Managing territorial sales restrictions is a complex, important business. Trade publishers in particular are very concerned that vendors like eBooks.com adhere strictly to the rules they set.
Matthew Dunlop, who is currently leading a complete re-build of the eBooks.com website, took time out to optimise some aspects of our file ingestion system and emerged with these gems:
Of the 1.4 million titles in our database, 54 per cent are allowed to be sold anywhere in the world.
Of the remaining 46 per cent, there are only 11,495 permutations of territorial sales rights.
This last item is interesting because, even though 11,495 seems like a big number, it’s tiny compared with the possible permutations. The possible permutations are a nine with about 20 digits after it. In their metadata for any given ebook, a publisher can specify all or some of the 252 countries the system recognises. The combinations and permutations turn out to be gigantic. But in fact our publishers thoughtfully limit themselves to this minuscule set of territorial rights permutations. For which moderation we are very grateful.
In the days before social media – and, presumably, media training – Gerald Ratner’s description of some of the products sold in his chain of jewellers as “total crap” became a byword for the corporate gaffe. Recently the chief executive of publisher Hachette Livre, Arnaud Nourry, seems to have suffered his own “Ratner moment” when he described ebooks in an interview with an Indian news site as a “stupid product”.
The interview, which was intended to address the future of digital publishing and specific issues facing the Indian publishing market, was widely misquoted and Nourry’s comments taken out of context. But there is no denying the fact that the publisher criticises his own industry (“We’re not doing very well”) and attacks ebooks for lacking creativity, not enhancing the reading experience in any way and not offering readers a “real” digital experience.
Some commenters on social media welcomed Nourry’s comments for their honesty. They highlight his seeming support for the idea that publishers should be championing writers and artists working to exploit the creative potential of digital formats to provide readers with experiences that may be challenging and disruptive, but also exhilarating and boundary pushing.
But many of the 1,000-plus commenters reacting to coverage of the story on The Guardian’s website spoke out against “fiddling for the sake of it” – claiming they were not interested in enhanced features or “gamified dancing baloney” borrowed from other media. They also listed the many practical enhancements that ebooks and ereaders do offer. The obvious one is the ability to instantly download books in remote locations where there are no bricks and mortar bookstores. But there are other less obvious enhancements, including being able to instantly access dictionary and encyclopedia entries (at least if you have wifi access) and the option to have the book read to you if you have visual impairments.
Elsewhere, Australian researcher Tully Barnett has shown how users of Kindle ereaders adapt features such as Highlights and Public Notes for social networking, demonstrating that even if ebooks are not that intrinsically innovative or creative, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be made so by imaginative users.
Nourry clearly isn’t averse to the provocative soundbite – in the same interview he went on to say: “I’m not a good swallower” when asked about mergers and conglomeration in the publishing industry. On the other hand, he also seems very aware of the special place of books and reading in “culture, education, democracy” – so his use of the word “stupid” in this context is particularly inflammatory and insensitive.
My research on digital reading has taught me that debating books vs ereaders is always likely to arouse strong passions and emotions. Merely mentioning the word Kindle has led in some instances to my being shouted at – and readers of “dead tree” books are rightly protective and passionate about the sensory and aesthetic qualities of physical books that the digital version possibly can’t compete with.
But, equally, my research has shown that enhancements in terms of accessibility and mobility offer a lifeline to readers who might not be able to indulge their passion for reading without the digital.
In my latest project, academics from Bournemouth and Brighton universities, in collaboration with Digitales (a participatory media company), worked with readers to produce digital stories based on their reading lives and histories. A recurring theme, especially among older participants, was the scarcity of books in their homes and the fact that literacy and education couldn’t be taken for granted. Our stories also demonstrated how intimately reading is connected with self-worth and helps transform lives disrupted by physical and mental health issues – making comments about any reading as “stupid” particularly damaging and offensive.
I would like to know if Nourry would still call ebooks stupid products after watching Mary Bish’s story: My Life in Books from our project. A lifelong reader who grew up in a home in industrial South Wales with few books, Mary calls her iPad her “best friend” and reflects how before the digital age her reading life would have been cut short by macular degeneration.
As well as demonstrating that fairly basic digital tools can be used to create powerful stories, our project showed that the digital also makes us appreciate anew those features of the physical book we may take for granted, the touch, smell and feel of paper and the special place that a book handed down from generation to generation has in the context of family life.
