February 14, 2014

Kansas City Public Library has a new service for free digital content

Hoopla allows people with a library card more opportunities to download or stream music, movies and audiobooks for free. Its catalog includes more than 100,000 CDs, about 11,000 audiobooks and about 10,000 movies and television shows.

Netflix may still rule, but the Kansas City Public Library on Saturday will introduce a different system for streaming video and other digital content — without the monthly fee.

The service, new to the Kansas City area, is called Hoopla, and it allows people with a library card more opportunities to download or stream music, movies and audiobooks for free.

Hoopla is the latest model of access to emerge in the often contentious world between copyright protection and fair use of content in the digital age.

Its catalog includes more than 100,000 CDs, about 11,000 audiobooks and about 10,000 movies and television shows.

“It’s an evolutionary process, and I think we’re just getting started,” said Hoopla creator Jeff Jankowski. “This empowers the (library) card holder to discover materials and get what they want, and it allows libraries to stay relevant to what the consumers’ expectations are.”

E-books in libraries are subject to publisher restrictions. Although music can be downloaded through many libraries with services like Freegal, there still are limits.

But Hoopla promises freer access, anytime, to thousands of popular entertainment titles on a smartphone, tablet or computer.

“The basic service is fabulous,” said R. Crosby Kemper III, executive director of the Kansas City Public Library. “It will introduce a lot of our patrons to a digital world of media that they haven’t experienced up to this point in a very easy way.”

Hoopla has licensing agreements with Universal Music Group and Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and Warner Music, Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, National Geographic and BBC America, among other content providers.

Jankowski said the catalog will continue to grow. Although it does not offer “House of Cards,” “Breaking Bad” or other red-hot titles, Hoopla does offer video that is not available on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.

Hoopla’s music catalog includes oldies as well as contemporary artists like Macklemore and Lorde. Television titles include the “Nova” science series and “Stargate SG-1.” Films include “To Kill a Mockingbird” and last year’s “Parkland.”

Hoopla also has a wide selection of children’s titles and educational materials.

Hoopla uses a pay-per-circulation model that differs from the one-copy-per-user model traditional to libraries. Physical books are limited in number, and some publishers set limits on how many times e-books can be checked out before they must be purchased again. That often leads to library patrons waiting on reserve lists for a title to open up.

But Hoopla allows an unlimited number of people to access its titles simultaneously.

Like Freegal, Hoopla shares its revenues from libraries with content providers in exchange for the right to make their products available to library patrons.

But unlike Freegal, which sets a flat fee per year, Hoopla charges libraries between 99 cents and $2.99 each time a patron checks out material. That way, member libraries pay only for what their patrons use.

That can create a degree of budget uncertainty. The Kansas City library allocated $35,000 for Hoopla in the first year.

“It’s good news and it’s bad news,” Kemper said of the experiment. “We’ll find out what kind of news it is as we get into it and we figure out how much it’s going to cost us.”

The Johnson County Library considered Hoopla but decided against it for budgetary reasons, said spokeswoman Kasey Riley.

The Mid-Continent Public Library also has decided not to offer Hoopla, although it offers streaming video through Indieflix.

The only other library system in Missouri that offers Hoopla is Springfield-Greene County, and the nearest system with the service is the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library.

Topeka began offering Hoopla in August and has about 1,500 checkouts a month, but it hopes that will grow to 5,000 by the end of the year.

Springfield also began the service in August and reports 1,500 to 2,000 Hoopla checkouts a month.

The Kansas City library will limit patrons to 12 Hoopla checkouts a month. Each episode of a TV show is one checkout.

But patrons have access to videos for 72 hours, to music CDs for seven days and to audiobooks for three weeks. After the time is up, the material is automatically deleted, eliminating the possibility of late-return fees.

Tablet and smartphone users can access Hoopla by downloading the app. Computer users should go to


to sign up.

The service works with iOS and Android phones and tablets and all Internet browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome.

Hoopla went through a testing period last year with selected library districts, which gave positive reviews.

“It’s really slick and definitely meets the standards of what people expect from an app,” Kirk Blankenship of the Seattle Public Library told Library Journal.

Kansas City library officials emphasize the ease of using Hoopla.

“It’s ideal for people who are too busy or otherwise unable to make a trip to get a movie or music CD,” Joel Jones, deputy director of branch and library services, said in a statement announcing Hoopla. “With a library card and a computer or mobile device, they have access whenever and wherever they want.”

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