ONLY 2 YEARS AGO,
I characterized electronic books as "A New Publishing Revolution" (ONLINE,
July/August 2000, pp. 14-28 and September/October 2000, pp. 18-36). In
2000, the e-book market was awash with a sense of optimism. Rosy predictions
were widespread, a plethora of companies had started, and a "Gold Rush"
mentality abounded. It seemed reading e-books would soon be as simple and
routine as using a PC to read e-mail. Kelly Franklin, writing in a special
e-book issue of Against the Grain (December 2001-January 2002, pp.
20-22), characterized e-books as the "shot heard around the publishing
world," forcing publishers to reevaluate their products and services and
determine if and when they should enter this new electronic marketplace.
Because the e-books
field tends to be marked by rapid changes, keeping current with the events
and the literature can be difficult. Fortunately, some excellent resources
are available to help. Of particular importance are Clifford Lynch's outstanding
article ("The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World,"
Monday, June 2001) [http://firstmonday.org/issues/
which, if you can read only one article on e-books, is the one to select,
and Walt Crawford's monthly newsletter Cites & Insights: Crawford
At Large [CICAL, http://cical.home.att.net],
which does an excellent job at reviewing current literature and developments
in e-books (as well as other technological areas). A recent issue of Library
Hi Tech (Volume 19, Number 4, 2001) contains a "Special Section on
E-Books"; some of the articles contain updates on the issues discussed
The complete bibliography
for this article and some other resources can be found at the ONLINE
magazine Web site for this issue [www.onlinemag.net/jul02/ebooksbib.html].
over a year ago, some astonishing e-book growth rates were predicted by
market research firms. Jupiter Research predicted that there would be 1.9
million users of e-books by 2005. IDC said that the U.S. e-book market
would grow from $9 million in 2000 to $414 million in 2004, and Forrester
Research predicted a revenue increase from $383 million in 2000 to $7.8
billion (!) in 2005. These are large numbers indeed, and the three market
research firms companies making them are well known in their field. But
in this case, the firms missed the mark. To be fair, these numbers may
apply to print-on-demand as well as e-books.
It is now apparent
that the e-book shot missed its mark, and the e-book revolution has fizzled.
Indeed, it never really got off the ground. The marketplace did not develop
as originally predicted. Many players fell by the wayside, and others are
now under the control of new owners. Attendance at the fall 2001 National
Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) e-book conference was down
by 50 percent. In these respects, e-books are representative of the recent
collapse of the dot-com market.
But despite all
the gloom and doom surrounding them, e-books are not dead. Indeed, some
e-book market segments appear to be stirring to life. A few e-book companies
are growing and achieving profitability. The e-book picture has become
clear enough that it might even be possible now to draw some reasonably
accurate predictions about the future.
When e-books first
appeared, they seemed to be the fulfillment of an old dream—read your favorite
book anytime, anywhere. Optimism quickly grew, and there was a rush to
develop reading devices for them. (Other platforms also were introduced,
but the lion's share of the attention was focused on the dedicated devices.)
The result, often seen as new technologies emerge, was that too much emphasis
was placed on the technology. Some people even began characterizing the
dedicated reading devices as e-books, confusing them with the content
accessible via the devices, as Clifford Lynch points out ("Electrifying
the Book, Library Journal Supplement, October 15, 1999, pp. 3-6;
January 2000, pp. 24-27).
The emphasis on
the devices spurred further intense and costly development efforts, and
there was a rush to bring the products to market, accompanied by unrealistic
market expectations. Many of those early devices had very poor image quality
and monochrome displays. E-books meant for reading on PCs or hand-held
devices were also limited by the quality of the screen. Little thought
was given to the user interface, which books might be appropriate to digitize,
and the appropriate markets where e-books would have the best chance of
success. Most people don't like to read from a screen, and it will be extremely
difficult to change that perception
Other events contributed
to the demise of the e-book market. Pricing varied widely. Finding and
downloading e-books was time-consuming. Many e-books require a reader to
access them. But the critical mass of content was not available, resulting
in little justification to acquire a reader. Many of these issues mirror
the development of online databases in the early 1970s.