21 February 2018 Australia’s consumer laws aren’t adequately protecting Australians who buy digital products such as e-books and digital music. If a TV doesn’t work, or an iPod or computer is faulty, the law provides a remedy. The same is true for physical books and music media – but not for their online counterparts.
Under Australian law consumers are entitled to receive goods that are of acceptable quality and fit for their purposes, and that correspond with their description, among other legally enforceable consumer guarantees. But these guarantees apply only to “goods” and “services”.
How digital products fit (or don’t fit) into the goods and services categories has been debated for decades, and the law still hasn’t properly accommodated them.
Australia’s consumer laws went through a major update in 2010, but remain out of date. The digital world moves fast, but our consumer laws remain rooted in a system that assumes “goods” and “services” are the only types of trade. These laws still owe much to sale of goods legislation passed in the United Kingdom all the way back in 1893.
What are consumer laws?
The law generally expects that people and companies entering into contracts are able to look after their own interests. Consumer laws exist to provide additional legal protection to consumers, who are usually in an unequal bargaining position compared to the companies they deal with.
A consumer is someone who acquires goods or services that are ordinarily bought for personal, domestic or household use, or for a price of A$40,000 or less.
Consumer purchases include a range of items – TVs, iPods and computers are just some examples. Where a consumer purchases goods, the law requires that those goods comply with particular consumer guarantees, no matter what the terms and conditions of sale say.
If a new “smart TV” won’t connect to wifi, or if an iPod or computer’s battery doesn’t last as long as it should, the consumer guarantees provide a remedy.It was during the 1980s and through to the 2000s that initial questions arose over how the law treated software. The question at this time was whether software counted as “goods”. A series of court cases found that software was considered goods only if it was supplied within a tangible object – for example, on a disk (later, on a CD or DVD).
Because of this, when consumers started downloading software over the internet they were left without many protections. If software downloaded directly from the internet didn’t do what it was supposed to do, they might have no effective legal rights at all.
In 2010, with the Competition and Consumer Act, the definition of goods was finally amended to include “computer software”. But this still excludes many common digital products, such as e-books and digital music. These do not constitute “computer software” as the law understands it.Recent court proceedings highlight the large gap in the Australian consumer law.
In 2016, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission brought a Federal Court case against Valve Corporation, alleging it misrepresented consumers’ rights concerning content bought through the Steam video game platform.
Justice Edelman found that Valve Corporation had supplied “goods”, being “computer software”, but also found that “non-executable data was not computer software”, and that such non-executable data could include “music and html images”.
If this definition of computer software is applied in future cases, then there is a legal gap when it comes to other types of digital products. E-books and digital music (among others) require executable files to work, but aren’t themselves executable files, so would not constitute computer software.
If they don’t constitute computer software, they also aren’t goods under the law. And if they aren’t goods, consumers who acquire these digital products don’t obtain the protections and guarantees of Australia’s consumer laws.
The wider consequences of inequality in the law
Beyond this problem for consumers, this legal gap also creates an inequality for retailers. Retailers that deal in physical books and music (whether they are “bricks and mortar” or online) are required to comply with the guarantees and protections under Australian consumer law.
This means that businesses dealing in physical goods incur costs that those that sell only digital equivalents (apart from software) can avoid. Australia is in effect subsidising those who sell only digital products (many of them foreign companies) by not subjecting them to the same legal liabilities.A simple legislative amendment can easily solve this problem. Rather than providing that goods includes “computer software”, a legal provision stipulating that goods include “computer software and other types of digital products” would capture the broader range of products we see in the marketplace today.
We can learn from the United Kingdom, where digital products are given their own dedicated consumer rights regime. The United Kingdom has a series of consumer rights applicable to the supply of goods, the supply of services, and also to the supply of digital content.
The piece around workplace jargon is moving forward, with the team hitting the ground running. We’ve got our ducks in a row, have drilled down into our learnings — let’s run it up the flagpole and see the result.
Clearly we need to enter 2018 with a fresh set of expressions for the workplace.
Now, I could suggest some spanking-new ones, but lexical novelty comes with risks — besides, we’re all a bit weary of innovation in the workplace.
So in the spirit of recycling, I suggest we recruit golden oldies to inject energy into modern managerial jargon, some linguistic gems from the past that deserve a second go.
