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July 29, 2013 / Sarah Ludwig

Starting my ebook adventure–Axis360 vs Overdrive

Now that I am at the Ethel Walker School, which has a 1:1 iPad program, it’s time for me to suck it up and develop an ebook plan for the library.


I’ve been putting this off. I’m totally overwhelmed by ebooks and hate that it’s such a pain in the butt to explore all of my options. When you want to start collecting print materials, there are only a couple of places to go. Ebooks are another story. And it’s been surprisingly tricky for me to find information online about what other libraries are doing, especially libraries where all students have an ereader. So I thought I’d start chronicling what I’ve learned so far, just in case there are any other librarians in the same boat.

It seems to me that there are two major models for ebook delivery systems.

The first is paying for a database of ebooks. For a flat fee (anywhere from $1800 to $3150 for my school, with our enrollment of about 250 students), you get access to a large number of ebooks–some vendors offer upwards of 115,000 books.

The second model is one user, one book. You purchase a copy of an ebook just as you would a print book. For multiple copies, you buy multiple ebooks. These books range in price, but are sometimes much more expensive than print. Other times, there are circulation limits on the books. Students can check out a copy of a book, which means it’s unavailable to anyone else, and return it when they’re done. Vendors that offer this model charge a hosting fee of some kind–Baker & Taylor’s Axis360 is $250/year, while Overdrive’s, again for a school of our size, is $1000. They both require you to spend a certain amount on books as well–in our case, $1000.

So which model will work better for my library?

Remember, we are an iPad school, so in my research, I needed to make sure that ebooks were easily accessible via iPad. I know this is unique to my school and is often not a challenge faced by other schools, especially those whose students do not have access to ereaders or mobile devices. In those cases, reading on the computer is important–but not in my case.

Today I’m going to share what I’ve learned about the one checkout per book model, and focus on Axis360 and Overdrive. I have contacted 3M for more information about their cloud library, but I haven’t heard back yet and it doesn’t look like they really work with schools (yet). If I hear back and get more information, I’ll share it here.



  • Overdrive has excellent customer service; they’ve been in the game a long time. I spent about an hour on the phone with one of their sales reps, talking about different options and features.
  • In terms of mobile functionality, Overdrive appears to offer a robust and seamless experience. Students can search the library’s ebook holdings right from the Overdrive app, and books sync across devices.
  • Overdrive offers a million-book catalog. Of those million books, they estimate that 350,000 are suitable for K-12 libraries. I have not received a publisher list for them, but they work with the major trade, academic, and school publishers, meaning that nearly anything that is available in ebook format is available through Overdrive.


  • The industry leader, Overdrive’s platform is expensive, though I was actually pleasantly surprised at the price point. I’d put off  exploring Overdrive because I’d assumed it would be prohibitively expensive, but the platform, at $1000 a year, is comparable to other systems. You are obligated to purchase $1000 worth of ebooks upon signing a contract, and will probably spend more, given the pricing model.
  • You can  integrate Overdrive’s records into your catalog, but they do not offer MARC records or book records for free. They do offer the raw metadata for each item…and I have no idea what I’d do with that.
  • Overdrive offers patron-driven acquisition, which would come in handy given the collection development challenges of ebook collections (more on that in another post…)
  • I’m frustrated that they do not allow you to truly demo the product or the acquisitions module, meaning that I just have to assume the process of checking out and reading a book is as easy as I hope.

Axis360 (Baker & Taylor)


  • At $250/year, with a $1000 obligation, Axis360 is more affordable than Overdrive.
  • The Magic Wall is B&T’s online platform for finding ebooks. It’s cover-heavy and attractive, and any materials you acquire will be displayed there.
  • Ordering ebooks would be fairly a fairly seamless process, since we purchase print materials through B&T. Currently, those ebooks would need to be ordered through Title Source 3 while print is ordered through School Selection, though the rep did tell me there are plans to merge the two soon.
  • MARC records are available to integrate the ebook collection into the catalog
  • Students can also access the library’s holdings right from the Axis360 app.


  • B&T provides access to 500,000 titles, which is obviously far less than Overdrive.
  • It seems as though B&T is a bit less sure of their product than Overdrive–no disrespect to my sales rep intended. They are not as aware of some of the features and functionality, including some important stuff like catalog integration and use on mobile devices.
  • From what I’ve read, some libraries have passed on Axis360 because of its more limited catalog. Would this be a real issue for us, though? I did some test searches to see if there were any differences in popular YA titles in both catalogs.

Overdrive: yes

Axis360: yes

Overdrive: yes

Axis360: yes

Catching Fire

Overdrive: in audio only (so no)

Axis360: only available to public libraries (so no)

When I did some keyword searches for topics that high school students often research, I found:

Civil Rights Movement

Overdrive:  27 items

Axis360: 7 items

Roman Architecture

Overdrive: 0 items

Axis360: 2 items

John F. Kennedy

Overdrive: not sure? A search for “john f kennedy” gave zero results, and “john f. kennedy” led to 5 titles, none of which were related.

Axis360: 65 items

Climate Change

Overdrive: 68 items

Axis360: 77 items

Obviously, this is a really small sample. But on cursory glance, it does not appear that there is a huge difference in the results that a user might get back from these two platforms.

Do you use either Overdrive or Axis360 in your school? Would you like to share your feelings on them? Please do!

Stay tuned for a post about ebook databases…

A note on collection development: I will definitely write another post later on about how to collect ebooks. Or rather, on my ideas and the ideas of others, since I haven’t started collecting them yet and I’m still not sure how to approach the issue. If you have any thoughts on the matter, please feel free to comment here or get in touch on Twitter!



Leave a Comment
  1. Kirlie the Public Librarian / Aug 7 2013 4:07 pm

    Also consider whether you “own” the books or are just leasing them. I know with Overdrive you only have access to your books if you keep paying the platform fee. With 3M you “own” the books and would be able to transfer most of your titles to another vendor. I am not sure if B&T are “owned” or “leased” though.

  2. daniellewood728 / Sep 9 2013 11:49 pm

    Found your blog from your guest lecture with Hyperlinked Libraries. As a collection librarian (and I’m new at my job too— almost 4 months at my position), I just recently went through this though I’m at a public library. We have OverDrive but are looking for a 2nd vendor. We looked at B&T’s Axis360 and 3M. We really wanted to like Axis360 because we were excited about the prospects of their connection with the publishers—- but hands down 3M wins. The biggest frustration is how darn confusing Axis is. People have trouble with OverDrive— they will have tenfold of trouble with Axis. Whether this is a problem for your girls I’m not sure. It’s a shame limiting so much to K-12 institutions. I’m sure that will change though…

  3. Steve / Jul 3 2014 11:34 pm

    I have never used Axis360, but I also don’t use Baker and Taylor as my book vendor. As for Overdrive, I have always had a great experience with using their application. I think using the Smarphone App is by far the easiest thing, since you can do everything there. The only thing that one needs to understand is that downloading the books can be tedious if you don’t have a strong wireless connection. I would not advise ANY patron to download a book unless they have unlimited data.

    I wish I could explore how the process works for acquisitions in Overdrive, since I would love to compare prices. My administrators want to see the numbers behind it. I am curious if I decide to cancel service with Overdrive, but continue with it later….do we get all of those books back?

  4. Mike Rees / Nov 2 2014 1:02 am

    We looked at both these systems but we also looked at ePlatform by Wheelers and ended up with them. We are a school and did not have the budget for Overdrive, and for Australian / NZ content Wheelers seems to have a bigger range, cannot speak for other countries. In terms of iOS and Android Apps – probably not as many features but also easier to navigate.

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