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The state of scholarly e-books today and tomorrow: Stephen Hawthorne, Royal Society of Chemistry

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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 Hawthorne, executive director, sales, marketing and strategic partnerships, Royal Society of Chemistry

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has a long history as a chemical-sciences book publisher. However, it was not until 2007 that we made our first e-books available. We now publish over 1,100 e-books on the RSC Publishing platform. They are cross-searchable with our journals portfolio, and sold as subject, annual and complete collections, on a perpetual-access basis. The vast majority of our books will be made available as e-books on or before the print versions.

Following initial successes in the UK, USA and Australia as early adopters of our e-books, we have witnessed a global expansion in the demand for e-books. Institutions from the majority of Western European countries are now accessing our e-books on a regular basis, particularly in Germany, while Singapore, India and China represent our fastest growing e-book markets. New students at these institutions are much more familiar with the concept of online and mobile access to book content and therefore we are seeing rapid usage growth among this audience. Faculty support for RSC titles has also driven usage of e-books for research purposes.

The changes we have witnessed appear to be dependent on the level of book. While there are fewer textbooks than monographs being published, there is an expectation – particularly in the USA – that textbooks will include interactive elements (work-based learning modules). One of the major criteria in adoption consideration by faculty is homework assignments within the textbook and the availability of a solution manual and any other accompanying instructor materials. Students seem to be put off by lots of maths and equations, so this is minimised and dealt with through interactive examples and problem solving. Readers are directed to extra online material, replacing the need to include a CD or DVD.

I believe that e-books should be available in the formats most suitable to meeting the needs of our users and partners and to make the most of the interactive features enabled by online delivery. Currently our e-books are available in HTML and PDF formats but we are finalising plans to include EPUB format.

RSC supports usage of our e-book content and does not restrict institutions or users to device or number of downloads, preferring to include fair-use provisions in our licence agreement with institutions.

During 2012, RSC started to partner with ebrary, EBSCO and DawsonEra to make our e-books available to institutions on a pick-and-choose basis. We witnessed an increase in demand from our customers for this model and it made sense to partner with platforms offering this service. This has appealed to those institutions that wished to order e-books from one vendor or to select individual titles to suit their course requirements.

Given the level of book published at the RSC, we’ve not had much call for open-access at this stage. We offer the first chapter of each e-book on our platform for free to allow users to review the book and get a flavour of the level and writing style, and this has helped institutions judge the likely level of demand for the e-book collection. As a disruptive initiative, open-access e-books could be an interesting proposition and certainly worth further investigation. This may be appealing for first drafts or unpublished manuscripts initially. We have witnessed an increase in authors wishing to deposit their book chapters in their own institutional repository, but not yet on a wider scale.