Reaching out with saucy oars
Linguistic bugbears are always in the eye of beholder, but singing from the same hymn sheet seems to get up most noses. Old nautical jargon might be just what’s needed here, specifically — in the quill or jumping in quill. These are expressions that also meant “working in harmony”.
The quill here isn’t a feather, but an early version of coil (of rope). If you’re all jumping in quill, you’re nicely coiled up in concentric rings, so no need for synergizing either.
The world of business has also given us out over one’s skis. The message is “don’t get too far ahead of yourself”. Skiers I gather are irritated by this one because they feel the imagery is wrong, and those of us who aren’t into winter sports are simply confused.
If the idea is acting prematurely or recklessly, can I suggest we resurrect another couple of nautical expressions? Ships or boats that were rashly venturing were once said to be with saucy rigging or with saucy oars — titillating images for a change:
“They might have been sailing with saucy rigging with that restructure.”
Being loaded for bears when you hit the floor running
Something that makes regular appearances in our workplace memos is getting your ducks in a row, in other words, being organised. Its origin isn’t clear — ceramic flying ducks on a wall, rows of mechanical ducks at the fairground, balls (sitting ducks) lined up to be potted on the pool table.
It could also relate to real live ducks close together and about to be shot, or even the mother duck with her brood. All were possible inspirations.
I’m very tempted to suggest the incorporation of another duck expression here, the 17th century curiosity anatiferous “producing ducks” (from Latin anas (anati) “duck” + ferus “making”)?
But I suspect we need a stronger image for the modern corporate world. So how about being loaded for bear(s), a North American expression from the 19th century that also meant being fully prepared? Here you have to imagine hunters geared up for an bear encounter.
If you’re loaded for bears before the next meeting, you’re ready for anything.
Ideating or bethinking outside the box
The message from many management gurus is that plain and simple English words are what we need to achieve clear communication, and in the interests of de-jargonising modern corporate-speak we could even revive a few.
Sibsomeness, somredness, onehead, onehood all once referred to different aspects of unity of spirit, mind and action. While they lack the profitable association of corporate synergy, that meaning can be supplied:
“The team work resulted in a sibsomeness that was very productive.”
We like to investigate matters meticulously but are thoroughly sick of drilling down or peeling the onion. Now, we could bring back bolting the flour with its different image of a bolting-cloth or sieve. But why not Old English through-seek, with more or less the same meaning and a one thousand year-old pedigree.
The English word furtherhead was overwhelmed by French-inspired priorities and prioritize, and never took off. But as something that can be both noun and verb, it’s a handy replacement for these two foreign-derived expressions:
“The department has failed to futherhead safety within the industry.”
There’s a fine Old English expression that could replace this overworked corporate morale booster — ferking forthward meaning moving forward, or helping something on its way.
In the modern version of the verb, prepositions are flexible. And whether it’s ferking out, up, off or forward, throughout its long and complicated life this verb has always had direction, action and bucket loads of purpose at its core:
“This ongoing restructuring of the business is a necessary step in creating a leaner organisation ferking up.”
There’s a little extra something here, too. It comes from the subtle vowel change that during the 16th century transformed ancient ferk to the modern-day F-word (undoubtedly this transition was assisted by other sources — successful expressions are usually mongrels).Now, I know it’s easy to tilt at the jargon of others. But when expressions start doing something to people’s neck hairs, it’s time to let them go.
The team at National Public Radio has just shared their top reads for 2017, and it’s a bumper crop. The recommendations come in the form of a web app called the Book Concierge, which lets you sort and filter the selected titles by multiple, sometimes quirky, subject categories.
Here’s a selection of NPR’s top picks for 2017, but go ahead and visit the Book Concierge and binge on the full range of 2017’s great reads.
We are all being sucked into a vortex of teenie weenie technology, not of our own making. Reading books is not exempt from this phenomenon and somehow readers, publishers and booksellers need to take account of it. Caroline Myrberg‘s article discusses in detail how we might improve things to make the transition from paper to digital smoother.
Why do many students still prefer paper books to e-books?
This article summarizes a number of problems with e-books mentioned in different studies by students of higher education, but it also discusses some of the unexploited possibilities with e-books.Problems that students experience with e-books include eye strain, distractions, a lack of overview, inadequate navigation features and insufficient annotation and highlighting functionality. They also find it unnecessarily complicated to download DRM-protected e-books.
