Unpacking books

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E-books have matured but questions remain about digital rights, access models and what a scholarly e-book really means today. Interviews by Sian Harris

Daniel Smith, head of academic publishing, The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

We currently have 300 books and 4,500-5,000 chapters on our e-book platform [which was launched in September 2011]. IET is not primarily a book publisher – we publish around 15-20 titles a year – but we are planning to increase our output. We are considering acquisitions as well as organic growth and have just acquired the book list of US electromagnetics engineering specialist, SciTech Publishing.

Our e-books are available as PDFs. We felt that it was not commercially viable to retrodigitise back to XML but they are searchable and, going forward, we are planning to offer fully-searchable XML. We have ideas to repackage and do more with content and are watching developments with interactivity.

Our decision to be DRM (digital rights management) free was, in a sense, a matter of principle, about facilitating access. The market regards restrictions as a barrier to use and usage will become an essential measure of value. With the advent of devices such as tablets there is a significant risk of piracy. We recognise and will try to address it but the publishing industry will have to do something much more coherent about DRM, like the music industry is doing.

There’s still not huge evidence of a downturn in hard-copy sales. Many organisations are buying both print and electronic versions, although I imagine that in time organisations with significant holdings will try to dedupe them.

Our e-books are currently on AIP’s Scitation platform but AIP is changing its focus so we took this as an opportunity to review our requirements. It is interesting that both AIP and IET are moving to Publishing Technology’s pub2web platform.

We are launching our new, full-text platform in the Summer. It will provide blended content from journals, book, conferences and other resources and allow users to purchase content in different ways. Our purpose is providing engineering information. The end user is unlikely to be very interested in whether the information is in a journal, book or whatever.

Suzanne BeDell, managing director, Science and Technology Books, Elsevier

When we talk about e-books we mean books to be read on devices and e-readers, which all our books are, in all e-book formats. One third of our e-book sales last year came through Amazon but access on the iPad is increasing. Our e-books are also available through the B&N platform on the Nook device and through Google Books too. It requires considerable work and investment to manage and support the different feeds and the metadata to go with them.

We have also, for the first time, taken a brain atlas and made it available in a really interactive way as an app. Our first app – the Oishi MRI Atlas (see page 31) – enables scientists to see how the brain works. It allows researchers to compare different sections of the brain in one view on their iPads. As they move through the 3D image it works almost like an MRI scan and information is available in an immediate and interactive way.

We are thinking of this new digital Oishi MRI Atlas as a prototype for our other atlases. It allows much more efficient interaction than with a print atlas. We still have print atlases but we’d like to make them available in more creative ways. We are looking at, for example, putting them on ScienceDirect.

Price points are a big issue for these apps. The first costs $99.99, a high price point because it delivers a lots of benefits – convenience of searching and immediacy of results, higher resolution for clear understanding, ability to save pictures for presentations or email. Our next app – about named reactions – will be much less expensive and then we are going to do an app with both free and paid-for functionality and content.

I foresee what we are doing in the apps and what we are doing in e-books coming together. We are experimenting with EPUB 3 to see what sort of functionality we can get. The challenge for publishers is how to add all these rich interactive feature sets to the text and deliver it at a price that the customer can afford.

Maybe e-readers will just become tablets with the ability to give very rich media experience from within the content of the book. People want to interact more with the data. This is much easier than with a printed book.

I’d like to get to the point with print where we print a book when somebody orders it. This is much more environmentally friendly. When we look at the number of books we print and put in warehouses it’s really phenomenal. We have, or are negotiating, print on demand (POD) agreements globally and when we reprint books now it is often as POD. It will be an integrated part of the process as systems become more electronic. Currently, we have books printed in China and then shipped half the world away. Instead we could do POD where the books will be distributed.

John Wheeler, VP strategy and emerging technologies, SPi Content Solutions – SPi Global

I’d call e-books stable and mildly mature. In some cases it is very easy to make an e-book; in some it is very hard. Creating a physical representation that mirrors print in terms of location of images, for example, is more difficult to do.

There is a great range in delivery devices. The initial content manufacturing is all the same but the markup is different for the iPad, Kindle, Nook etc so we need to ask which users are going to use which readers. The most popular format that we see today is the Kindle; the second is the version of the Kindle that works on the iPad.

Most organisations are trying to establish electronic workflows. Many companies are producing e-book hybrids – PDF with some XML markup – and many of the huge backfile conversions we’ve done for publishers take this approach. Conversion methodology is very mature and plays across a number of devices. Not a lot of decision making is required by publishers and it is not difficult for libraries to understand.

