Hoopla Digital: Service gives mobile access to library users

Libraries have gone digital, and there’s no turning back.

That’s the reality library-card holders will have to learn to accept thanks to the advent of Hoopla Digital, a free, Netflix-like service that allows free online and mobile access to more than 350,000 movies, eBooks, audiobooks, comics and music albums.

The platform, which launched at the Trumbull Library in early September, transforms collections and makes them accessible at any time of day.

“It’s the entire collection right in your pocket — whenever you want to use it,” said Michael Manon, Hoopla’s chief brand manager.

“There’s no holds or late fees; no waiting lines or queues,” he explained. “Whatever you’re watching or listening to is automatically returned to the library.”

Rental times are the same as physical copies one would see at a library — three days for movies and TV shows, seven days for books, and 21 days for audiobooks, eBooks and comics, Manon said.

Tracing the origins of Hoopla Digital, he points to its parent company Midwest Tape, a full-service media distributor that has worked exclusively with public libraries since 1989.

“We only have one customer — public libraries,” Manon said.

“Midwest Tape is the second largest library re-saler in the United States,” he added. “Instead of hard copies of DVDs and BluRay discs, we’re making it all digital — there’s no waiting to access it; it’s all right there.”

The only thing a potential user needs is a public library card and they’re all set.

“You can log in and enjoy it from anywhere, even an airplane,” Manon said.

Expansion in Connecticut

Hoopla, which started at Scoville Memorial Library in Salisbury on Nov. 19, 2013, has been in Connecticut for a little two years. Its second partnership in the state was announced a month later in Darien on Dec. 16.

Trumbull Library is the 33rd library system in Connecticut to partner with the service, and Manon said he couldn’t be happier with the company’s progression in the state.

“We’ve been in Connecticut over a year and a half and it’s moving pretty quickly,” he said. “That’s the advantage of having only one client.”

Of course, there’s a national perspective to keep in mind as the company has partnered with 6,000 public libraries across the country.

“Millions of people could be using Hoopla and you can still rent your movie or TV show immediately,” Manon explained. “You’re no longer the 16th person in line waiting to get a hard copy, and that makes enjoying entertainment a lot more simultaneously than in the past…

“It’s helping make libraries more relevant on the digital side,” he added. “On the physical side, there’s a lot of heavy lifting and we’re looking to make it easier for them with this type of digital resource service.”

Despite its success, Hoopla doesn’t intend to compete with a consumer service like Netflix.

“There’s no credit card feature to our service — it’s all free with your library card,” Manon said. “And we don’t plan on changing that structure.”

New consumers

The upcoming holiday season is an example Manon cites when talking how the resource will make things easier on public libraries going forward.

“The shelves get bare during the holidays,” he said. “Instead of librarians telling residents that there’s nothing available, they can tell them to check on Hoopla.

“We’re never out of stock,” he added. “We know our consumers, and we know what we can do to help them out.”

Thinking about those consumers outside of the box has allowed Hoopla to attract the youngest generation to its service. Manon said that millennials have really enjoyed the music feature of the service, which uploads brand new music the day an album is released.

“You can get the latest music on Hoopla,” he said. “It’s like iTunes but you don’t have to buy the CD, you can listen to it for free in its entirety.”

In addition for millennials, the business features content from major Hollywood studios, publishers and record companies, such as The Walking Dead (Vol. 1-23), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, N.W.A the soundtrack, Ed Sheeran’s X, Mumford & Sons Wilder One and many others.

Nonetheless, the demographic that uses Hoopla the most is mothers, Manon said.

“They can get exactly what they want and know that there’s nothing being wasted,” he added.

Way of the future

Manon recognizes the shift from physical to digital is inevitable, but promises that this isn’t a sabotage or a takeover of the hard copied material that line library shelves throughout the nation.

“I think it’s inevitable for every library in America to have a digital offering,” he said. “A library that partners with us sees this as a way to instantly gratify a wider range audience, and that’s our goal, too. That’s why we only serve public libraries and know specifically what’s our bread and butter.

“We’re not trying to promote this anywhere else,” he added.

Similar to Netflix, Hoopla Digital personalizes a customer’s viewing experience and creates recommendations based on previously selected items.

Manon said that the company still has some work to do with updating comics and eBooks, which were just added to the company’s wide-range of services in May.

For comics, the company wants to offer panel to panel viewing for viewers. For eBooks, they want to have exactly what the library has on its shelves — and that’s not just fiction or nonfiction books.

“We want to have a stock of material that’s identical to the library we are partnering with so that includes SAT prep books, cookbooks, books on how to exercise,” Manon said. “When we say everything, we mean quite literally everything.”