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Reading is not an opportunity that everyone has access to, but in order to make it accessible Overdrive, Inc. has been able to provide a variety of innovations and products to readers worldwide. This has been possible through the innovation of digital content for more than 81,000 libraries and schools, which allows readers to connect (with the use of specific apps) to a vast number of e-books, audiobooks, and documentaries.
OverDrive was founded in 1986 in Cleveland, Ohio and is a digital reading platform providing eBooks and audiobooks to libraries and schools worldwide.
The innovation was created by Steve Potash, a lawyer who wanted to make law school textbooks more accessible for students. At the time, the company created a revolution in the way of purchasing and reading books online. This innovation made it possible to offer and distribute all kinds of books while having them readily accessible in an online platform. The creation of this digital reading platform enabled numerous students to have access to reading books online without having to purchase them.
The foundation of the company was followed by a series of service upgrades in the upcoming years. In 2003, OverDrive established the first online system for public libraries, which created the possibility to lend e-books. Today, through the aggregation of content, they work with publishers worldwide, making audiobooks available through those institutions, and are currently present in 81,000 libraries and institutions in 106 countries.
The biggest two innovations of OverDrive, as Ms. Li mentioned in the interview, are the platforms Libby, launched in 2017, and Sora which was launched in 2019.
Libby is aimed at collaborating with public libraries around the world in order to not only offer the possibility to borrow eBooks and magazines, but to also offer audiobooks to their readers. Another positive aspect of Libby is that not only does the app offer access to a wide variety of educational literature and materials, but they also offer access to many eBooks for your private life. The app has already enabled millions of people around the world to read books online and continues to grow today.
On the other hand, Sora was first introduced to schools and their students so that educators can have a lasting reading and learning impact on their class, school, or learning district. Sora´s purpose is to give students access through their university to borrow books without fees and subscription costs.
The original idea of the innovation came from the founder Steve Potash, who was at the time studying to become a lawyer. As mentioned before, Potash was struggling to access all the textbooks he needed for his educational path in law school. He searched for a way to digitize the content of his law textbooks so that they were conveniently accessible. During the interview, Ms. Li discussed how exactly this inspiration came into fruition: “At the time the goal was to make books easy to find and make the large volumes of law books required in law schools and law firms and large departments easier to use. Over the years the company evolved into the distribution of all kinds of books, now covering all sort of subjects and genres.” So, while the company had humble beginnings, it quickly grew to appeal to the needs of all kinds of readers.
OverDrive evolved into the distribution of a variety of books and media, now covering a plethora of subjects and genres. This was at a time when few foresaw the revolution in technology that was to up-end the publishing industry. For OverDrive, the rise of the internet and the digitalization of books in the 1990’s caused the company to refocus their service mission and to launch their content distribution service in the early 2000’s. In 2003 the company established the first system for public libraries to lend eBooks, which helps libraries circulate physical materials in an additional form. In 2010 they incorporated their online platform, Libby. Due to the use of mobile phones and tablets, they introduced other apps that were launched in 2017. The second and one of the main products of OverDrive is Sora, which was launched in 2018. Today, along with being the industry’s leading digital reading platform, OverDrive now offers the largest digital content catalog in the world.
OverDrive has adapted these inspirations and advancements into their mission of innovating with digital content and technology to help reduce the digital divide, and to improve access to books and information overall. During the interview Ms. Li mentioned an important aspect of their impact: “their mission of making it easier and more convenient for people all ages to read, which impacts all parts of their community including people who are not able to visit the libraries physically, or people who are learning to read or have difficulty with reading and comprehension.” OverDrive is continuously inspired by their community to continue with their mission and to continue bringing people back to reading. This is evident through the changes and new innovations they adapt to their products and through their commitment to ensuring that the needs of all their readers are being met.
The impact OverDrive has had on readers in a global context has been significant. While their impact is starting to have more of a long-term effect on their readers and communities, their impact is still making differences in the short term as well. An example of a short-term effect is the impact they had during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the publishing industry was experiencing issues within their supply chains and production chains, so the flows of physical books and materials within these chains were being slowed down or were ceasing altogether. This was an important point in time for OverDrive considering how they started working with more publishers to digitize their content and to connect them with libraries to ensure that readers still had access to their materials. This helped revolutionize the publishing industry during a time where many businesses were suffering from a new onset of issues created by a global crisis.
In the past year alone, OverDrive’s impact has been evident considering the number of checkouts they have achieved. Each checkout represents a reader accessing one of OverDrive’s platforms and using that online platform to “check-out” or borrow these materials online. In 2022, OverDrive has already achieved over five million checkouts of digital content worldwide. Considering how much of an impact OverDrive has made on so many individuals around the world, this impact has actually been quite significant considering how quickly it occurred during such a short period of time.
