The state of scholarly e-books today and tomorrow: Stephen Barr, SAGE International

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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

Stephen Barr, president, SAGE International

Unless there are problems with issues such as rights restrictions, we publish all our books as e-books and in print. We launched our first e-book platform, SAGE Reference Online, in 2007, and our second, SAGE Knowledge, in 2012, expanding our direct supply of e-books to include 2,500 titles.

On the textbook side, our interactive e-books have page fidelity with the print version and include links to audio, video, interactive questionnaires, journal articles and handbook material. Some of our interactive e-books also work on a learning management system.

We have published the fourth edition of Andy Field’s "Discovering Statistics with SPSS" as a digitally enhanced e-book. This features MobileStudy, which uses QR codes to enable smartphone and tablet users to access additional study and revision material. It also features WebAssign, enabling faculty to set regular online assignments for students, test them securely, chapter by chapter, and provide opportunities to reinforce class learning through additional online practice.

High-price reference books and monographs, sold traditionally to academic libraries, have moved rapidly into e-book form. The dynamics are similar to those of the long-established market for digital journals; by delivering the book electronically, the publisher enables what used to be a static to be accessible to every user in the university.

Textbooks have had a much slower take-up in e-book form. Students will choose to use an e-book if they receive a digital text as part of their course materials, if it is packaged for free with the printed book that they purchase, or if it is the lowest cost option. Lecturers have started to include availability of an e-book as a checklist item in their decisions about what books to use in their teaching. However, the e-book may prove only a transitional format in delivering content for courses. To support these transitions, we are also moving forward with delivery of learning materials for the college market in a variety of other formats, including open-access texts, online courses and mobile study tools.

Most e-books are not interactive, and so they don’t take advantage of the wide range of possibilities of linking from the text to other digital items. Those that do are creative in incorporating other media, intralinking from one part of the book to another, and inclusion of study tools. Interactive e-books can also incorporate current events, either by being developed in a web-based format that can be continually updated or by linking to sources that are being continually updated.

Enabling interactivity is becoming easier as major platforms such as Apple and Kno release authoring tools that enable publishers to add interactivity to their digital texts. As platforms adopt the EPUB 3 format, publishers will have additional options for the creation of interactive e-books.

SAGE is currently pursuing a wide range of potential partnerships, pilots, and models that would include some level of open-access (OA) content. We are also exploring participation in important initiatives such as the California State University Affordable Learning Solutions Initiative, which aims to provide very low-cost, quality educational content for students.