendors function as a mediator between the library and the publisher or aggregator. You can buy and pay for your e-books from a single source, but actually get access from multiple providers. Some vendors like Ingram/Coutts and Dawson serve as both the vendor and the aggregator.

Baker & Taylor:

Dawson Books:

Casalini Libri
European book vendor. See Torrossa aggregator.

Coutts (academic division Ingram):




W.T. Cox:

YBP (academic division of Baker & Taylor):




Many publishers offer their books through aggregators and vendors but also through their own platform or storefront. I’ve listed here mainly publishers that offer a hosted platform for libraries. A couple, like California and Michigan, are really storefronts intended for end users. Some, like Cambridge and Oxford, are actually beginning to function as aggregators of other publishers’ e-books. There are many others that I have not listed. Feel free to note those in the comments.

American Psychological Association:

Cambridge University Press:

De Gruyter:




MIT Press:

Morgan & Claypool Publishers:

National Academies Press:

Oxford University Press:

Palgrave Macmillan:

Sage Publishing (primarily offered through aggregators):


Taylor & Francis:

University of California Press (mainly intended for individual users not libraries):

University of Michigan Press (mainly intended for individual users not libraries):

Wiley Blackwell:


7 Comments on “Acquiring E-Books”

  1. Sarah G. Wenzel says:

    Digitalia (aggregator), De Gruyter (publisher) & Casalini (vendor) provide ebooks.

  2. Donna Long says:

    Thank you for a extremely helpful list. I’ll share the link with librarians I know who are discussing ebook purchases.

  3. Tom Peters says:

    Thanks for compiling and sharing this list, Steven.

  4. Amy Schofield says:

    While this list seems pretty long, it seems that (at least for the purposes of public libraries) only vendors providing EPUB formats are viable. PDF is antiquated, and doesn’t work with some readers. If you want to read on a Nook, Kindle, Reader or most tablets— you need EPUB, right? That narrows the list down to Overdrive, Freading, 3M (which is still in development) and Baker and Taylor’s Axis 360 product. Any thoughts?

    • Andrew Y says:

      Actually, Nooks and Kindles can both handle PDFs pretty easily. Kindles, in fact, -can’t- use ePub files.

      • Steven Harris says:

        Andrew is right. A lot of devices handle PDF pretty well. I think the smaller-screened devices do a pretty poor job of it, but all kinds of tables work quite well.

        And, yes, Kindles can’t handle EPUB.

  5. Steven Harris says:

    In terms of front-list trade publishers, the choices you mention are probably right. I wouldn’t totally count out PDF, however.

    Also, I don’t know much about their popular content, but EBL also offers EPUB.

    I think Ebsco and MyiLibrary also have something to offer public libraries.

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