Sunday, December 19, 2010

IT > Ebooks: A New School Of Thought

Baumann, M. (2010). Ebooks: A new school of thought. Information Today, 27(5),  pp. 1, 44, 46, 48

Abstract: Mainstream educators are beginning to replace paper textbooks with ebooks, a technology that many publishers see as the way of the future. Ebooks eliminate the bulkiness of their paper counterparts. In switching from paper textbooks to electronic, mainstream publishing houses have been experimenting with ebooks for the academic market. Rather than pages of text and photos, ebooks increasingly include video clips, links to Web sites, and more sophisticated pictures and graphics.

The creation of customized copies eliminates the used etextbook market, where authors watch their books get sold over and over without getting paid. There are some potential roadblocks to an electronic textbook paradigm. The first comes from a simple economic principle: While there is a market for etextbooks, colleges and students aren't clamoring for them in a way that puts much pressure on publishers to provide them. The lack of electronic standards is another issue. Pricing patterns are also going to be an issue.

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Excerpts

[snip]. Mainstream educators are beginning to replace paper textbooks with ebooks, a technology that many publishers see as the way of the future. Ebooks eliminate the bulkiness of their paper counterparts; the Amazon Kindle DX can hold more than 3,500 titles, for example. [snip].

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McGraw-Hill reports that it intends to expand its digital presence, according to Tom Stanton, director of communications at McGraw-Hill Education. Today, 95% of McGraw-Hill Education's offerings are available electronically, ... .

"Currently, ebooks represent a small but rapidly growing percentage of our overall revenue in the higher education market," says Stanton. "As more students gain a greater comfort level with the interactivity, media-rich content, search capability, and note-taking functionality available with ebooks, we see them and other digital learning tools becoming more widespread."

Built For Speed, Not For Comfort

In switching from paper textbooks to electronic, mainstream publishing houses have been experimenting with ebooks for the academic market. This doesn't just mean putting text on an e-reader screen instead of a page; it means incorporating rich media into the product. [snip].

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Caren Milloy is a senior project manager at JISC Collections, a British academic consortium whose goal is to support the spread of digital content in higher education across the U.K. [snip].

JISC's national ebooks observatory project contains data from interviews, focus groups, and surveys that generated more than 52,000 responses; the project is purported to be the largest study of ebook use ever undertaken. [snip].

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A Shift In Direction

If academic users are more concerned with efficiency than bells and whistles, publishers intent on filling etextbooks with rich media may be taking the wrong approach. Eric Frank, founder and president of Flat World Knowledge, a digital academic publishing company, is counting on this.

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Digital Textbooks And Robin Hood e-Commerce

Not only does Frank take a contrary view on rich media's place in ebooks, his company is taking a new approach to academic publishing.

Flat World still signs authors, and all articles undergo a peer-review process, but the similarities end there. Flat World books are designed to go on the web from the start, and they are offered in several formats: a free online-only version, a range of electronic formats that can be bought and downloaded to a computer desktop or e-reader, or a printed copy that can be produced and shipped on request.

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In order to combat the cannibalization of print sales, many publishers are offering their digital textbooks on a rental basis with DRM restrictions. Rather than paying full price for a textbook, students can rent a digital copy for a few months at a reduced price, mimicking the common practice of buying a textbook at the beginning of a semester and selling it back to the bookstore when it is no longer useful.

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What About 'Free'?

Even a reduced-price rental pricing model is too restrictive for Frank, who predicts that content pricing trends have only one endpoint: free. PDF copies of popular textbooks can be downloaded for free through illegal torrent sites, and Frank says customers will be more willing to break the law if etextbooks are too expensive or their DRM restrictions are too harsh.

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Even though Flat World textbooks are available for free online, customers are still paying a premium to publishers for the convenience of having a digital or print copy at their disposal anywhere, at any time. [snip].

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The Social Side Of Etextbooks

Copia, a DMC Worldwide company that offers an online bookstore and the Ocean and Tidal series of e-readers, acknowledges the social aspect of the educational experience. In addition to incorporating social media features for the Copia ebookstore, Copia users can link their accounts to Facebook, Twitter, and other existing social media networks. [snip].

"How powerful is it if you're reading whatever textbook you're reading and you're on chapter 12, and it's late at night and we're all studying from our own locations, to know where each other is at exactly, what page we're at?" Antolino says. "You can say, 'Did you capture that? I think that's going to be real important.' Or, 'Let's talk about this for a minute because this is an insightful passage,' and be able to socialize that in real time."

Copia is a seller and not a publisher, but publishers can get in on the social capabilities of digital publishing as well. Flat World is making customization a hallmark of its publishing process. Professors have the ability to edit, rearrange, and add comments to Flat World digital books for their classes, and user feedback from the website often factors into edits for future semesters.

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Customizability is a necessary feature for any company that wants to sell ebooks in the academic market. Very few students and professors expect to access web links or listen to audio clips from their textbooks. But if they can take notes and highlight important passages in the book itself, this is something many users take for granted.

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Fitter, Happier, And More Productive

A student wants the same things from his or her educational experience that he or she wants from a used car—it should be cheap, simple, efficient, and should fit his or her personality. There are signs that digital and textbooks are moving in to fit these needs; the e-reader market seemingly has new options every day, and Flat World Knowledge has signed a deal to put printed versions of its textbooks in 3,000 college bookstores, including the University of Washington and San Diego State University.

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There are some potential roadblocks to an electronic textbook paradigm. The first comes from a simple economic principle: While there is a market for etextbooks, colleges and students aren't clamoring for them in a way that puts much pressure on publishers to provide them.

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The Need For Standards

The lack of electronic standards is another issue. Flat World produces its books in multiple formats because, while PDF and EPUB are slowly taking over, there is still not an agreed-upon universal file format. [snip].

"Probably the biggest barriers to ebooks penetrating the university marketplace are standards, pricing and procurement strategies," Blossom says. 'While PDF and ePub formats are common for many ebooks, there are no ebook standards today that can allow them to be used across a wide variety of devices as well as to support effective markup and note-taking. [snip].

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"I think that it will take around five years for many of these basic issues to be settled between universities and major university-oriented textbook publishers," Blossom says. "In the meantime, while there will continue to be some successful experiments with ebooks in the classroom, most ebook purchasing in universities is likely to be focused on increasing library acquisitions."

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