E-books in education: One publisher’s perspective

The Association of Educational Publishers sponsors a blog called: Publishing for the Digital Future, which is a collection of essays, articles and opinion pieces that analyze the impact of the digital age on the field of educational publishing. In a recent post, the CEO of Evan Moor Educational Publishers offers up a number of questions that are often asked by publishers thinking about moving into the digital realm. His answers to these questions provide some valuable insight into the thought process of publishing executives. The writer, Bill Evans, takes a decidedly optimistic view of the future of digital publishing, and its effect on the industry. Here are some excerpts  of the questions and answers he addresses:

1. How secure is the e-book format? How can I be sure that my intellectual property isn’t going to be e-mailed to 150 of my customer’s closest friends?

Before answering this question, we first have to ask: How safe is a paper and ink book? The truth is that with better and better scanning techniques and better and better character recognition, any paper and ink book can be made into a digital book in a matter of minutes. Whether it’s a paper and ink book or a digital book, publishers will have to be vigilant about protecting their copyrights.

2. Will digital books cut into my other sales?

That has certainly not been our experience at Evan-Moor. It has been our experience that it actually grows the sales of a book. We believe this is because we are serving a different customer–a customer who has not previously been served. However, if the format did replace the sales of a paper and ink book, it would still mean greater profits for your company. Without any costs of goods sold or the costs of incoming and outgoing shipping, more money drops to the bottom line.

3. How should I price an e-book?

I’ve always taken the position that I’m not selling paper and ink. Rather, I’m selling content. The publisher may be saving on the cost of goods sold, but the customer is also saving the cost of shipping. In addition, the customer gets immediate delivery of the product. At Evan-Moor an e-book and a paper and ink book cost the same.

6. What’s the future of the digital book?

Right now, most publishers (including Evan-Moor) are simply taking the production files we have for our books and transforming them into PDFs for distribution. To a certain extent this is a lot like putting radio shows on television. It really doesn’t take advantage of all the possibilities of this new electronic medium. There are lots of ways we could think about enhancing our e-books, including:

  • Providing a clickable table of contents to immediately get to the part of the book that you want to go to;
  • Giving the ability to annotate the pages with the teacher’s notes;
  • Allowing the teacher to customize the content for his/her class;
  • Adding elements to an activity or deleting them or perhaps even changing the spelling for territories outside the United States;
  • Selling chapters or even a few pages of a book rather than the entire book;
  • Selling compilations and collections of e-books in a bundle; and
  • Making the book whiteboard friendly so that the book is truly interactive. This might also include providing worksheets that now become self-correcting in the digital context.

8. What are the benefits to the ultimate consumer?

There are many reasons that teachers are going to want to buy supplemental materials in this manner:

  • Get the book immediately;
  • Do electronic word searching within the document;
  • Store the book so it doesn’t get lost, and even back it up;
  • Print exactly what you need when you need it;
  • Avoid shipping costs;
  • The teacher may have the ability to customize content for his or her individual classroom; and
  • Use the book on a whiteboard, as well as printing it out.

Now you might be a bit confused if you read the answer to Q 3 (“At Evan-Moor an e-book and a paper and ink book cost the same”) and attempted to reconcile it with the rest of the piece. This statement might be paraphrased as “Let’s not change our pricing one iota, despite taking 30-40% out of our cost base and not adding any value to the content”. It is symptomatic of the antediluvian philosophy of the publishing industry. This assertion is all the more ironic in view of the other promises of e-books that the writer refers to. If they took the extra step and converted to a reflowable text standard such as e-pub, then one might see the justification for charging the same price, because of the value added to the digital content. Clickable ToC, highlighting and annotating text, electronic word searching – now those are features that changing the nature of the book (and education) as we know it.  Simply converting files to PDF misses out on the ability to deliver on the prediction he makes in his conclusion:

E-books and digital content are not just a new way of distribution–this is a whole new way to think about educational publishing.

It may be a new way to think about it but they’re stuck doing things the old way.