The e-book market
is littered with the wreckage of failed ventures, and with some justification,
one might think that it is approaching total collapse. Walt Crawford ("Tracking
the Ebook Vendors," EContent, August 2001, pp. 50-51) revisited
the list of
and products in the e-book market that I compiled the previous year and
tabulated the status of each company as it was then. According to his count,
two companies never got started; two were absorbed by other companies;
four appeared to be alive and growing; and the other nine were little more
than Web sites with no evidence of activity. Clearly, this is not the sign
of a healthy industry!
one of the highest-flying and most active players in the e-book marketplace.
Mimicking the circulation model of a library, it sold its product to libraries.
Users could "check out" an e-book, access a host server, and read it on
their PC. After the "circulation period" expired, the server no longer
allowed the user to access the book, and it became available to be accessed
("checked out") to other library users.
appeared to be well on the road to success. It was scanning and adding
thousands of books a month. It had even begun the first steps toward an
IPO. When the dot-com market collapsed, netLibrary's fortunes went into
free-fall. The IPO was cancelled, many employees were laid off, checks
to publishers and suppliers began bouncing, bankruptcy was declared, and
a skeleton staff was retained at unemployment-benefit wage levels. Libraries
that had invested significant amounts in prepaid access fees became extremely
anxious that they would lose not only the service, but also all of their
stepped in, purchased the assets of netLibrary, and provided an infusion
of funding. The library community breathed a large, collective sigh of
relief, and, given the stability and deep pockets of OCLC, it now appears
that the netLibrary service will continue. The netLibrary acquisition moves
OCLC more strongly into the business of content acquisition and distribution
and helps broaden its service offerings. It will be interesting to see
what changes OCLC makes to netLibrary's business model and how it leverages
this acquisition in the marketplace. (One of the first moves OCLC made
after finalizing the purchase was to raise the fees for hosting and maintaining
claims to be "the first online library that provides 24/7 access to world's
largest online collection of books and journal articles in the humanities
and social sciences." Targeted at students, its service offers access to
over 45,000 books from over 235 publishers as well as 25,000 journal articles.
Users must read the works on the screen and cannot print more than one
page at a time, a restriction that helps prevent piracy.
Even at its modest
subscription fee of $19.95 per month (or $149 for unlimited annual access),
Questia has found it difficult to attract enough paying customers to become
profitable. Its future is uncertain; recently Questia laid off about half
of its remaining staff (the company had already gone through several previous
downsizings and are now down to only about 2 dozen staff members, from
a peak of about 300) and is looking for additional funding. Its lack of
material on business or the sciences is a serious limitation, particularly
for upper-division and graduate students. Many Questia users have complained
that the information on the system is outdated and does not have much depth.
a self-publishing unit of Fatbrain, before its purchase by Barnes &
Noble. Mighty Words authors set their own prices for their works, paid
a monthly hosting fee, and received a 50 percent royalty on sales. At its
height, MightyWords had about 30,000 titles and 50,000 downloads a month,
but the work receiving the most downloads brought in no revenue (it was
a free compilation of essays on the Bill of Rights). Faced with few real
sales and a lack of consumer demand, MightyWords shut down in January 2002.
Some major publishers
have departed the e-books market, such as notable players like AOL Time
Warner and Random House. And Borders, a large mega-bookstore with outlets
worldwide, tried to enter the e-book market and was unsuccessful. Borders
has therefore outsourced its e-book activities to Amazon.com.
IS THERE HOPE
Yes, there is—but
only if development proceeds carefully and with appropriate consideration
being given to the appropriate markets for e-books, the works needed by
people working in those areas, and the right market entrance strategy.
E-books differ from many failed products of the dot.com era, having significant
potential in some niche markets. Recent market events demonstrate the e-book
market is alive if not thriving.