Some of these problems can be solved by using a more suitable device. For example, a mobile device that can be held in a book-like position reduces eye strain, while a device with a bigger screen provides a better overview of the text. Other problems can be avoided by choosing a more usable reading application. Unfortunately, that is not always possible, since DRM protection entails a restriction of what devices and applications you can choose.
Until there is a solution to these problems, I think libraries will need to purchase both print and electronic books, and should always opt for the DRM-free alternative. We should also offer students training on how to find, download and read e-books as well as how to use different devices.
Two years ago my colleague Ninna Wiberg and I wrote an article about reading and learning on screen as compared to print.1 According to the studies we referred to in that article, there was no substantial difference between print and screen when it came to reading comprehension and study results. But there was still a strong preference for print, which I found interesting and wanted to know more about.
Most people are prepared to agree that there are some obvious advantages to e-books. They appreciate that it is easy to carry a lot of e-books, that they are able to change font size and search within the text, and that they have instant access to e-books regardless of time and space. E-books can also easily be updated, and sometimes they contain embedded dictionaries and vocabularies. But, if e-books have all these advantages and reading from screens does not impair study results – why does everyone not prefer e-books?
Many bibliophiles love the object just as much as the written content
… they like the feel of the paper as they turn the pages, and, when they have finished the book, they want to put it in their bookcase, which doubles as a showcase of their identity.2
We know that this kind of emotional attachment to print books can affect the users’ attitudes to e-books negatively,3 but in this article I will try to look beyond the emotional aspects and present some of the more objective difficulties that users, especially students in higher education, experience when they read e-books. I will begin with a discussion of the devices used for reading e-books. Then I will discuss the problems with current e-books regarding usability and user experience. Finally, I will mention some new and innovative e-book features that could make the e-reading experience more attractive, and make a couple of suggestions of what we librarians could do to help our users here and now. This article is based on current research as well as my own observations.
The kind of device you use matters: eye strain
Many e-book readers report that they suffer from eye strain.4, 5 But here it is important to remember that there is an abundance of different screens and devices, and that screen size and quality have improved in recent years, because the kind of screen you use when you are reading matters.6 And, since the development of screens is still in progress – there is, for example, a Japanese research team that developed an eye-friendly screen prototype for e-book reading in 20167 – it is probable that screens will be even better in the future than those found today.
Aside from screen quality, the angle of inclination is also important when it comes to avoiding eye strain. A German research team has shown that, when you hold your screen in a book-like position (they used iPads in their experiment), the differences in eye strain symptoms between screen and print were eliminated. I think this shows there is a need for more user-friendly ways to read e-books on hand-held devices like tablets or e-book readers in preference to desktop or laptop computers.8
What devices do students use for e-book reading?
In some recent surveys from Finland,9 Slovenia,10 the UK11 and the US,12 students in higher education were asked what kind of devices they use when they read e-books. The numbers are not entirely comparable, since the question in the Finnish survey was about any kind of e-books, and not specifically e-textbooks as it was in the other three surveys. And the Finnish students could not specify whether they read e-books on a laptop or desktop computer. Despite these discrepancies, I have put the results from all four surveys into the same chart (see Figure 1) to get a better overview of the results.
Figure 1 Comparison of devices used by students in Finland, Slovenia, the UK and the US when they read e-books
As we can see in Figure 1, most students read e-books on their computers, usually laptops, but they do not use smartphones and tablets to the same extent.13, 14, 15, 16 There are some possible reasons why they do not use mobile devices for e-book reading, but the reasons are probably not the same for smartphones and tablets, which I will return to later.
What devices do they own?
Figure 2 shows statistics of the share of the Swedish population of different ages who have access to their own smartphone, computer or tablet.17
Figure 2 Share of the Swedish population of different ages who have access to a smartphone, their own computer or their own tablet
Almost everyone aged 16 to 35 has a smartphone, but only around 40% own a tablet. This means that the share of the younger Swedish population that owns a tablet is roughly the same as the share of students in our neighbouring country, Finland, who use tablets for e-book reading. I would therefore speculate that most students who actually own a tablet also use it for reading e-books.
Since the proportion of the population that owns a tablet is getting bigger every year, as we can see in Figure 3,18 I do not think we should neglect the tablet as a reading device. The smartphone, on the other hand, does not seem to be students’ first choice, which is probably related to the problems users experience when they read on small screens.
