E-books Unleashed

So popular and widespread have e-books become that it would be rare to find a major information industry conference these days that lacked at least one session on them.  I attended the “E-Books Unleashed” session which had talks by the presenters shown below that highlighted some recent e-book developments.

(L-R) Anders Mildner, James McFarlane, Giulio Blasi, Mary Joan Crowley

John Akeroyd, Director, Information Reports and Honorary Research Fellow at the University College London and session moderator, introduced the session with the following sales data that shows that the recent explosion in e-book sales continues unabated.

Anders Mildner, a journalist from Sweden, keynoted the session with a presentation on “E-Books, Reading and Culture: What Change Can We Expect?”

People have been reading aloud for hundreds of years, and listening has become a shared experience and a part of culture. The public became used to being passive, but 10 years ago, the emergence of social media changed this when people began to create their own media.

Social media deals with social objects,and when they emerge, we see a shift in value. For example, music only has a value when it is being shared and with the rise of music downloading and sharing services, we see many music stores closing down.

E-books will create a shift from a passive listening culture to one of participatory reading, so reading will become a shared experience. Books are entering the world of remixable objects, where they can be cut, pasted, and shared. This is creating a power shift of those who hold the power and an economic threat to the producers. The value of the printed book in economic and cultural terms will decrease as we become surrounded by digital books.

We saw a similar process in the music industry. People care more than ever about music but less about the medium on which it is delivered. Libraries are now making deals with publishers to be able to lend e-books, increasing the value of the book as a social object.

Libraries and librarians are facing an entirely new challenge, but we should be grateful. For the first time, we can re-define reading and do it together. The promise of the future is that we are able to engage in reading more deeply than ever before.

James McFarlane, CEO of Easypress Technologies, began his presentation, “Beyond the EPUB3 e-Book”, with a brief historical overview.  The first serious attempt to produce e-books was on the Apple Newton in 1994. Only 2 books were available: the Bible and the Concise Encyclopedia Britannica. The Newton was backlit and had a short battery life. It did not succeed because there were better devices available. Then Jeff Bezos developed the e-Ink device in 2004, and the Kindle was born. Bezos said he would have “every book ever printed in every language available in less than 60 seconds”.  Then came Apple’s iPad which has transformed the e-book and multimedia worlds. We are now seeing many competing tablets appearing frequently. Harry Potter books will soon be available as e-Books, and 100 million downloads are expected. (There will be 7 books in 68 languages with video clips, audio, games, and other related products).  This will transform the market yet again.

Easypress has developed a way to convert files from Quark to e-books in a couple of minutes. That is epub2, which is available today. The goal of epub3 is to develop interactive books that go beyond the reading experience. The first EPub3 reader will not be on the market until next year, and it will have many new features, including indexing, searching and navigating, video and audio, multi-column formats, and active hyperlinking.

A significant problem for e-books is indexing. 83% of print books have an index, but virtually no e-books do because the concept of a page does not exist in an electronic publication. So the index must be redesigned.  Searching and navigating e-books is also problematical.  In a future design, e-book indexes will have active links so that when you click, you jump to the most relevant section of the book, with the selected term highlighted. Then you can click on a search bar to get to related subjects. Today, we have only simple character-based searching which is not very useful.

Many people just want to find something to read. There are thousands of sites to help readers discover e-books.  The next generation of iPads will permit opening several books simultaneously, so readers will be able to jump back and forth between them.

There are about 1.5 million e-books available today. Searching, navigating, and discovery will be highly necessary as that number grows. Keyword navigation, semantic referencing, and sentiment analysis will be used to help us move from simply finding some facts to discovery.  Epub3 will allow us to move beyond the book experience in ways we have yet to imagine.

In his talk on “Digital Lending Models for Public Libraries”, Giulio Blasi, CEO of Horizons Unlimited, described the Media Library Online (MLOL), a digital lending aggregator serving 2,300 public libraries in Italy with open access and print contents and including several different lending models.

Libraries are currently giving away music legally; is this possible with eBooks? “Social DRM” allows a single user to download the book and keep it forever.

The MLOL offers 4 major services:

  • Shop: libraries manage their collections and get e-book backfiles,
  • Customized library portal: a unified interface for searching, browsing, discovering,
  • API: Integrates with OPACs, external authentication systems, and includes next-generation features allowing embedding the contents of libraries wherever they want from the web, and
  • Cooperation: creation of consortia around any content collection. Service at national level allows any library to cooperate with any others.

Mary Joan Crowley, Librarian, Sapienza University of Rome, noted that for 600 years, the library has guaranteed the organized delivery of printed and other content, provided trained staff to support teaching and research needs of universities, and ensured that the necessary physical facilities were available.   But then that all began to change. Rising costs, networked environments that the library could not compete with, declining usage (people never start their searches from the library building and frequently not from the library website), and generational shifts (students want information immediately) have caused a significant change.  65% of a library’s budget typically goes for journals, squeezing out books. How can we compete with huge information providers?

We have a great brand and must find out how to evolve it into the 21st century. We may not be courageous enough to make the shift. Even though we have a service ethic, good reputation, and the trust of our community that has been built up over centuries, people will not come to the library any more.  We need to manage our resistance to change and direct it towards the critical application of new skills.  One way to do this is to engage our users by going where they are, joining their conversation and figure out how to find the information they want.  We must be content providers, not just suppliers.

The academic library is at the heart of the modern university, providing access, support, and services to its users. An e-book reader project with lesson-based content was started to serve customers not physically at the library. Although the e-book market is in its infancy, users are not; they are accustomed to downloading lots of content, content is evolving, and they want untrammeled access to all types of media. The reader project was successful; users  became part of the conversation.  As the library provided adapts to the changes in the value chain, it can provide incremental value in the ways shown here.

Crowley concluded her talk by showing the following adaption of Ranganathan’s laws.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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