Thursday, January 20, 2011

Handheld E-Book Readers And Scholarship: Report And Reader Survey

ACLS Humanities E-Book / White Paper No. 3 / August 18 2010 / Nina Gielen


Executive Summary

Introduction: Online Versus Handheld

Converting Books for Handheld Devices
  Title and Format Selection
  Conversion Process

In-House Evaluation and Survey
  Initial Assessment of Sample Title Formatting and Performance
  Surveying Readers
  Survey Results

Cost and Other Practical Considerations
  Cost Analysis
  Do We Even Need a Vendor?

Conclusion: Reading Scholarly Monographs on Handheld Devices
  Print Versus Digital, Online Versus Handheld
  What Will Future Handheld Readers Be Able to Do?

Appendix: Survey Results


Executive Summary

This report describes a conversion experiment and subsequent reader survey conducted by ACLS Humanities E-Book (HEB) in late 2009 and early 2010 to assess the viability of using scholarly monographs with handheld e-readers. Scholarly content generally involves extensive networking and cross-referencing between individual works through various channels, including bibliographical citation and subsequent analysis and discussion. Through past experience with its online collection, HEB had already determined that a web-based platform lends itself well to presenting this type of material, but was interested in exploring which key elements would need to be replicated in the handheld edition in order to maintain the same level of functionality, as well as what specific factors from either print or digital publishing would have to be taken into account. As sample content, HEB selected six titles from its own online collection, three in a page-image format with existing OCR-derived text and three encoded as XML files, and had these converted by an outside vendor with minimal editorial intervention into both MOBI (prc) and ePub files.

During its in-house assessment phase, HEB experienced some navigational difficulty with both formats and found that annotation and other interaction with the text was difficult using a number of popular e-readers. (Specifically, the sample titles were tested by HEB on the Sony Reader PRS-700, Amazon's Kindle 2 and the Stanza application on the Apple iPhone.) HEB also found the XML titles to be of limited functionality in the MOBI format and therefore opted not to further poll readers on this subset.

About 88% of our 142 survey participants expressed overall satisfaction with the appearance and functionality of the three remaining handheld samples, although roughly half reported some level of frustration with the search function using either format, and only 26% felt they would have an easy time citing and referencing these editions. Satisfaction with other interactive features, such as adding notes, bookmarking and highlighting, was noticeably higher; however, the “n/a” option was also selected frequently for these categories, and it appears that a large number of participants were unable to perform the tasks in question due to confusing or insufficient instructions from the device manufacturer. As formats evolve, future satisfaction with these features may increase. Irrespective of specific limitations, 75% of participants were interested in potentially downloading additional similar titles for free or if priced below $10.

HEB's production costs, starting from preexisting OCR-derived text and XML files, amounted to about $204 per title for creating both editions, ePub and MOBI. As an example for other publishers, were we to process 300 additional titles from our online collection, this would rise to about $232 (for a bulk conversion of page-image titles only, which are somewhat more expensive to convert than XML).

Therefore, if titles were sold at $10, production costs would be offset at twenty-four downloads. This data is included to provide publishers with a basic idea of conversion costs from one digital format to another; however, it does not take into account other ordinary overhead charges or management fees and discounts for third-party retailers and distributors, which would need to be factored in separately.

HEB's initial findings in this study indicate that titles formatted for existing handheld devices are not yet adequate for scholarly use in terms of replicating either the benefits of online collections—cross-searchability, archiving, multifarious interactive components—nor certain aspects of print editions that users reported missing, such as being able to mark up and rapidly skim text. A turnaround is underway once a common and more robust format optimized for handheld readers is determined and devices themselves evolve, adding improved display options and better and more intuitive web-access, searching and other interactive use of content.

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