Figure 3 Development of the share of the Swedish population (12+ years) who have their own tablet
Reading on small screens (3.5-inch) or bigger screens with fixed layout
In a thesis from 2013 about reading on small screens19 – in which the author used the first-generation iPhone with its 3.5-inch screen – a majority of the comments were complaints about the lack of overview and difficulties in previewing and back-tracking within the text. The study subjects also pointed out that it is harder to browse back to an exact position in the book on a small screen, because then the text is fragmented over several pages. With a more fragmented text also comes a need to turn the pages more often, in this case so often that it was considered a problem. Some participants solved this problem by reducing the font size, while others preferred the bigger font size, since it made the text more legible. And even when the small screen did not have any negative effect on reading comprehension, the participants in this study still preferred a larger screen.
Another study20 shows that, as long as the text presentation is identical, there are no significant differences between reading print and reading electronic books. It is when the text is fragmented over several screens so there is less content on each screen that text processing is impaired – because, then it is more difficult for the reader to construct a cognitive map of the text structure that usually helps them remember what they are reading. Based on their findings, the authors suggest that the future design of reading devices should follow the codex structure, with a fixed layout, not only because it supports the construction of a cognitive map, but also because then it would be easier for readers who are already familiar with print books to read electronic texts more intuitively.
Based on these two studies, we can conclude that, when we read e-books, they should be as book-like as possible, and that we should read them on a screen that can display enough content and still have a font size that is large enough to be legible.
Aside from the question of whether you should offer the reader a fixed layout, or the ability to adjust the text settings, there are also other design elements that affect readability, such as the choice of type face.
a sans serif typeface was found to be more readable
I have found a couple of articles where researchers have used eye-tracking devices to compare the readability of different type faces on screens.21, 22 In both articles, a sans serif typeface was found to be more readable, which means that study subjects read both faster and more accurately than when they read texts on screens with the serif typefaces that are most commonly used in printed books. One of the studies23 also discovered that reading speeds increased even more when the font size was increased.
But how many vendors offer our users electronic books and articles that are actually designed for electronic use, and are not just an exact copy of the print original?
When it comes to the usability of e-textbooks, the majority of the students’ complaints seem to be related either to the highlighting and annotation functionality or to the overview of the content and the ability to navigate easily within the book.24, 25
The lack of overview when you read a book on a digital device does not only make it hard to jump forwards or backwards in the text, it also gives you poor feedback on the progress you are making as you are reading. And it makes it difficult for you to plan your reading, since there is no easy way for you to see how much there is left of the book or chapter you are reading.
Highlighting and annotating
Students need to actively engage with their texts in order to learn and retain information, and they often use highlighting and annotation to do so. I have found articles from several countries26, 27, 28, 29, 30 in which university students prefer print because of the lack of possibilities for highlighting and annotating when they are reading digital texts.
In a Finnish survey from 2016,31 the majority of the students agree that the ability to highlight and annotate in e-books is important (see Figure 4).32 Since they also want to be able to download their books to their own devices (see Figure 5),33 I think we can assume that it is necessary for them to be able to highlight and annotate both online and after downloading.
Figure 5 Percentage of Finnish students who would like to be able to download e-books onto their own devices
We know now that students want to be able to highlight and annotate, but how much do they actually use these functionalities?
In a study from 2015,34 a majority of Portuguese university students disagreed with the statement ‘I usually highlight and annotate my electronic readings’, while they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I usually highlight and notate my printed course readings’ (see Figure 6). And in Figure 7 we can see that the result was similar when the same survey was carried out in the UK last year.35 In both countries, students usually highlight and annotate more when they read print than when they read electronic texts.36, 37
Figure 7 Comparison of the number of students (UK, 2016) who highlight and annotate electronic and print reading matter
The authors of the UK study suggest that students need more training on how to use applications for learning purposes, since they have found that ‘there is a perceived greater difficulty associated with highlighting and annotating in electronic formats’.38 And I think they have a point, since many students are not even aware that they can annotate and highlight in their e-books, but I also think we need to make certain that our e-books actually provide the functionality to annotate and highlight.
