The state of scholarly e-books today and tomorrow: Alexandra Jenner, Woodhead Publishing

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E-books play an increasingly important role in research libraries. We ask people from across the industry for their perspective on scholarly e-books today

Alexandra Jenner, e-products manager, Woodhead Publishing

We launched Woodhead Publishing Online (high-level STM e-books) in 2010 and Chandos Publishing Online (library and information science and Asian studies e-books) in 2011. We have seen a 70 per cent uplift in sales in 2012. However, our print sales are still very healthy and print is still dominant in our company. About 18 to 20 per cent of our business is e-products today.

I think we’re quite lucky that the type of publisher we are enables us to fit into niches that others don’t, and with e-books we seem to be diversifying into new markets.

We sell e-books in packages to institutions, with a multi-user, perpetual-access model. Perpetual access is winning versus subscription; people liken e-books less to journals and more to the print-book model.

We also have a pick-and-mix option where customers can choose any 12 or more e-books, after which they can choose titles one-by-one. Many customers are going through an experimental phase with e-books and are monitoring migration. We do fairly short print runs and reprints if necessary. A good portion of our books are enrolled with Lightning Source for print on demand.

The challenges of e-books are: finding a model to suit all customers; the start-up costs of developing a platform and creating/converting all the digital files; and protecting our print business, which is still our bread and butter.

Woodhead Publishing Online and Chandos Publishing Online appeal to different customers with different specialities, although both our e-books platforms are on MetaPress and have similar layouts. Libraries budgets are very different and the price point of the Chandos books is lower. These are available book-by-book but tend not to lend themselves to chapter-by-chapter sales because they are shorter than the Woodhead books and usually written by a sole author. Our Woodhead e-books are multi-contributor (we have over 10,000 Woodhead contributors). STM institutions usually go for e-books but we have found very good take-up with our social science e-books too. It very much depends on the territory and how easily you can penetrate the market.

By the end of 2013 we plan to have 1,046 e-books on Woodhead Publishing Online. On the Chandos platform we expect to have 323 e-books in library and information management and 55 in Asian studies.

We plan to expand our list with new collections. We have fair amount of printed titles that have not yet been digitised. We always try to do front and back list together in a collection, which is important as we want to make sure we add content systematically and thoroughly.

Developing an e-book platform, converting a list and getting the model right are big challenges. In the beginning we did a large survey of several hundred librarians, asking about things like DRM, purchase models, and whether users would need remote access and we listened to the responses. With the DRM question we had such strong feedback that people didn’t want it.