Yahoo! entered the
e-book market and began to sell directly to users. Yahoo! offers trade
books from a variety of major publishers. With its large customer base,
Yahoo!'s entrance into e-books will be a significant market force.
are now listed in Books In Print. Maybe the publisher will soon
change the title to something like Books In Print and Online!
A few colleges are
experimenting with giving e-book readers to their students and allowing
them to download course materials. The University of Phoenix, a virtual
university, has taken a lead in this area.
The Open eBook (OEB)
Forum has begun a publicity campaign to promote the use of e-books and
has developed a standard that is coming into wider use.
At the 2001 Frankfurt
Book Fair, one of the exhibit halls had exhibits by a number of e-book
device producers, including several European ones.
Some e-book sites
have experienced significant growth spurts recently.
The Military Download
for information, not books] offers a selection of e-books to personnel
deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom. Authors and publishers donate the
Students are an
attractive market for e-books. Especially in some technical fields like
medicine, science, and law, textbooks are large and expensive, so e-books
make a lot of sense, as Mick O'Leary notes ("Ebook Scenarios," ONLINE,
January/February, 2001, pp. 62-64). This market is attractive because the
demand is large and continuous year by year. A survey taken on college
campuses by now-bankrupt Versaware, Inc. found that 62 percent of students
would prefer using their textbooks in electronic form, to save carrying
a load of heavy books with them (a frequent cause of back problems in the
student population) and to enjoy the enhanced functionality of e-books
(bookmarking, note-taking, searching). At the University of Strathclyde,
the EBONI (Electronic Books ON-screen Interface) project [http://eboni.clr.strath.ac.uk]
is seeking to "develop a set of recommendations for publishing educational
works [for academic markets] on the Web" by
evaluating existing e-book products. So far, EBONI has developed its evaluation
methodology and has compiled a set of useful links to e-books.
Aside from the
student market, there are other appropriate e-book markets:
It is important to
stress that the market where e-books are not appropriate yet is
consumers. Because early development was focused on the consumer market,
e-books appeared to be generally unsuccessful
Because of the ease
of publication, authors on the "mid-list" who must use small publishers
will find it easier to get their works published.
Travelers are candidates
for e-books because several full-length books can be carried conveniently
and easily in a lightweight device.
Users with special
needs can benefit from the use of e-books installed on dedicated reading
devices. The devices are capable of enlarging the image so that it can
be more easily read by persons with poor vision. These devices do not need
to be held open, and pushing a button turns pages, so users with limited
manual dexterity find the devices easier to use than conventional books.
In ebrary's [www.ebrary.com]
interesting business model, once a library pays a subscription fee to the
service, accessing, searching, and viewing of the content is free, and
only when a user decides to download or print something is a charge incurred.
It's a "Web-based photocopier" model—"read, then pay," rather than "pay
then read." Hoping that costs for smaller bundles of content will be similar
to charges for photocopying—in the 15-25 cents per page range, ebrary has
recently launched software tools with advanced searching and retrieval
features for libraries and publishers that enhance access to the content.
It has also made several alliances with major publishers.
Even though consumer
demand for e-books is weak and some publishers have closed their e-bookstores,
a number of publishers continue to make them available.
Simon & Schuster
is the latest entrant into the market. It recently announced the opening
of SimonSaysShop.com, an e-bookstore with 1,000 titles for sale as of mid-March
Baker & Taylor
(B&T) has entered into e-book distribution agreements with a number
of publishers and is developing an eContent Distribution (eD) operation,
which will deliver e-books to libraries and manage the collections of them.
Availability of eD has been announced for mid-2002; it will launch with
a sizeable number of titles from major publishers.