The main issue when it comes to accessibility and e-books is digital rights management (DRM) protection. DRM involves technological restrictions that make it possible to control what users can do with our e-resources.39
In the Finnish study from last year,40 college and university students said that they do not want to have to log in several times or use separate applications in order to borrow e-books. They want to be able to borrow the e-books when they need them and keep them as long as they need to, and they want to be able to download the e-books for offline reading regardless of what device or web browser they are using. In other words, they want to be able to do everything that DRM protection restricts them from doing.
It is probably not reasonable to suggest that all library books should be DRM-free (even if the music industry experienced increased sales when they removed DRM protection).41 But it is not just easier for the user to download DRM-free e-books – when you download an e-book without DRM you are also free to choose the device and application most suitable for your needs.
As we have seen, the best device for reading e-books is not a computer, but rather a slightly bigger mobile device. But what happens when we try to read an e-book from, for example, Ebook Central, on our tablets?
If you read a book on Ebook Central’s online platform in a browser on a mobile device, you will find that you cannot use the touch screen to select text, which in turn makes it impossible to highlight text. And it does not help if you download the book for offline reading to Bluefire Reader (which is the default application), because it is not possible to select text for highlighting there either. But, even if you do manage to open the book in another application with better functionality for highlighting and annotating, as soon as the loan expires, the notes will be gone for good.
If our suppliers are unable to remove the DRM protection from their books, could they not at least have a default reading application that is better suited to our students’ needs? Perhaps they could make it possible for the users to get their notes and highlights back when they borrow the book again?
Many users admit that they easily get distracted when they read e-books,42, 43 which I think should be possible to remedy even if you are slightly addicted to the dopamine that your brain produces every time you hear a ping from your device.44 You could, for example, choose to turn off some of the notifications on your device, or even turn on flight mode when you need to be completely undisturbed. But I have often wondered why every e-book reader application does not have an optional ‘do not disturb’ function similar to Kobo’s ‘Reading Mode’ or Kindle Fire’s ‘Quiet Time’,45 that automatically turns off all alerts from selected applications while you are reading.
A device that is usable by our students?
Is there any device on the market today that meets all our students’ needs? A device that is mobile/hand-held, without any distractions, not too small and comes with a pen you can use to make handwritten notes, since handwriting aids the memory better than typing?46
I think a tablet like the new ‘paper tablet’ reMarkable47 might be interesting to students who want to benefit from the advantages of e-books without losing all the familiar characteristics of paper, even if the first generation of this tablet unfortunately does not support DRM. The reMarkable tablet is about A4 size with an e-ink screen with ‘paper feel’ and a pen, and you can use it only for reading, writing and sketching. You can transfer documents between the tablet and your computer, but apart from that it has no connection with the outside world that can distract you while you are reading.
Applications with exemplary functionality
There are applications today that offer better functionality for highlighting and annotation than Bluefire Reader, and much better navigation functionality that, at least partly, compensates for the lack of spatial landmarks that we are used to from print books. LiquidText and the Kindle application are a couple of examples of applications that I think have some excellent features, even if they do not support Adobe DRM.
LiquidText48 is a PDF reader that has a kind of extra margin space beside the text where you can make annotations. Instead of just highlighting text passages, you can pull them out of the document into the margin, where you can organize them with your own notes. And you just need to tap a text passage to get back to the source.
The Kindle application has outstanding navigation features. Page Flip49 is a speed-browsing function that enables you quickly to swipe past lots of pages and then instantly jump back to where you were by clicking on the little ‘current page’ thumbnail which is always pinned to the side of the screen. This is perfect if, for example, you want to find a page that you remember the look of, or if you want to explore ahead to see how much there is left of a chapter.
Another nice thing with the Kindle application is that it always shows you where you are in the book without having to click anywhere first. In the bottom right-hand corner you will always see how much of the whole book you have read, and in the bottom left-hand corner you can choose between the number of pages you have read so far and how much time it would take you to finish the current chapter or the whole book.
These are a couple of examples of applications that have done more to meet our needs than most. And LiquidText has even taken a step further and created new, useful functionalities that do not have any equivalents in the paper world.
Earlier I referred to authors who think that the best way to read e-books is to read those that are as book-like as possible. And, since most e-books today are just electronic copies of print books with linear text, that perception makes perfect sense.
But what would happen if publishers started to think outside the box a little?
But what would happen if publishers started to think outside the box a little? What would happen if they created the e-book first and let it utilize all the possibilities that the electronic medium offers?
