The Evolution of E-books

Unlike the transition from print to online journals, the transition to e-books has been much more rocky. Three panelists discussed issues and challenges.

James O'Donnell

James O’Donnell

James O’Donnell, University Librarian and Professor at Arizona State University, said the challenges of e-books that they are not books and are only moderately “e”.  As long as you start on page 1 and scroll to the end, they work fairly well, but if you want something else like the illustrations, reference 3, etc., you are in trouble.  As books, they are dysfunctional; at their worst, they are deliberately crippled by the people who sell them. They probably come from publisher supplied PDF files. But Sci-Hub and libgen have appeared and are competitors selling bootlegged PDFs. They make e-books easier to read, print, can be accessed with no network, and have more functionality than the expensive products that libraries pay for.

4 things we need to think we have invented the e-book

  1. No more new platforms to learn how to use. We need the most open standards.
  2. More functionality. We need to be able to print the whole e-book and take it with us.
  3. A solution designed to suit the print book in e form, i.e. a legacy service. We must be able to see the pictures, read legends on maps, flip to the end notes, etc.
  4. A better solution for the e-book going forward, that includes all the data sets the authors wants to deliver with the ability to print something.
David Durant

David Durant

David Durant, Federal Documents and Social Sciences Librarian, East Carolina University, said that e-book usage did not explode until 2007 when the Kindle was invented, which has led to the “substitution model”, in which e-books will substitute for print books. That belief was popular about 5 years ago, but there was a lot of concern about the ability to read off screens was having on our ability to read in-depth for a period of time. Reading off most devices tends to hinder long reads and promotes reading of only short pieces of information.

The spread of e-readers and e-books has plateaued in the last few years. Print bookstores have recently reported the first increases in print sales since 2007.  The popularity of dedicated e-readers has leveled off. Many people now feel the dedicated e-reader is headed for a niche position in the market.  They now tend to read e-books on their tablets, and the number of people reading a print book at least once a year hovers around 65% of the population.

The sense is that e-books have found their level, and we should not think of a substitution model but rather a complementary model. Each type of reading has its uses; academic librarians must recognize the preferences of users, the differences in forms of reading, and build their collections accordingly. We must develop an ecosystem of reading in which print and digital are coordinated and support “the bi-literate brain”.

Mitchell Davis

Mitchell Davis

Mitchell Davis, CEO, BiblioLabs, said that his company is focusing on public libraries. All early attempts at e-books were basically playing until Amazon introduced the Kindle, which took your money and gave you a book, so it was a success. As a startup software company in this industry (a harrowing experience!), their job is to create consistent returns for investors. Amazon will reinvent the whole industry. What is the future we want?

Making it easier for innovative companies to succeed is important. In an effort to enhance student user experiences, textbooks are the first thing that university management will convert to open educational resources. Once there is success with e-textbooks, administrators will rapidly convert to them.

Any data analysis from traditional publishers does not include 95% of the pertinent data because Amazon does not give its data to anybody. See authorearnings.com for an analysis of Amazon sales data that has been converted to estimates of author earnings. There is clearly a revolution happening in trade publishing.

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist

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