John Wiley is committed
to offering its entire list of professional and trade titles as well as
many of its scientific and technical books in e-book format.
a sensible approach to the e-book market, concentrating on aggregating
high-value business and technical books from leading publishers, building
a collection of 1,700 e-books from over 65 publishers. Recently, SkillSoft,
an e-learning company offering services to large organizations, acquired
Books24x7. This acquisition is a good fit for SkillSoft, allowing it to
offer a complete solution, including content, to its customers.
a subsidiary of William Andrew Publishing Co., provides a collection of
more than 300 technical reference e-books, handbooks, and databases, including
highly respected sources like the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics,
searchable through a Web-based interface and available by subscription.
knovel's collection currently comprises 150,000 pages and is growing at
15,000 pages per month. A unique feature is the ability to search not only
the text, but also the tables, graphs, and equations. Numeric range searching,
the ability to export data to spreadsheets or other analysis tools, and
multi-source searching show that knovel has designed its system to accommodate
the needs of its users.
knovel is a good
example of an e-book provider that identified a niche market (engineers
and physical scientists) and developed products especially attractive to
that niche. Indications of knovel's success in the market are its ability
to attract funding and its appeal to major companies such as 3M, General
Electric, Hewlett-Packard, and General Motors. knovel understands the need
to take a broad approach to several areas in an organization and to include
the library, training, production, and marketing departments in structuring
an integrated product appealing to a wide variety of end users. This strategy
has evidently been successful, because knovel is profitable.
a joint venture of O'Reilly Publishing and Pearson Technology Group, offers
subscriptions to titles from such major publishers and imprints as O'Reilly,
Addison-Wesley, Que, Peachpit, and Cisco Press. Safari recognized that
a promising segment of the e-book market is reference works in technology.
Safari's system allows full-text searching, so that users can home in on
their topic of interest quickly and easily. Safari builds customized "reference
collections" from the nearly 600 e-book titles it currently has available
for technology professionals. Safari mainly sells to corporations, libraries,
and other enterprises, although individual subscriptions are available
through O'Reilly and InformIT. For enterprise access, the price of access
depends on the number of books subscribed to and the number of users accessing
them. For individual users, the price of access can be as low as $10 per
model meets the needs of both publishers and users. For users, it represents
a serious effort by major publishers with staying power in the market and
it offers access to high-quality content via a model that users understand—subscriptions.
For publishers, Safari leverages existing distribution systems and maintains
their place in the value chain. Authors are willing to have their works
included in the Safari collection because the system can track usage and
ensure that they receive the compensation due to them.
is the publisher of the Physician's Desk Reference (PDR)
a 3,000-page pharmaceutical compendium distributed free to some 500,000
PDR contains the full text of the FDA-approved product
labeling for some 2,000 prescription drugs. Each entry is divided into
15 standard topics.
physicians are a highly mobile community, Medical Economicshas developed
mobilePDR, an electronic version of PDR to be downloaded toprescribers'
hand-held (Palm OS and Pocket PC) devices. This productprovides coverage
of the 1,500 most widely used pharmaceuticals (over 95 percent ofthe drugs
dispensed). The drug entries in mobilePDR are based on the sameFDA-approved
prescribing information found in PDR itself. You can arguethat mobilePDR
is not a true e-book because it includes only a portion of PDR;
nevertheless, it is agood example of an electronic product developed specifically
for a mobilepopulation. The medical profession is frequently mentioned
as an appropriatemarket for e-books, and mobilePDR is one of the first
e-book products developed forthis discipline.
continues to scan classics and books in the public domain, making them
freely available. According to its weekly newsletter issued March 8, 2002,
the 5,000th book, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, was added
to its site. The pace of additions has greatly increased; it is averaging
200 books per month.
Ruth Wilson [www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue29/Wilson]
traces the history of dedicated e-book reading devices. Two of the first
entrants into this market, Rocket e-Book and Softbook, were purchased by
Gemstar and merged. Their device technology was used to develop two new
reading devices, the REB1100 and REB1200, that are now sold under the RCA
brand. Other device makers have dropped out of the business. Dedicated
devices have more than their share of problems, including usability issues
and high prices.
offers three models of its eBookMan reader [www.franklin.com/ebookman]
that have the interesting capability of being able to read e-books aloud
(providing the user installs a $50 add-on package). The ebookman functions
as a typical hand-held device, but it has the attractive feature of a larger
screen than most handhelds. Franklin's devices, however, are not selling
well in the market; in a recent quarter, the number of them returned to
dealers exceeded the number sold in the previous quarter.