Not just a copy of the print edition
There are some good examples of e-book design where the e-books are not just a direct copy of a print original. The annual report ‘Swedes and the Internet’50 is one of them. It can be downloaded as a PDF that looks like an ordinary, classical, linear book with its usual table of contents, which is preferable if you want to read the entire report from cover to cover.
The same report is also available as a website,51 where you can use tags to find the content you are interested in. This web version is very handy if you are only interested in parts of the report, but hopeless if you want to read the entire book – or print it out.
So much more than the print edition
When you read the iPad application edition of T S Eliot’s The Waste Land from Touch Press52 you cannot smell the book, nor can you feel the pages as you turn them. Instead, you can listen to the author reading his own work, or watch the actress Fiona Shaw perform the poem synchronized to the text – all the time with access to detailed notes. And, if you still do not understand the poem’s many references and allusions, there are 35 expert interviews included in the application that you can watch. What literature student would not prefer this application to the print book?
How can librarians add value here and now?
Until all students have a suitable device that they are familiar with and that offers a smooth reading experience, we need to offer training on how to find, download and read e-books as well as how to use different devices.
I also think it would be of use to our students if we always purchased the DRM-free e-book when available, and that we sometimes still need to purchase both the print and the electronic book, because, even if e-books have many advantages, sometimes you just might still prefer a print book.
Abbreviations and Acronyms
A list of the abbreviations and acronyms used in this and other Insights articles can be accessed here – click on the URL below and then select the ‘Abbreviations and Acronyms’ link at the top of the page it directs you to: http://www.uksg.org/publications#aa
The author has declared no competing interests.
This thoughtful, intelligent article first appeared in UKSG Insights on 8th November 2017, under the Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution licence, and is reproduced here in its entirety.
Myrberg, C and Wiberg, N (2015). Screen vs. paper: what is the difference for reading and learning?. Insights 28(2): 49–54, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.236 (accessed 18 September 2017).
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Over the last few years we’ve seen e-textbooks, as a share of eBooks.com’s revenue, grow 61%. And this without us paying particular attention to textbooks as a category.
eBooks.com’s strategic focus is on improving our customers’ experience and implementing customer-focussed communication strategies, but not specifically aimed at educators.
Nevertheless, educators around the globe are finding us in growing numbers.
This development has not gone unnoticed. At Frankfurt Book Fair in October, one educational publisher put it bluntly: “What on earth are you doing to drive all these sales?” Until she asked, we hadn’t really noticed what was going on.
I cleared my throat and explained with sweeping hand gestures that it was the result of our carefully targeted multi-channel, community focused SMM, SEM, SEO and email outreach campaigns. Most likely.
On reflection though, I think it’s a result of the simple fact that the time for e-textbooks is here.
Textbook publishing has always been a challenge.
My father once confessed to me that, when he was studying engineering in the 1940s, he availed himself of pirated versions of his course textbooks.
It took a generation for our family to recover from the shame that his admission brought on us. But there’s a message here as to why higher ed publishers have approached ebook distribution with caution. Piracy has always been a massive problem for textbook publishers, and the advent of digital distribution only raised the risks.
Flagship, cornerstone textbooks are different from consumer or general scholarly titles. To publish a trusted, solid tome called “Introducing Biology”, with engaging, full colour illustrations and pages set out like a glossy magazine involves significant investment. It can cost millions to produce, drawing on the work of teams of experts. For a higher ed publisher, testing the waters by putting a digital version out there means risking everything.
