The state of scholarly e-books today and tomorrow: Annika Bennett, Taylor & Francis

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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

Annika Bennett, eBooks & online sales manager, Taylor & Francis

We have more than 30,000 e-books and two e-book platforms, one for HSS and one for STM. The reasons for this are historical. In the long term we may want to merge them but the subjects are very different.

We sell to libraries and individuals. Libraries have been used to buying e-books for a long time but the individual route is becoming stronger.

At the end of 2011 around 15 per cent of our e-book sales were via retail channels and 85 per cent to libraries. By the end of 2012 we’d seen a shift to something like 20/80 – and library sales of e-books are still growing too.

The big retail growth has come through individual discovery and having the right devices. We have seen a move away from purchases via our platform to via big retailers.

Discoverability makes a difference. We sell books we haven’t sold for a long time. Backlist digitisation is ongoing. In 2011 we digitised around 5,000 backlist titles and the same in 2012.

For 10 years we’ve had a policy of electronic and print for everything. Where we don’t digitise there may be digital rights reasons – from the author or because of, for example, images that are included. Sometimes there is also a conscious decision not to make an electronic version and sometimes there are technical reasons.

We have grown through acquisitions. For some publications, we have to digitise and some we’ve needed to redigitise. It can take a while for customers to see acquired books on our platform. Often they have different file formats, the metadata fields are different and it takes time to integrate them into different workflows.

Losing rights to books is also a challenge. For example, we may not get the rights to a second edition, or a publisher we acquire may not have secured electronic rights. The authors may then not grant these to us or they may have already given these to another publisher.

It is a challenge to get the formats right and to provide a choice without overwhelming the user and you don’t want to invest large amounts of money in making e-books in a format that a year later will be obsolete.

EPUB is establishing itself as a preferred format. However, we can’t really avoid the problem of needing to produce at least three formats – and each format requires a different ISBN.

There is also the challenge to keep them together in the system using the metadata. We want users to be able to find all the options together. Keeping this overview in the system and not clogging up your content-management system is a big challenge, especially for large publishers like us. There are vast amounts of data that need handling.

We are working on more cross-content products. For example, our South Asia Archive is an archive of primary sources, including books and journals, that was developed in cooperation with several national libraries.

The majority of the content is original, 30 per cent in local languages and 70 per cent in English. This type of resource is part of a trend moving to delivering content rather than books or journals.