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ABDO’s new ebook solution: instant access

Give this a try.  Scan any (or all) of the four QR codes on these two images.

What you’ll discover is that the codes lead to ABDO books that become instantly readable on your mobile device.  No password needed.  No wait.  No checkout.  No barrier between reader and book.

For librarians, ebooks have long represented both opportunities and obstacles. We tussled with devices and platforms. We struggled to afford (and explain) the importance of multiple user rights. And when we jumped in and made investments, we grappled with making them discoverable, accessible, and getting real returns.

ABDO Publishing’s recently launched instant access program is designed as a solution to discoverability and accessibility –to maximize ebook ROI by marketing digital assets within the physical space.

I met with the ABDO team at the SLJ Leadership Summit in October and chatted with them again this week.

Here’s how it works:

  • Physical books may be ordered shelf-ready processed with a Scan-to-Read QR code label.  More than 5,000 are currently available.
  • A student/user discovers a title of interest on the shelves, or on a booktruck, a display, a poster, or a handout and scans the label with any available QR code scanner app on his or her mobile device.
  • The ebook version of the title opens instantly on a mobile browser.
  • Reader and ebook connect and reading begins without the messiness of a login.

Considering the struggle we’ve been having with multiple use pricing, the model here is very reasonable.  Buy a hardcover title, averaging in price from $16 to $18, and add $10 for multi-use access digital rights.  So, unlimited use of that title would be around $28.95.  Read-to-Me ebooks, with features like voice and highlighted text, are $35.  On request, QR Code sheets are sent with orders.

The ebook is not downloaded to the device.  The URL is cached so that the book may be easily accessed again without hogging valuable mobile storage space.  Scan-to-Read QR Codes are unique to your own library account.

e-titles continue to be accessible from the OPAC primary access point (in the 856 field), but have multiple access points and are discoverable outside it as well.  The QR codes will play nicely on your library’s tablet cart and also on your students’ own smartphones, perhaps as a compelling argument for loosening restrictions on personal mobile device policies.

I’ve been trying to picture how this looks on the ground or on the library floor:

  • Imagine you create booklists for your partner teachers’ assignments by gathering relevant QR codes and printing them or including them on a Guide or site. Kids open their books in class or at home or at soccer.  Your list becomes an automatic, very portable cart of books!
  • Imagine that those time-intensive thematic/genre posters, displays, and bookmarks you create lead to instant reading.
  • Imagine that after you do a booktalk, kids scan the codes of the books you talked.  No waiting list needed.

So how is it going?  Editor-in-Chief Paul Abdo shared:

Feedback has been resoundingly positive, with the program’s concept being described by the librarians as “a beautiful thing.”  We are so pleased to offer a real-world solution that positively affects librarians’ role and their patrons’ experience on a daily basis.

The folks at ABDO are, of course, hoping this model will increase sales, but Paul shared the publisher’s additional goals:

We know how hard librarians work. We want to partner with them in marketing their digital collections. We want to help them inspire greater use of books by classroom teachers and to help them demonstrate the library’s role as a successful curriculum support center.  We want to create even more demand for easily accessed, quality digital content.

ABDO’s National Sales Director, Monte Kuehl describe the positive response to the launch:

We’ve been piloting with a small group of customers since September and reaction has been amazing.  Folks are seeing this is as a solution and we are confident we are making the right choice. If customers decide they want digital content,  we can give them the hardcover; we can give them digital; and we can give them the marketing piece.  The program  allows existing customers to add better success to products they’ve already purchased.

I asked the team if they had any worries about abuse, perhaps oversharing of copied QR codes.

Monte explained:

Similar to licensing subscription databases, access for each site is based on an end-user license agreement.  We see login screens as hurdles. We determined that getting content in the hands of authorized users far outweighed the risk of unauthorized use. 

BreAnn Rumsch, Marketing and Communications Manager has been impressed with customer engagement and response,

The beauty is that the librarian and the reader get several options with purchase of one title. We ran a promotion offering free hardbacks with the purchase of $500 in ebooks. But the addition of the QR code made a big difference.  What we want is to get the books into as many hands as possible, as easily as possible. You should only have to buy content once. What this promotion shows is that the value isn’t just in purchasing a book, but in creating a solution, ensuring that books get used, regardless of platform.  

Paul Abdo added: We’re about literacy we’re not about platform.


Thank you, ABDO friends, for working on this very exciting solution!

I love all that I just described and I hope ADBO is very successful with this innovative solution.

But I continue to worry. (Though, ABDO, this does not diminish your gift to access!)

First, I worry that not all kiddos have personal mobile devices and equity issues get compounded.

Second, we are likely to see a growing number of publisher solutions that are likely to create silos, however lovely, for our students.  The fact is that we buy our ebooks from multiple publishers.  As independent solutions develop, there is no commercial incentive to consider interoperability and my guess is that the market will not move in that direction. (Happily, a variety of our aggregators, like Mackin and Follett offer app and shelf opportunities that enhance and do not interfere with these individual access opportunities.)

But, new solutions, as wonderful as they may be, lead to new issues.

What will it look like as we try to explain various different access strategies to children who don’t really care who published what?

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. I made some QR cards for our library’s Capstone interactive ebooks, and they are a HUGE hit in our K-1 and learning support classrooms. The downside was the immense amount of time it took to create them, even with a template. I would love to see more publishers offer web-hosted ebooks and ship ready-made, attractive QR code stickers or cards to access them.

  2. Your article on ABDO is great because they have been on the forefront of this concept, but your pricing information is not accurate. ABDO has books with a list price as low as $15.95 which matches with your quote of $16, but on the high end they reach at least $24.95 which is about $7 off your quote of $18. There are at least two other companies offering the same QR labels with orders now, some with a lower net price.

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