Device independence and mobility help e-book growth

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Siân Harris asks some of the people involved in publishing, licensing and distributing electronic books about the latest trends in devices, formats and business models

Olaf Ernst, president, e-product management and innovation, Springer

The biggest development in e-books that publishers are seeing is in mobile devices. E-book readers are getting more interest now in the academic market. When I travel, I see these devices in use for textbooks as well as for fiction, although the big fiction publishers are driving this. It is not just e-book readers though. We actually see much higher e-book downloads on iPhones than on Kindles.

With these devices come developments in formats. PDFs don’t look good on a small screen and not all devices support PDFs well. With ePub and full-text XML, publishers can also add much more value. These formats make the content more dynamic and help with things like integrating multimedia. The ePub format really covers a small screen properly with the content.

We don’t have to change the content to offer ePub. It is simply an additional rendition of the content, but with much more functionality and more value for end users and libraries. We are planning to offer ePub for our front list e-books soon. The important thing is to have content that is independent from the devices and their technology.

E-books are becoming more interactive with things like multimedia, although how much this is happening depends on the subject area. We are seeing a lot of multimedia in medicine and life sciences e-books.

Authors are very happy if we offer new ways to present their work and find new ways to provide links, but I wouldn’t say that e-books have really changed the idea of books too dramatically so far. I believe that most authors still have print books in mind, although this might differ with the generation of the authors. Authors have to understand how e-books are used. This could impact how they describe their topic and pick keywords. Maybe we need abstracts for individual book chapters to help them be found through search engines. Shorter chapters might be better for reading on screen too. We work with the authors and it’s a process of mutual education.

We had some problems with print book sales last year, but this coincided with the financial and economic crisis – so it is very hard to conclude whether this was because of e-books. It is too early to draw conclusions. Some time, moving forward, we might see declining print sales while e-book sales continue to grow fast, but I’m not concerned about this trend. We have already developed a sustainable business model with electronic – and, as long as we manage the migration process right, we should be fine. But in contrast to journals, print books will never disappear.

We have to manage it properly from the sales side. We have to get e-books into the renewals model as with journals, and ensure it gets into libraries’ budgets. The music industry was completely overwhelmed when people stopped buying CDs, because they had no other business model. Electronic is the future for books and journals in our business, and we are well positioned and moving forward very strongly in our digital strategy.

We have already overcome the biggest hurdle – of coming up with a proper business model that is sustainable. There should be no confusion about what to do. Libraries don’t like the idea that they pay and then, at some point, it gets taken away from them. Libraries pay for our package and then it will stay on their digital shelf. Our model is very easy and straightforward. That helps get e-books out there and reduces confusion. Other publishers are also following the package ownership model.

Most users are still accessing e-books from the library’s OPAC. This is different from journals, where Google and A&I services drive much of the access. Like e-journals, though, users access e-books 24 hours a day. We don’t see much difference in the take-up of e-books in the different subject areas, but we could be driving this, because we are a very broad publisher.

We have to get away from assuming that people read e-books cover to cover. Big drivers with e-books are textbooks and professional books. We see a very high usage of our German-language programme.

So far I haven’t heard any demand for open access in books. E-book usage is very high, so librarians really believe that they are getting a good deal. Another big difference is that authors get royalties for books, but not for journal articles.

Stephen Cawley (SC), solutions marketing manager for e-books for Science Direct, and Leo de Vos (LV), director of pricing, academic and government products, Elsevier

SC: We have been carrying out customer research into e-books over the past six months. The key trend that we see is that customers are looking for flexibility and choice.

The traditional model for acquiring print books does not sit well with e-books. In the print world, publishers send books for libraries to look at and they return them if they don’t want to buy them. There is some sense of test driving and shared risk between libraries and publishers.

We need to develop models to inform libraries and help with acquisition. E-book usage behaviour allows libraries to see that they are getting return on investment.

LV: Unlike journals, books are not centrally purchased or bulk-purchased. That is the heritage of print, and it makes the whole penetration of e-books much slower than for e-journals.

In the sales process we can advise what is relevant to a particular institution. We have a large amount of usage data on journals so we can see, for example, what subject areas the institution is interested in. We have a sales force on the ground that is in contact with customers on a regular basis.

SC: Another key trend is that users are looking for fair usage of e-books and libraries want to be able to offer unlimited, simultaneous access. We like that our content is being used and we don’t want to restrict how they do this. People do not want temporary, subscription-based access to e-books, except with rapidly-changing content like e-reference.

Creating e-books gives us the opportunity to build a critical mass of content in XML format that can then be used in different ways, such as in a lab environment. Multimedia opportunities with e-books are certainly appreciated with e-reference too.

LV: We have a very extreme example of this with our Brain Navigator product. This was once a book and is now a three-dimensional electronic resource that links to the e-book and journal content.

A lot of things will move this way. It enables things that weren’t possible in the print world.

SC: I think we are going to see interesting and exciting developments in e-books. Our product development teams are tracking developments with new devices. It is a continual learning process for publishers, libraries and end-users. We are still discovering what the best way forward is with e-books.

Jude Norris, e-book sales and marketing manager, Dawson Books

Dawson is primarily a book seller and over the past 10 years we recognised the need for e-books within our offer. Our e-book platform, dawsonera, launched in 2007 and there are now about 130,000 e-books on the platform. Our main customer base is academic libraries. We are particularly strong in the UK and Scandinavia, but have expanded significantly since the advent of e-books.