However, we have had customers who’ve asked us to do PDF and then a year later come back for XML. This may be because the market or technology has shifted or that they have developed a taxonomy to add value to XML.

On the e-book front everyone has great hopes but is holding their breath about EPUB 3. It has the potential to deconfuse but that depends on how well device manufacturers play along. Device manufacturers say that some level of deviation from the standard makes them unique and adds value but it makes it very difficult to put a standard EPUB product on those devices.

Many books are still being written with static content in mind and much of the industry is still only thinking in terms of chapters. At the other end of the spectrum we have organisations who are completely thinking of enhancements from the beginning.

With HTML5 and EPUB 3 we’ll see lots of enhanced products with interactivity and video. It is a new way of working. Medicine and science are obvious areas to do this.

A challenge we face is keeping everybody’s expectations in line. A lot of people think it’s easy to achieve amazing things with whatever they throw at us so we need to manage expectations about what can actually be achieved.

In five years’ time my dream scenario would be dealing with publishers who’ve come to some understanding about how customers want to consume content and have workflows that enable the creation of different types of content.

My prediction is that publishers will continue to develop in understanding customers, they will have made some progress in workflows but there will be some legacy systems too. There will also be some standardisation. There will be more and more products in electronic format that leverage their platforms better with greater discoverability.

Ken Breen, senior director of e-book products, and Scott Wasinger, senior director of e-book sales, EBSCO

Ken Breen (left); Scott Wasinger (right) 

We offer e-books on the same platform as EBSCOhost. Allowing customers to search their journal-based databases along with their e-books promotes usage and value of the libraries collections – and provides a fuller experience for users.

We are approaching 300,000 scholarly e-books in our collection. We make these available at the list price assigned by each publisher. A challenge EBSCO inherited was the one-time markup that was placed on each e-book by NetLibrary. We learned from our customers that this fee was a barrier to entry to our platform. In February, we eliminated the markup. Today, e-books on EBSCOhost have no markup and no fees whatsoever.

It has traditionally been a one-user purchase model for e-books. But there are many other approaches and options that can be utilised, and we expect to see some shifts. We anticipate customers will take advantage of the combination of simple purchase/ownership options (one user, three users, unlimited users), patron-driven acquisition (ownership now; lease and upgrade coming soon), as well as annual subscription to a collection of e-books.

Adobe Content Server using Adobe Digital Editions has been the standard for applying e-book DRM. We believe there will be more ideal approaches to DRM to streamline the user experience and provide more value to libraries in the not-too-distant future. And where some publishers might choose a more relaxed level of DRM for their content, we apply that variability to our product in order to provide the most optimal end user experience.

There has also been a shift towards libraries leveraging a combination of purchase models and approaches to collection development. We anticipate that an approach we are calling "Smart PDA", will generate the next shift. The idea with patron-driven acquisition (PDA) is that only actual usage of an e-book triggers a purchase. The idea with Smart PDA is to combine the availability of usage-driven purchase with the notion that a user will never wait for a book because a library owns only one copy. Instead, the notion is to allow the libraries to upgrade to a multi-user model when needed (first copy of a book is in use).

Our sense is that e-books will trend in the same way as e-journals. But there is a place for print. While some books will be published e-first or e-only, print books are not likely to go away completely.

Kari Paulson, president, EBL

We have seen a real change in the size of budgets allocated to e-books. It shows a real mindset shift in librarians. We also see more of e-preferred approach in the more advanced libraries and a massive boom in requests from school libraries.

Libraries’ understanding of different functionalities of e-books has improved a lot. There has been a rapid adoption of patron-driven acquisition (PDA). We have been working with PDA since 2005 but then it was really only for early adopters. Now virtually every library asks about PDA. And libraries who use PDA generally spend more on e-books because it enables them to really see how the books are used.

We hear of push back from big deals with e-books and see a mix of packages from publishers, mixing and merging different acquisition models. Some libraries want to deal with one company, rather than many different publishers but others like to go to publishers directly. We are not competition to publishers but a supplementary channel to market.

I don’t think much has changed in discussion of DRM. It has become confused where some publishers have said they will have no DRM but others have it. There are real reasons for publishers to have DRM, especially on platforms that aren’t their own, because there are different liabilities if e-books are copied from aggregators’ sites.

