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Whatcom County libraries end loans from hoopla digital

A screen grab of a hoopla app for smartphones. Whatcom County libraries ended the service March 1, saying the pay-per-use model was too expensive for each audiobook, comic, movie, TV show and music album borrowed.
A screen grab of a hoopla app for smartphones. Whatcom County libraries ended the service March 1, saying the pay-per-use model was too expensive for each audiobook, comic, movie, TV show and music album borrowed. The Bellingham Herald

Whatcom County libraries have bid goodbye to hoopla digital, saying it was too expensive to pay for each audiobook, comic, movie, TV show and music album borrowed through the service.

The decision to bow out came about a year after both Bellingham Public Library and Whatcom County Library System started offering the service. Hoopla also had some ebooks.

The service ended Tuesday, March 1. People who checked out items before that date may keep them until the end of the borrowing period.

$12,000 The amount Bellingham Public Library set aside for hoopla digital in 2015

$48,000 The amount it actually cost the library in the first year

Hoopla’s appeal was that people could have access to hundreds of thousands of titles for adults and children instantly instead of having to wait — sometimes for a long time if an item was popular — for them to be returned by other borrowers, as is the case for the brick-and-mortar library or ebooks and audiobooks through the digital Washington Anytime Library.

Hoopla was easy to use and had a nice, clean design. It was popular with library patrons — too popular.

Bellingham Public Library initially put down $12,000 in advance for the first year. The cost was an unexpected $48,000 for 2015, and the projected cost to continue for this year was $60,000.

“We can’t do that. We can’t manage any growth with this service,” said Beth Farley, head of information and reader services for Bellingham Public Library. “It really becomes something we can’t reasonably budget for.”

Whatcom County Library System had set aside about $25,000. It ended up costing 48 percent more than estimated in 2015, and projected costs for this year would’ve been $47,000.

Hoopla’s pay-per-use model doesn’t work, library officials said.

“It’s not the way people use Netflix,” said Lisa Gresham, collection support manager for Whatcom County Library System, by way of example. Netflix charges a flat monthly fee.

As a result, Farley said, hoopla is “a service that we can’t allow to grow.”

By comparison, Zinio, a popular service that provides digital access to magazines, charges the libraries a flat fee that doesn’t change no matter how many people access it.

Both library systems didn’t know what the demand would be when they started offering hoopla, so they went with a ballpark figure provided by the service that was based on its experience with similar-sized libraries.

Officials also didn’t know if the number of checkouts would drop off after the initial interest.

“We wanted to have a full year’s worth of data before we made a decision about how we wanted to move forward,” Farley said.

Both library systems are instead taking money that would’ve gone toward hoopla and adding to their collections to reduce wait times.

Bellingham Public Library will put another $15,000 into Washington Anytime Library, especially for audiobooks, which were most popular on hoopla for library patrons.

The Whatcom County Library System will allocate about $38,000 to Washington Anytime Library and to buy additional copies of popular DVDs.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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