Many publishers have reassessed their models recently. They often used to have embargo periods so that, for example, aggregators could not have e-books until six months after the print book came out. That has really changed now.

We sell e-books at the publishers’ list prices. Each year libraries receive 400 credits to use a book they purchase. These credits are renewed annually for no extra cost and they own the e-book in perpetuity. This enables them to meet the peaks and troughs during the year. Effectively, a library could purchase an e-book and have 400 concurrent users either reading online or offline at any one time. Libraries can simply purchase a second ‘copy’ of the e-book if they want more use.

There is very robust DRM in our system and users can do things such as print and copy e-book content. With this model we have tried to make everything as simple as possible. It is the same across the platform, and the conditions are the same for all the e-books we sell.

We have simple access management that exploits the benefits of a single system. We work with Athens and the UK Access Management Federation in the UK, Haka in Finland, Switch in Switzerland, Feide in Norway, Renater in France and DFN in Germany, for example.

We’ve been working with content discovery and federated search products too. These include Summons from Serial Solutions and the Ex Libris tools SFX, Metalib and Primo. We want to have as many front doors to e-books as possible. Often e-resources are hidden under the surface in libraries.

We see a real mix of formats. Many publishers send us PDFs, but we are seeing a growth of ePub. Publishers are now understanding the need for content in the best ways possible.

E-book readers haven’t taken off as expected. The feedback that we get from librarians is that students are not really interested in e-book readers. They already have their phones and laptops so don’t want to carry another device. Our dawsonera platform already works with the iPhone.

Because of the number of competitors in the market place there have been many e-book initiatives. Initially libraries wanted one platform for their e-books, but they have found that students don’t mind where their content is. Content is going to become more bite-sized too. We are now starting to sell individual chapters.

Tracey Armstrong, Copyright Clearance Center

We’ve been ready to licence e-books since people started talking about them, but there has only really been the need for it in the past few years. It seems we’ve got to a critical mass in terms of users, devices, flexibility and portability and there are now hundreds of thousands of e-book rights being licensed.

There is quite a bit of diversity in e-book licences. Users like uniformity – and that’s the beauty of our subscription model. We have a common set of terms so that users know they can, for example, put hard copies into course packs for students.

In addition, we have our Rightslink service, which can be fixed to individual pieces of content and allows publishers to monetise e-book content in a customised way. With Rightslink we can offer very specific rights, such as putting a particular piece of e-book content onto a poster. Some users want this. When users are on the content they want, they don’t want to go elsewhere to find the rights required to use the content. Publishers will want this at the point of use and users will demand it.

Creating e-books for multi-purpose devices is a pretty powerful trend and students are consuming more and more content on mobile devices. Our licences cover this if the content is legally obtained. I think we are going to see more device-neutral e-books from many vendors.

There is a long road ahead for e-content, and it’s not just with research and text books. E-books started with older professional users but we are going to see it in areas like children’s books too. The television programme Sesame Street is now coming out with a series of e-books for three- to six-year-olds.

Casper Grathwohl, vice president and publisher, reference department at Oxford University Press

Academics, like everyone else, are suffering from information overload. It’s taking longer and longer to start projects, because the first thing researchers need to do is to consult the literature. That process is becoming more daunting. The web doesn’t forget, and often doesn’t signpost and indicate the age of materials.

In the past we’ve had curators, like scientific publishers, to filter and validate content – but now we’re asking the community of scholars to pay attention to academic scholarship elsewhere in places like blogs, listservs and web research environments. Who is vetting and validating this other stuff? Publishers can help validate the academic web and I see this role growing.

Our new product, Oxford Bibliographies Online (OBO), is a collection of literature reviews. This is not just a list, like a bibliography, because it provides context with short, peer-reviewed essay pieces that provide connections between works. These show what the most important sources are in each area, and help validate scholarly endeavour. We are launching with four modules – classics, criminology, Islamic studies and social work – and will launch about 10 modules a year, each with thousands of citations.

We have a subscription model for OBO, but also sell individual articles as e-books. This is one of OUP’s first digital-only products, and it was solely developed with digital exploitation in mind. Linking is much easier, and article length isn’t such a big issue as it was in print. If a contributor sends something twice as long as expected, we don’t necessarily have to cut it.

Academics tend to start out thinking about print publication, apart from the younger ones who have done much of their research digitally first. Some younger disciplines also see much more potential in this approach. It took longer to see the potential of the web in classics than in criminology. Many key classics resources were produced a long time before the internet.

OBO helps with the discoverability of other research. There are a series of defaults such as JSTOR, library catalogues or publisher platforms that OBO uses to access the source content – and these can be set depending on what the institution subscribes to and what works with library catalogues. We want people to get to the source in one click.

OUP will be putting our Greek and Latin dictionaries online next year. These will work with the OBO content so, for example, there could be a scroll-over feature in some Greek text to give quick translation or deep translation.

Initially, there was a race to put information online. Now the question isn’t whether it is online, but how easy it is to find. If it wasn’t online it was starting to become invisible – but now it is becoming invisible unless it is discoverable. Publishers need to create visual pathways through information.

But the job is never finished. It’s like a garden – as soon as you’ve cleared one section another becomes weedy.