In one of the most memorable novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now 31, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate… more…
England, 1930s. Christopher Banks has become the country’s most celebrated detective, his cases the talk of London society. Yet one unsolved crime has always haunted him; the mysterious disappearance of his parents, in Old Shanghai, when he was a small boy. Now, as the world lurches towards total war, Banks realises the time has come for him to return… more…
‘Almost certainly a masterpiece.’ Anita Brookner Ryder, a renowned pianist, arrives in a Central European city he cannot identify for a concert he cannot remember agreeing to give. But then as he traverses a landscape by turns eerie and comical – and always strangely malleable, as a dream might be – he comes steadily to realise he is facing the… more…
‘After all what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?’ In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the English countryside and into his past… A contemporary classic, The… more…
It is 1948. Japan is rebuilding her cities after the calamity of World War Two, her people putting defeat behind them and looking to the future. The celebrated artist, Masuji Ono, fills his days attending to his garden, his house repairs, his two grown daughters and his grandson; his evenings drinking with old associates in quiet lantern-lit bars…. more…
In this debut novel from acclaimed Booker Prize-winning Kazuo Ishiguro ( The Remains of the Day , Never Let Me Go ), post-war Japan serves as the haunting backdrop to a subtle story of memory, suicide, and psychological trauma. Etsuko lives alone in rural England, trying to come to terms with the recent suicide of her daughter, Keiko. A visit from… more…
‘It was our third time playing the Godfather theme since lunch…’ In a sublime short story collection, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. From the piazzas of Italy to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the ‘hush-hush floor’ of an exclusive Hollywood hotel, the characters we encounter range from young dreamers… more…
An extraordinary new novel from the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize winning The Remains of the Day ‘You’ve long set your heart against it, Axl, I know. But it’s time now to think on it anew. There’s a journey we must go on, and no more delay…’ The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain… more…
George Walkley’s excellent innovation newsletter, Inflight Engineering, just highlighted Gartner’s report, Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2017. The report provides a cross-industry perspective on emerging technologies and trends. It argues that an emerging technology will typically pass through five stages before achieving broad adoption.
Here’s how Gartner explains the predictable phases of this cycle. The hype cycle drills down into the five key phases of a technology’s life cycle.
Innovation Trigger: A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity. Often no usable products exist and commercial viability is unproven.
Peak of Inflated Expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories — often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.
Trough of Disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
Slope of Enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallize and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers. More enterprises fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious.
Plateau of Productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.
The dramatic trend line in this chart certainly reflects our own experience with consumer ebooks[note]Scholarly ebooks cut a very different, more orderly trajectory[/note] over the last 17 years and leads me to think that, although the ebook might be in its Trough of Disillusionment, it is poised for sustainable growth.
There are good reasons for optimism. But first, what just happened? In the case of ebooks, the Peak of Inflated Expectations in 2014 was out of all proportion to the genuine consumer demand that existed before the Kindle came on the scene. Ninety per cent of the buzz that ebooks generated from 2008 was not generated by ebooks at all. It was paid for by Amazon.
In fact the real Peak occurred around 2001. Back then, every book fair and trade journal was crackling with hyper-expectation. Adobe, netLibrary[note]Spent $110 million between 1999 and 2001[/note] , Questia[note]$130 million[/note] , Barnes & Noble, Microsoft, Gemstar[note] Gemstar reportedly paid US$ 400 million for two nascent ebook devices in 2000[/note] and others splurged in an effort to own the promising ebook market.
But it soon became clear, especially to those who had invested in new, clumsy technologies, that people, mostly, didn’t want ebooks.
At BEA in May 2001 I met with the head of Adobe’s ebook effort. All around us were vast, glittering booths packed with bright young things in polo shirts touting their ebook solutions. I said, “Look, Tom, I think we might not be in the same league here. eBooks.com is only selling 40 ebooks a day.”
He paused and then replied, “Forty? Forty a day? Woah, no Stephen, that puts you at the top of the league.”
Until that moment, I’d assumed we were getting something wrong. Judging by the press releases, the air-punching and braggadocio of our gigantic competitors, it looked like they were flogging millions of those critters to growing hordes of avid ebook fans; fans who had overlooked eBooks.com. But no. The full horror of what was unfolding dawned on me.
I’d been embarrassed to think I’d spent $2 million of our shareholders’ cash, only to be selling a trickle of ebooks. In the same few years, the startups and behemoths had burned over a billion dollars, with little more to show. It was a shouty, bragging train wreck.
eBooks.com’s consumer sales grew from that low base in 2000 at an annual rate of 20%, relentlessly, until 2008 when we spiked significantly in the midst of another billion-dollar froth-fest.
I’m currently an Illustrator working on personal art pieces that narrate moments in my life.
I graduated from college from a Game Development program where I discovered a love of visualizing a scene. I enjoy creating images with a story, and conceptualizing characters, props, and worlds that a person can interpret. I like to brainstorm with friendly people and expand ideas to create a universe.
eBooks.com is the longest-established ebookstore on the web. We offer a vast selection of titles across thousands of categories, ranging from popular fiction to academic and professional books. You can read our ebooks on most tablets and smartphones.