It is really important that users know what to expect so we’ve standardised the DRM across our platform. We tried to think what would be acceptable for print books and applied a fair-use mentality. When publishers sign with us they all sign up to the same conditions in terms of printing, copying and downloading.

When it comes to access, the more walls we put up and the more we get in the way of access the more we push users to other places. I’m not sure that the single-user model is really effective. You turn people away so you lose the ability to gauge real use and demand for content. And the single-user model really goes against people’s expectations of online from their experiences with e-journals and resources such as Wikipedia.

On the other hand, unlimited access is problematic. It means a publisher will never sell another copy of that book to that library so the publisher could set really high prices. We wanted to find an access model that was more flexible but still fair.

With our platform, we set a limit of 325 downloads before libraries need to buy a second copy. Publishers can set the price. When any library hits that number they are always happy to purchase a second copy. The percentage of titles that reach that level of downloads is still quite low. Many print monographs are hardly used at all so just because something is an e-book doesn’t mean it’s going to get tonnes of use.

We’ve been seeing more requests for EPUB and we have been supplying it at EBL for about a year. I think there are some really interesting opportunities with EPUB 3. We’re working on technology to take advantage of it so when we start to get more content in this format from publishers we can offer it.

Linda Vendreyes, global business development manager, eBooks and Marie Turek, eBook product manager, Swets

Marie Turek 

SwetsWise’s e-book catalogue offers over one million e-books from over 43 publishers and aggregators. Our strategy is to provide customers with a neutral platform from which they can find the e-books they need, compare the pricing options and then choose what best fits their budget and current online access platforms.

We offer both an individual pick and choose model and e-books by defined collections from publishers or aggregators. Each publisher and/or aggregator can have their own set of rules. The most popular models in acquiring e-books via SwetsWise are: pick and choose in perpetuity; subject collections in perpetuity; patron-driven collections through aggregators in perpetuity; and annual subscription collections.

The most common format from most publishers that we work with continues to be PDF. However, some have moved to XML and we are seeing a number of publishers and aggregators embracing EPUB as a global standard.

Publishers seem to be becoming more relaxed about DRM and we are seeing a number of them completely pulling all DRM off their online sites. However, the issue of protecting intellectual property is still a hot topic that is discussed and debated widely within the publishing market especially as new aggregator models and devices are developed. It seems we will continue to move to less DRM because of new technology platforms and devices so that more content can be made available to both the institutional and consumer markets.

In the last few years e-books have become mainstream in both the institutional and consumer markets. Many libraries are building their print to electronic strategies so that the content needed by their patrons is offered electronically to maintain high usage of content along with the advantages such as 24x7 access to the content.

E-books will continue to evolve to the needs of the users in all markets. We are seeing that happening today as institutions take a step forward in renting devices such as Kindles or Nooks They are also open to more diversified platforms that can all be searched to give patrons and students faster results than they believed possible only a few years back.

Print book sales have been declining over the past 20 years as e-books have gained momentum and acceptance.

Chris Bennett, head of library sales, Oxford University Press (OUP), giving his personal perspective on the issues

OUP sees an e-book as a static, electronic version of a print book. We try to be as format agnostic as possible and make these available to a wide range of channels. However, what we are much more interested in is more sophisticated XML-based content. We are working towards an XML-first publishing process and are building sophisticated delivery architecture to support this.

For our e-book distribution channels we are DRM agnostic within reason. We don’t support exclusive and intrusive DRM. We do have controls to deal with, for example, abuse via robots, but there are no barriers to downloading PDFs when you need to, although we do see the need for different DRM measures for different types of content.

My view is that, in the future, the publishing services element is going to become more important. It is not going to be enough to just create an e-book to sustain business. Our Oxford Handbooks were very successful print products and also exist online. This year we are transforming them to an article-based service. Articles will be commissioned for the platform. There won’t be a book initially, but a collection of articles in a subject area that could then produce a book.

It is the responsibility of our distributors to protect our standard e-books. We distribute to them DRM free and they need to put appropriate mechanisms in place. We are very careful about how we choose distributors and wouldn’t choose one who didn’t have robust piracy protection in place.

I predict that the industry is going to move away from traditional ideas of books or journals towards publishing content for an online audience. Content plus service will give us the flexibility we need to deliver in future.

Meanwhile, there is still some demand for print, which can even be driven by digital delivery under certain circumstances. All the functionality that sits around the content is increasing. We are not going to abandon the idea that content is at the heart of what we do, but in order to compete we have to be more creative.

