The ebook market is exploding, nowhere more so than in libraries. Now, as the demand for electronic literature and audiobooks grows greater than individual libraries can handle, the state of Massachusetts is stepping in with the Commonwealth Ebook Project. Its flagship service, Axis 360, is the product of book supplier Baker & Taylor. The success of this app will determine the future, not only of ebooks in libraries, but of how readers browse and borrow electronic material. The key is a diverse, stable collection that is both widely available and easy to use.
If one thing can be said for Axis 360, it is selection. The amount of mainstream, current material available through this service is unrivaled even by its biggest competitors, OverDrive and Freading. Best of all, Axis 360 hasn’t yet been overwhelmed. Longtime users of OverDrive are used to waiting for a hold for months at a time as everyone in their library or consortium piles onto a coveted title. Axis 360 duplicates many of OverDrive’s most problematic items, and thanks to its newer status, it’s not nearly as popular. In other words, there’s good stuff in Axis and nobody’s taken it yet.
As features improve, initial skepticism toward the Axis app is turning to cautious praise. The borrowing process is ludicrously simple: just point and click. You read (or listen) on your phone or tablet. Axis maintains a browser interface for search and to keep up Nook functionality, but it’s easy to see the entire service migrating to mobile in the future.
And now that this collection is available in libraries, it is easier to see ebooks having a future there. Axis 360 won’t supplant reliable standbys – if nothing else, the e-reader owners of the world need OverDrive’s tie-in to Amazon – but it will supplement, and digital book options are what the reading library community has been waiting for.