One of the more
interesting devices on the market is the goReader [www.goreader.com],
designed especially for students. Essentially a pocket PC enhanced with
e-book reading features such as a touch screen with enhanced resolution,
special e-book software (Microsoft's Clear Type and Adobe's Reader), and
a large storage capability, the goReader is expensive (list price is $1,150).
The goReader will never appeal to the general consumer market as long as
its price remains at its present level, but students (or their parents!)
may well be willing to purchase it because of its added functionality over
a conventional PC.
the education market, such as government and the military, have approached
the producer. These organizations see its potential for disseminating technical
and training manuals and for controlling sensitive information
In Europe, the
e-book market has developed more slowly than in the U.S.. A few companies
offer e-book readers manufactured either by themselves or under distribution
agreements, and some of them exhibited at the 2001 Frankfurt Book Fair.
Among these were the French company Cytale [www.cytale.com—the
Web site is in French] with its CyBook, and the Italian IPM-NET [www.ipm-net.com],
which has partnered with Microsoft to distribute e-books in Italy using
Microsoft's Reader software installed on a reading device called Myfriend.
Korea ebook Inc.
has introduced the hiebook—a reading device with features such as
audio storage and playback (as well as special music and MP3 capabilities),
note taking, e-book creation software, and image storage and display [www.hiebook.com].
Integration of these features represents a significant advance over the
early e-book readers and is an attempt to add more value to the devices,
making them attractive to a wider market.
PCs and PDAs can
be used for reading e-books. Not surprisingly, the two major developers
of software for this purpose are Microsoft and Adobe.
Although not directly
in the e-book publishing business, Microsoft is a force to be reckoned
with in the e-book market. Microsoft does not manufacture e-book reading
devices, but it provides its Reader software with ClearType fonts for a
variety of platforms, including PCs, laptops, and hand-held devices.
Adobe became a
player in e-books and a competitor to Microsoft by purchasing the Glassbook
software and transforming it into the Adobe E-book Reader. The Adobe e-book
reading software has become a second standard platform for reading e-books
on a PC or PDA device. Adobe's software, of course, is adapted to its popular
PDF format, which is widely used in the publishing industry.
were early adopters of e-books—over 1,900 public libraries purchased readers,
loaded a variety of e-books on them, and made them available for general
circulation. There have been some success stories: The Maroochy, Australia,
library, for example, reported that their six e-book readers were in constant
use, and 90 percent of the users said they would continue to read e-books.
The Rochester, New York, public library found that 67 percent of its e-book
users read one or more complete titles, enjoyed the experience, and reported
no eyestrain problems.
On the other hand,
the Manatee County, Florida, library obtained access to 20,000 titles through
netLibrary, but in the first 3 months, only 52 titles were used. The library
cancelled its contract. The Chicago Public Library (3 million cardholders)
had 72 e-book uses in a recent period, and the Denver Public Library (460,000
cardholders) had 212 uses. The best public library usage of e-books seems
to have been the Los Angeles Public Library (1.3 million cardholders),
which reported about 1,800 e-book uses per month in a recent period.
Clearly, the jury
is still very much out on the question of e-book use in public libraries.
There are several reasons why their acceptance has been low.
In contrast to public
libraries, some academic libraries have found good acceptance of e-books.
Texas A&M University reported that about 70 percent of its netLibrary
titles were used,Texas A&M, North Carolina State University, and Nylink
(a consortium of libraries in New York State) were all in agreement that
the most popular e-book subjects were computer science, business, and economics.
A California Digital Library study concluded that all the elements for
a viable e-book market are not yet in place and that the market needs standards
to ensure e-books are not software- or hardware dependent [www.dlib.org/dlib/july01/snowhill/07snowhill.html].
Titles must be purchased
for a specific device.