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Scholastic 2008 Kids and Reading Report Results

This week marked the release of the bi-annual study of trends among kids and reading in the U.S. Some of the study’s findings are below:

  • After age eight, more children go online daily than read books for fun daily.
  • Two thirds of kids age 9-17 believe that within the next 10 years, most books which are read for
    fun will be read digitally – either on a computer or on another kind of electronic device. Eighty-
    seven percent of kids think people will be able to tag and share their favorite parts of books with others.
  • 77% of kids age 9-17 believe that in the next ten years, people will have all their favorite books stored electronically on a computer or another electronic device just like a music playlist on an iPod. It will be like a personal electronic library.
  • Two-thirds have read a book on a computer in the past year, and one-third had read one on a hand held device such as an e-book reader, iPhone, PSP, Blackberry, etc.

These findings merely underscore the conventional wisdom that kids born after 1990 expect to spend an increasing amount of time online, and take as a given that the web will be the source for nearly all of their information and entertainment as they enter adulthood. They started out with Gameboys and now they’re on iPhones. They like grazing, snacking and sharing, and this goes for their literary diet as well. Hence their penchant for portability.

Yet they’re not ready to give up on the dead tree format: they prefer books to digital versions by a 60-40 margin. In a few years, when e-books are as readily available as other content that kids are used to consuming on handheld devices, that ratio may well be inverted.

Sifting through the data for some positive trends, the Scholastic folks report the following:

  • Nearly two in three online tweens and teens have extended the reading experience via the
    Internet.
  • 37% of kids use the Internet to look for books in similar series
  • 27% go to book and authors’ websites
  • 18% go to websites with blogs about books or by authors
  • 16% are posting on chatrooms and messageboards about the books they read

The study does not offer any crosstabs based on income level; it merely states that the average family income was $58,000, well above the poverty level. It would be helpful if the data was broken down this way to make some policy recommendations about bridging the digital divide.

http://www.scholastic.com/aboutscholastic/news/readingreport.htm

Reading the fine print: “Amsterdam” on a Blackberry?

An interesting commentary on how e-books are infiltrating all sorts of gadgets appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal Portals column. Lee Gomes, in remarking that he was actually reading Ian McEwan’s novel “Amsterdam” on his Blackberry, observed: Contrary to all of my previous expectations, not only was I reading the novel on my cellphone, I was enjoying it, too.I had heard reports that Japanese commuters were using cellphones to read books. But I figured that was sort of the thing only Japanese commuters would ever see fit to do.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120830725738118045.html?mod=hps_us_at_glance_columnists

As a matter of fact, they’re not only reading them on cellphones, they’re writing them on cellphones as well. Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels in Japan, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging by subway commuters tapping away on their phones. Some critics dismiss these works as nothing more than electronic drivel, that will only hasten the decline of literary standards (although it could be regarded as a step up from that other infamous  Japanese genre – manga).

The point is that as technology evolves, so will the ways that  content is generated and consumed.  More  technology  invariably results in more content – or at least more efficient distribution of it. Witness the effect of Gutenberg’s invention of movable type, and its effect on the distribution of information compared to the ancient tradition of handwritten manuscripts. Few would question the printing press’s influence on the spread of knowledge and scholarship.

So, if novels are written and read on screens the size of credit cards what’s the problem if it leads to a rise in the number of consumers of the content? I’d be willing to bet that this format is not siphoning off a huge number of readers of Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Uncertainty.

As a certain social commentator once observed: a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. (Marshall Mcluhan, The Medium is the Messge, 1964)

More helpful Kindle links, and Welcome to the “Free” World…

The world of Kindle resources continues to expand. Here are two worth bookmarking, especially for aspiring authors and self-publishers:

http://kindlehomepage.blogspot.com/

http://indiekindle.blogspot.com/, which describes itself as “a resource for readers, authors, and indie publishers oriented generally but not exclusively around the amazing Amazon Kindle”. The blog is maintained by Stephen Windwalker, author of several books and articles about the Kindle. On it you’ll find links to an array of Kindle related communities and forums, including nearly two dozen sources of free content.