The most important thing to get right is metadata management. We have done an enormous amount of work on standardising this internally to facilitate discoverability. We created the Oxford Index, our own federated search engine, capable of crawling other publisher content too. Our metadata work has opened up considerable commercial opportunities. We are also delivering our metadata to the library community via trusted third-party providers.

Content must be ‘born digital’ in the future. We have to get to this point quickly in order to survive the pressure that global brands are placing on the industry. We could take some lessons from the big commercial players, household names who are clearly prepared to take risks now for bigger commercial gains later.

Wouter van der Velde, eProduct manager eBooks, Springer

Apart from a few exceptions where an author does not give us the electronic distribution rights, all Springer book-titles will be available as e-books.

E-books on SpringerLink can be read directly in the internet browser through the ‘look inside’ functionality. This allows users to discover immediately whether a title is interesting to them. Next to that, all e-books are available in PDF, and each chapter is available for download as a separate PDF document.

More recently, Springer made another investment and started producing its e-books in full text XML format. By producing e-book titles in full-text XML, Springer can easily convert to the EPUB format. Currently Springer converts e-books to EPUB 2. The plan is to make these files (one book, one file) available to e-book customers on SpringerLink over the course of 2012 in addition to the PDF files.

As an IDPF member, Springer keeps abreast of the latest developments like EPUB 3. The advanced capabilities – such as the display of mathematical equations, specifically – are of high interest for Springer because of our large maths publishing programme. And as soon as EPUB 3 is fully supported by reading devices, Springer is ready for it.

Formats such as EPUB 3 will facilitate and challenge authors and publishers to create, publish and host new content formats that include multimedia. We anticipate that e-books will evolve from being just a written content carrier to dynamic, interactive and multimedia resources. Springer has already taken steps in this direction and launched a revolutionary new product: SpringerReference.com. This database contains Springer’s major reference works, and each entry can be updated anytime, while peer-reviewed.

Five years since the launch of our e-book programme, Springer has noticed that e-books have evolved. They have changed from yet another electronic resource, to a more mature product like e-journals, to an accepted and well-used electronic product for researchers and students. And many developments in hardware have only accelerated the acceptance rate. Today many people carry one or more devices that can be used for mobile browsing and e-book reading. Libraries and publishers have also learned a great deal about the importance of the discoverability of e-books, which is key to the success of these products.

Business models are also a key driver of success. Publishers need to adjust their ways of selling content in a way that is most suitable to their customers’ needs. In the coming years we will see a lot of experimenting with new business models, such as evidence-based and patron-driven purchasing.

Henk Compier, managing director, InTech

There is a huge need for many scientists to publish something that is larger than a journal paper. We currently have 1150 open-access e-books but many more in the pipeline.

We are an electronic publisher but authors get print copies of their books through print on demand (POD) although POD is not a primary business model for us.

Our books are in PDF format but we also have EPUB, HTML and are working towards XML for the newer content. We are also exploring EPUB 3, adding multimedia, breaking away from the traditional print and embedding video. There are some challenges with the EPUB format if authors want to include video from many sources.

Authors retain copyright so we need to ensure that they can use these things in different environments. EPUB is by nature a closed format because it needs to also be able to work offline.

We see access from e-readers growing enormously but the number of web downloads is growing too. We’ll be looking at the various platforms we support. What we can’t see is how much is repurposed onto tablets and other devices so we are looking at refining the way we do platform statistics.

E-books and journals are converging somewhat and also diverging. With online you can make journal papers longer. Books can also be longer and often collaborative. In the old world books were more annuls for reference. Now we see more primary research published in books.

Journals are also breaking away from their traditional format and becoming more intertwined. In some areas of science, such as human genome research, data is really essential and we try to accommodate for that in our products.

Some book challenges haven’t changed since the days of Gutenberg, especially the idea of endorsing authors. Many scientists have to depend on being cited in journals as books do not have that option in depth at the moment and are less well defined, although Thomson Reuters has been developing a model for this. We have constructed our metadata in such a way that it can be cited but this is not comprehensive in industry. Such endorsement depends a lot on being covered in databases.

The biggest challenge for e-books is that a lot of people don’t interpret e as electronic but as another format for print.

Of course there is rights management. We use Creative Commons for e-books. There may be issues in the future where people mashup paid and open-access content. I hope with DRM at least some of this paid-for content will be available, such as the abstract.

If you look at the web and the collaboration tools that are shaping content, content will change in ways we don’t know. In five years there will be far more content but how it will look I really can’t tell.