The state of scholarly e-books today and tomorrow: Colin Caveney, Semantico

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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

Colin Caveney, sales director, Semantico

E-books were always viewed as something you get as a whole. There is still a lot of talk about digitising and monetising print books. Publishers carry behind them hundreds of years of an established market. People know what a book is – but this has obvious limitations.

Publishers should be able to sell by chapter but not all are set up for this – and people don’t want to buy a physical book this way. Selling e-books by chapter adds cost to publishers and they may not be convinced that breaking books down and managing micro payments is cost-effective. However, once in place, it is quite simple. It’s going to be driven by whether the content suits being sold in that manner.

A high percentage of usage is still very traditional. People still want to print, copy and paste, and download PDFs to read at their leisure. But tablets and mobile devices are on the up. PDFs are not particularly usable on mobile devices; they don’t resize and reflow particularly well. If publishers keep kicking out PDFs as their primary format it’s going to cause problems. We are a technology provider and we like challenges, but inevitably it takes more time and cost for the publisher.

EPUB and XML are perfect for small devices. However, it’s quite a leap of faith for publishers to let a device decide how their content is displayed.

The vast majority of textbooks come to us as PDFs. At the most blunt you could just display the PDF online but you could also render them in XML, which makes them more compatible with iOS, for example. We always take all of the words delivered to us and put them in our platform. We then can enable search, determine relevant links and do semantic enrichment.

XML is the richest, purest way to proceed. Some publishers take ‘XML first’ as their vision; it’s the forward-looking way to produce content.

We see interest in apps but for very specific purposes. It’s not about taking a PDF and putting it into an app, but about what benefits an app can bring. Adding features to a website will always give you wider coverage and is the best way to spend your money. However, apps can be fantastic. The successful apps are very simple, such as calculators and supplementary tools.

Libraries have always been interested in usage statistics, and patron-driven acquisition (PDA) is liberating for them. They can make safer purchasing decisions and don’t have to pay for content until it’s used. PDA comes in many different flavours. The triggers are very variable and there is potential for publishers and aggregators to add offers and a range of options. However, there is a danger that PDA maybe provide too much choice, which could be scary for the publisher. Items sold as part of a collection are carved out as a weaker part, which could impact relationships with authors and editors.