In a related story, Joe Wikert’s Kindleville blog (http://kindleville.blogspot.com/) brings up an interesting possibility in an item posted on April 3, “Will Amazon Ever Track This Sort of Data?”:

My sense is that most consumers feel their book-reading habits should be considered private. Of course, if you’re buying your books through an online vendor or using a member discount card at a brick-and-mortar, well, your habits are already being tracked. I’m talking about something much more granular than this though. For example, would publishers like to know what percentage of customers typically only get about 20 pages into an e-book before giving up and never reading the rest? Would reference book publishers like to know what topics tend to be the most viewed or what terms are most frequently searched for? Could these patterns have value? Absolutely. Perhaps that’s another pricing model that will find its way into the e-book world: You could pay one price for privacy where your activity isn’t being tracked or a lower price if you’re willing to let the vendor capture your habits and potentially sell the resulting data.

This is just the sort of approach that I’ve been noodling over to support the Kindles for Kids program. It would work like this: Deserving , low-income student gets a free Kindle, along with access to a site with free e-books to download. To entice publishers to make their content available for free, the recipient first agrees to download an app on the Kindle that logs data related to the amount of content read, (i.e. completed) along with a variety of other metrics of interest to both publishers and academics who collect data on adolescent literacy. After stripping out personal information, the data is uploaded and then aggregated and analyzed with a degree of granularity never before available. Sponsoring publishers use the results to tweak their marketing plans, and scholars use it to track student’s improvements in literacy tests.

This concept is alluded to in Chris Anderson’s seminal piece in the March 2008 issue of Wired, called:

“Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business”

(http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free/)

In it, he provides a couple of examples of offering free hardware and/or content in return for access to data or upsell opportunities. This model could be the key to a sustainable non-profit business. Stay tuned for more details.

One Million Books available for Kindle??

Since many readers are under the impression that the only content that can be obtained in Kindle format is that which is purchased from Amazon, the thread from the Kindle discussion board below sheds some light on the subject. The original post was made on Dec 20, and there’s been a fair number of replies since then, but the basic premise remains: Amazon is only one source for content, and the majority of non-Amazon content is free, or close to it. Link to original post:

http://www.amazon.com/Million-Kindle-books-available-now/forum/FxBVKST06PWP9B/Tx15UAKRX5252A/1/ref=cm_cd_pg_newest?%5Fencoding=UTF8&asin=B000FI73MA&store=fiona-hardware&cdSort=oldest

T. Beck says:  
Some have expressed a lack of content for the Kindle, here is what I have tried, and works (make sure you check the footnotes at the bottom):

http://www.amazon.com 95,000 or so titles, instant download, easy.

http://www.gutenberg.org 20,000 or so titles – mostly classics or things that no longer have copywrite. Multiple languages. Three are links to other sites that boast a total of 100k titles. ***, ****

http://www.worldlibrary.net 400,000 titles – classics, modern, government, multiple languages, all the ones I tried were free. Requires $8.95 yearly subscription fee, consider it the cost of a library card.*, ***, ****

http://www.fictionwise.com offers both unencrypted and encrypted .mobi files. Full range of reading and many free books as well. *, **, ****

http://www.mobipocket.com lots of titles, most you can find on amazon.com in the Kindle section for less.

http://www.webscriptions.net This is Baen books and mostly SiFi. None are encrypted, many are free, and can be transferred directly to your Kindle. Choose Kindle compatible for the download. ****

http://www.wowio.com uses .pdf format. **, You will need to register and can download up to three books a day, free. Only available to people in the US, due to copyright and licensing restrictions.

http://www.fictionpress.com 900,000 Mostly original works, as in unknown, normally unpublished authors. Some good, some not, take your chances, you may discover the next JK Rowling. Displays in text. Cut, paste and email to yourself, or save in .txt file and upload.

http://www.manybooks.net 20,000 titles or so. Has a Kindle format. ***, ****

http://www.mnybks.net – an extension of Manybooks above, but if you access it through the basic WebBrowser in Kindle, you can download directly to your Kindle, the way you would an Amazon book. Choose the Mobipocket format.

http://www.feedbooks.com Share books, self published books and a make it yourself newspaper. With a little manipulation of the tools below, you can get your own newspaper, you could probably even directly email it to your Kindle in the morning if you allow that site to send you stuff. You will need to register, but there is no cost. There is now a “Kindle Download Guide” from http://www.feedbooks.com includes links to many classics, including many in foreign languages.

http://www.ccel.org Christian centered works. Available in pdf, word, and text, all readily transferable to your Kindle.

