netLibrary has been a leading provider of e-books and Internet-based content management services for universities and other government and private institutions. This Denver, Colorado-based corporation offers over 40,000 e-book titles that can be accessed with any Web browser (provided you or your institution has a subscription, of course). netLibrary develops and hosts electronic books for thousands of libraries throughout the world.
The MetaText Division of netLibrary creates, hosts and manages web-based digital textbooks for major textbook publishers like McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, Houghton Mifflin, and Wiley. MetaText digital textbooks provide instructors and students with a full range of interactive teaching, collaborating and learning tools. Features include the creation of custom links within a MetaTextbook, the integration of custom instructor's notes, and the ability of students to make and save notes to themselves within the text as well as online help and chat and advanced search features. Currently, there are over 160 interactive MetaText titles in their catalog; most of these are in the natural sciences and social sciences.
Despite the inherent coolness of their products, netLibrary ran out of cash and filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 15, 2001. OCLC stepped in with a hefty loan and offered to buy the company for pennies on the dollar compared to what the company had been valued at the previous year. While the sale is expected to go through, it's currently bogged down in the court system because creditors have counter-sued to prevent the sale. The countersuits are a bit counterproductive, because if OCLC does not purchase the company, netLibrary will simply go down without a trace and none of the disgruntled creditors will receive a single dime in compensation. With OCLC in charge, they have a decent shot at getting some of what they're owed. In the meantime, netLibrary staffers continue to leave in the interim uncertainty; their staff is down to about 100 employees from over 500 last year.
netLibrary's financial woes are probably due in small part to the general slowness of the reading public to accept e-books and in large part to their pricing. netLibrary's e-books are sold on a subscription basis, and a 6-month subscription is as expensive as a new regular textbook. It's hard to convince a starving college student to go for an expensive subscription -- even if it has a lot of added educational value -- if he or she can get the required physical object for much less at a used bookstore.
If the sale is successful, OCLC will almost certainly be able to put netLibrary's services and holdings to excellent use when they are paired with services like WorldCat and FirstSearch.
netLibrary's corporate site is at http://www.netlibrary.com/.
1/11/2002 Update: The sale to OCLC has been approved. OCLC will now get on with the fine business of taking over the world, one library at a time ....