Generally, the library
staff selects the titles to be loaded on the device, and there is no capability
for users to make their own decisions on what titles they would like to
among readers and publishers' copyright restrictions mean that books loaded
on one reader cannot be transferred to another one.
Only a limited selection
of books is available.
Downloads can be difficult
Users are reluctant
to assume responsibility for the reader. (One library user said, "Please
don't give my child a $599 reader!")
Both the book and
reader must be cataloged. James Rettig, university librarian at the University
of Richmond, showed some data at the 2002 Computers in Libraries conference
on the increase in usage after e-books were added to an OPAC. His data
strongly showed that cataloging is vital for the acceptance of e-books
in a library.
Judging by the
and vendors of e-book platforms, it appears they view libraries as their
antagonists. Instead, they should view them as allies and an avenue
into a huge, untapped market of readers.
Legal issues continue
to bedevil the e-book market. Publishers resist distributing their products
in electronic form because of the potential for piracy. Publishers have
been active in attempting to develop encryption technologies that will
thwart would-be pirates, with varying measures of success. Some encryption
schemes have been cracked almost as soon as they appeared. Dmitri Sklyarov,
a Russian programmer who developed software that could read Adobe's proprietary
PDF format, presented a paper on his work at a conference in Las Vegas
and was quickly arrested and jailed under the Digital Millennium Copyright
Act (DMCA). His case, the first criminal lawsuit under the DMCA, raised
a major storm of issues, and his supporters even developed a Web site urging
his release [www.freesklyarov.org].
Sklyarov has now been released and permitted to return to Russia, but he
must return to the U.S. for a trial.
vs. Rosetta raises the question of the definition of a "book." The
point of contention is whether Random House's contracts with authors (some
of which are over 20 years old) extend to e-books. In a preliminary hearing,
Random House argued that the rights to the e-books are implicit in the
contracts, but the judge sided with Rosetta, quoting the Random House
Dictionary's definition of a book as "sheets of paper bound between
covers." Even though Random House has recently closed its e-book program,
it is continuing to appeal the case, and on March 11, 2002, its second
appeal was rejected "on procedural grounds." Rosetta is continuing to acquire
and publish electronic versions of classic books.
searched the Web and found 7,500 freely available copies of pirated e-books.
Authors included many best-selling authors such as John Grisham, Stephen
King, and J.K. Rowling. Most of the sites contain either hacked copies
of e-book files or illegally scanned copies of the text. In many cases,
authors of works illegally distributed on the Internet are completely unaware
of it and only find out serendipitously.
Legal issues worry
e-book users as well as publishers. Users feel that fair use should apply
to e-books just as it does with printed books. An owner of a printed book
is free to give it away, lend, or sell it at any time. Many e-book licenses
forbid such activities. E-book vendors, customers think, using the DMCA
as their justification, have effectively hijacked fair use. Howard Falk
("What Is Fair Use of E-Books?" The Electronic Library, 2001, pp.
349-351) calls such security measures "Reader Restriction Software." E-books
actually work in opposition to the basic raison d'être of
libraries, which exist to make content available and share it freely.
In his keynote
address at the 2002 Computers in Libraries conference, NIST's Victor McCrary
(who heads the OEB Forum) noted that a major key
to the survival
of e-books will be a dramatic improvement in the reading experience.
Although a shakeout
is occurring in the e-book market, Mark Twain's famous quote, "Reports
of my death have been greatly exaggerated," well describes the current
situation. E-books will survive, but not in the consumer market—at least
not until reading devices become much cheaper and much better in quality
(which is not likely to happen soon). Library Journal's review of
major events of the year 2001 noted that two requirements for the success
of e-books were development of a sustainable business model and development
of better reading devices.
The e-book revolution
has therefore become more of an evolution. We can look forward to further
developments and advances in the future.
T. Hawkins [firstname.lastname@example.org]
is editor-in-chief for Information Today, Inc.'s Information Science Abstracts
and Fulltext Sources Online.
letters to the editor to email@example.com.