Monday, June 25, 2007

Ebooks 2.0

Ebook usage is up, but how are they used? That’s the Big Question that emerged from the “Ebooks 2.0” forum at the ALA annual conference in Washington, DC, which included reps from libraries, vendors, and a publisher. The publisher was Island Press, the vendors were Ebrary and Ingram Digital Group (MyiLibrary), and the libraries were National University and the University of Denver.

Brian Weese of Island Press said they know ebook usage is up but the problem is they don’t know how ebooks are used. That’s what’s holding publishers back. Most believe free content will bite into sales. He brought up the anecdote of a Stephen King book that was put up online in installments and readers were asked to voluntarily donate a buck on the honor system—but few did that.

How to distribute content without losing sales? Weese said publishers don’t want a PDF emailed around the world with no one paying for it. So fear is a major factor resulting in ebooks limitations. Publishers have experience with the hardback, paperback, and audio versions of books, but not much with the electronic format. They are waiting for someone to lead the way forward but no one has taken charge yet. What is needed is ebook usage information. They have received minimal feedback so far.

Rich Rosy of Ingram echoed Weese by saying ebook usage is up but they don’t know how they are used. Google Book project publishers say their print sales are going up as a result of their inclusion but they can’t validate that claim, he said. National Academies Press ebooks are available free online but their print sales are still high.

University libraries are doing studies on how ebooks are used and those will provide needed information to vendors and publishers, Rosy said. There are many platforms—but there is no ideal platform yet. Some publishers now include in their catalogs a statement like, “This book will be available in ebook format,” whereas before vendors like Ingram didn’t know what would be available. The timeframe is contracting—things are moving forward quickly.

The Next Big Question: How is the ebook really being used, Rosy said. Every vendor has stats that say ebook usage is up, but what does that mean? Change will be driven by librarians who will decide what purpose and role ebooks will play.

Leslie Lees of Ebrary said the development of ebooks is dependent on librarians and their tolerance, as well as trial and error. Some answers are emerging, such as the need for ebook approval plans to make choices. In 2008, ebooks will be integrated into approval plans with all the major vendors. The question remains: How does everybody make money with ebooks? He talked about Ebrary’s recent survey to librarians on ebooks and the finding that most patrons find ebooks not through Google but by way of the library catalog and website. Usability studies and usage statistics will drive purchase decisions.

A couple of the speakers didn’t have powerpoint presentations. They just stood up and spoke. I found them difficult to follow at times whereas if a slide is up on the big screen, I can always look at that. I can’t imagine getting up on stage in front of a roomful of my peers at a national conference and just talk without having cobbled together a presentation. I think it’s a matter of professionalism.

None of the participants was such great a public speaker that he could rely on just his voice to get his points across. One of the university reps spoke from written notes in a monotone. It was almost painful to try to follow along with him. Too busy to create slides? Then why speak? Having said A, you must say B. Very few people are so good that they can educate and entertain an audience without slides. I didn’t hear any today. I think it should be understood that anyone who is speaking should take the time to bring slides. It’s a matter of respect for your audience and professionalism as well. I’m surprised to see this isn’t the case!