A majority of the effects of OverDrive’s impact are considerably long term. An example of these effects is OverDrive’s gradual expansion on a global scale. In more recent years, OverDrive has begun working with libraries and universities in Europe, especially in Germany. Not only is OverDrive having a long-term impact on readers located in their home country of the United States, but now they are having a long-term impact on readers internationally. Another example of their long-term impact is their expansion on the types of materials they are incorporating into their platforms. As OverDrive has connected with universities and libraries internationally, they are also becoming connected with international publishers in countries such as the U.K., India, France, and so many other countries. This has allowed OverDrive to include more materials in a variety of other languages, allowing them to reach an even larger target market while also meeting the needs of readers who’s first language is not English. Overall, as OverDrive continues to grow in the future, their impact will continue to grow as well and will continue to reach new communities.
As a result of these innovations, OverDrive has been able to accomplish various purposes that also have had a significant impact on the business. Starting from the possibility of OverDrive becoming a global company by providing the largest digital content catalogue to different libraries and institutions around the world, they have facilitated over five hundred million checkouts of digital content such as eBooks, magazines, comics, and novels. In 2022 alone, they facilitated over five million checkouts of digital content and started to expand their business in Europe for instance in Germany, France, and Italy.
Investing heavily in innovation is a constant for OverDrive in order to frequently improve the impact of their products. In order to achieve better feedback from readers and to expand their target market, OverDrive engaged in numerous partnerships with different for-profit and non-profit organizations such as hospitals, churches, and even the United States Navy and Army branches. Through these partnerships, OverDrive can expand their impact on readers and communities that they were not able to connect with before. This has a profound effect on OverDrive’s gradual business expansion in a global sense and it also influences the type of materials OverDrive currently provides to readers and how they can expand these medias to include more materials.
OverDrive has also developed a sustainable business model throughout the years that puts customized reader experiences at the centre of their business practices. This is evident through their support of various academic libraries and universities and through their relationships with different prominent companies like Microsoft, where they help large corporations establish and sustain company-wide libraries. This sustainable business model also considers employee welfare that OverDrive demonstrates by providing educational materials and various other types of support for employees as well. As Ms. Li stated in the interview, “as a leader you want to do more than just create better performance, you want to make sure your team members develop professionally”. This type of leadership and mindset is evident through OverDrive’s business model and business practices as they try to have a positive impact on stakeholders within the company (i.e. company employees on all structural levels) and outside of the company as well.
As mentioned before, unfortunately not everyone grew up having easy access to libraries and books. Thanks to OverDrive’s visionary innovation, access to books has never been easier. Through their collaborative work with over 81,000 public libraries, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities in 106 countries around the world, OverDrive has been impacting and changing countless of people’s lives, particularly children’s lives. In 2003, OverDrive established their first system for public libraries to lend eBooks. A few years later (2010), this system evolved and was developed into apps available to download onto either tablets or phones. Seven years later Libby, the app for public libraries was launched. The following year, Sora, an app with books for all types of students, was launched.
As a certified B Corporation, it comes to no surprise that OverDrive is fully committed to the future and assumes the social responsibility of enlightening the world by bringing people back to reading. This year alone, OverDrive has facilitated over 500 million checkouts of digital books, including eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, graphic novels and comics. Moreover, the company recently surpassed 3 billion checkouts in OverDrive history.
The company’s societal commitment does not use language barriers to hinder the content they provide to their consumers. Libby provides content for people of different cultural backgrounds by offering content in diverse languages. Ms. Li remarked about how in a meeting in Boston someone once approached her and mentioned how she used to work as a teacher at a K-12 school in Texas. One day she showed the app to a student’s mom, who was an immigrant, and when presented with this app (that had vast content in her first language), this action had brought her to tears thus proving that a world enlightened by reading truly means enlightening individuals’ lives through easy access to information.
Due to the pandemic, there were a lot of logistical issues (i.e., supply chain issues, printing issues, and shipment issues), therefore it was extremely difficult for bookshops and libraries to receive physical books. At OverDrive they are currently advocating with public libraries to publishers that are still hesitant about providing materials to online platforms such as Libby. This is because they believe they will not sell as many books as they do now. For this reason, OverDrive is working with public libraries to try and solve this problem with innovative and new business models in a manner that is beneficial for all parties involved, i.e., the consumers, the public libraries, and suppliers in order to create a sustainable business model.
Furthermore, OverDrive's innovation not only helps increase literacy levels around the world, but they are also committed to recycling, volunteering with local charities, to the professional development for employees, and to providing a positive social impact overall.
Winnie Li, Business Development Executive and Manager of Publisher Account Services
The company OverDrive was founded in 1986 in Cleveland, Ohio, It is a digital reading platform providing eBooks and audiobooks to libraries and schools worldwide. Not everyone has access to reading but in order to make it accessible Overdrive, Inc. has been able to provide a variety of innovations and products to readers worldwide.