New Marketing Trends

Marketing Ideas for Non-Profits and Libraries

The M Word helps librarians learn about marketing trends and ideas.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Are libraries ready for a Premium Line?

Allison Circle blogged about the new initiative Dallas libraries have implemented called the StreetSmart Express. Essentially it is a premium service that allow customers to pay $5 to receive popular DVDs and books without having to wait. Customers who chose not to pay could still reserve the items but might have to wait if the items were checked out. Allison suggests the idea of charging for any service breaks a promise to our customers to provide free service. I think the idea, while needing some tweaking, has some potential.

Why not create an entire “Premium Service Line” for our customers? I could envision line actually supporting traditional services.

Dallas provides books and DVDs but why not offer premium research services for businesses and home delivery - for an additional cost? I know this flies on the face of how we see libraries and may even send up a few red flags in terms of legal issues, but the challenge shouldn’t be to argue why this won’t work as much as it could be a conversation to ignite new ideas and new possibilities.

There are very few libraries that aren’t feeling the funding crunch. The idea that libraries should be fully supported by the government may not be a successful funding model in the future (and for many isn’t one right now). The idea of expanding into paid premium services may be one of the solutions that could actually guarantee outstanding free services for our customers by using the profits from premium services to fund the basic line of services.

Basic service would include all the programs, products and services libraries provide customers right now.

The premium line could be established and launched as a new brand. Give it a new name, a new mission; connect it to how it will support the basic service line. Sell it as a way for people to support the library. It could be a separate section in the library, something like the way libraries have set up their stores. Develop the line according to your area of expertise and consumer demand. You’d essentially be building a new product line. 

If you really want to take it to the next level, you could use the premium service line as the R&D department and if a particular line looks like it would benefit the general community, you can go out and find funders for the program. You’ll already have all the info need to prove success to attract funding.

If I were Dallas I wouldn’t try to lend products for $5. That feels too much like a paid basic service. What I would do is provide the ability for my borrowers to purchase borrowed items from home. I call it the “borrow before you buy” program. If you borrow something from the library and decide you like and want to own it, just go online to your account, click the “Buy This” button on your account, enter your credit card number and voila- the item is yours. You pay the full purchase price but no service or delivery charges. If you had fines, they are erased. If a person prefers to purchase an unused item, then they can click to buy “new” and return the item. This provides the customer with both convenience and choice. On the backend, the library can decide whether to replace the book or but a new book. I’ve been sharing this idea with business people and they love it. And libraries are the only ones in the position to offer this program because we are in the business of borrowing!!

Whether libraries begin to develop a premium line or develop a “borrow before you buy” program, I believe it is essential that libraries develop ways to generate funding in addition to that which we receive from the government and our Friends and foundations. These are just two ideas. My guess is that there are many libraries that are already charging for programs (concerts?). Some might already be thinking about a premium line. Thoughts?

1 comment:

Emily Lloyd said...

I think it's a very tough call. In Hennepin County, we have a "Bestseller Express" program where people can hop over lengthy wait lines and check out a bestseller for $3 for 10 days. When people ask about the program, I'm always very careful to mention that they can still get the books for free "the old-fashioned way." I also mention that this is simply another option if you're really desperate to read the book, but don't want to go buy it for $30. Still, it feels a bit awkward to me--it means that people who have three dollars to spend on this kind of service have access that people who don't don't. I find the idea of "premium service" for those who can pay disheartening, though I can see the benefits of (and don't feel as oogy about) a "borrow before you buy" plan.

I think I'd rather ring a bell in front of the library for donations than offer two levels of service, one paid and one unpaid.