* They save as .pdf files that you can email to your Kindle. It sees the .pdf as a file of words, not pictures of words, so it can be resized and adjusted just as any other ebook. Download the book to your PC, and email that file to your Kendle, or freekendle@kendle and load through the USB cable if you want to save the 10 cent conversion charge.

** For the encrypted ones in .mobi, a tool can be used to allow the kindle to see it. This tool does not make a copy of the book, merely adds a flag so that the Kendle can display it (it would be hard to call this a violation of copywrite or use conditions since both formats are amazon’s). The tool and directions on how to use it are at: http://igorsk.blogspot.com/2007/12/mobipocket-books-on-kindle.html

*** Site runs on donations

**** Can be downloaded directly to your Kindle when it is plugged in as an external storeage device, simply specify the Kindle folder when selecting where to put your book.

Chicken/Egg dilemma: Textbook publishers rejected by the digital world?

In an article appearing in the March 10 issue of  the Michigan State U student paper, the author quotes a couple of publishing industry executives with diverging observations on the future of e-textbooks on college campuses:

Some of the weight of textbooks and course packets could be lifted off the backs of students if some textbook publishers have their way. Electronic or digital books, known as eBooks, could eradicate the need for students to carry around textbooks and, in turn, put texts into a slim device or laptop computer. Tom Stanton, director of communications for McGraw-Hill Education, said his company offers more than 1,000 digital textbooks — most at half the cost of traditional print counterparts. “Today’s eBooks offer a variety of features that enhance the learning experience,” he said. “For example, many of our eBooks are fully interactive, with audio, video, full search and note-taking capabilities.” Despite the extra features of digital books, they are not being adopted everywhere. Evan Schnittman, vice president of business development for Oxford University Press, said the textbook world has tried to reach out to the digital age, but has been rejected. The resistance is partially attributed to professors choosing books, Schnittman said, but it could be because of publishers trying to pass off eBooks on a group without a standard eBook reader.  “Textbooks have been a real challenge as an industry,” Schnittman said. “You would think that the most wired group in the world (students), would be the first to adapt (to eBooks).”   He said e-readers available now aren’t as multifunctional as publishers would like. “There’s no interactivity,” Schnittman said. “If you highlight a word, you can’t get a definition or get a video explaining the subject.”

http://www.statenews.com/index.php/article/2008/03/screen_reading#comment12093

It seems from these comments that the lack of a standard reader provides the publishers with a convenient explanation justifying their reluctance to migrate to a digital world. Why should they do anything to hasten the arrival of a day when their monopolistic pricing practices are threatened by the open-source community? (or at least the world of digital content, which generally carries lower margins than hard copies.) One is reminded of the effect the development of the standard gauge in the railroad industry had on interstate commerce back in the middle of the 19th century (which is when the current publishing industry got its start). Prior to a common railroad gauge being adopted by the dozens of different railway companies around the country, goods could only be moved a short distance before they needed to be transferred to a different size freight car. Once the standard gauge was adopted, a single freight car could be transported across the continent without its contents having to be transferred, thus bringing shipping costs down.  The development of the standard gauge railroad is recognized as one of the catalysts underlying the USA’s rise to the world’s largest economy by the end of the 19th century.

Maybe Amazon should be giving Kindles away to every high school and college student for the next five years…(or at least do volume license deals with every college in the nation). Why let the publishers dictate, (or inhibit) the standard? Let the market speak!

Cracks in the (UK’s) Publishing Industry’s Armor…

There are some signs that the publishing industry is slowly beginning to get one foot out of the 19th century and into the 21st century. In an item under the headline “Fiction for Free from Penguin”, theBookseller.com reports:

Penguin is to offer free downloads of the first chapter of every fiction title it publishes.The publisher has been trialling its “Penguin Tasters”, making PDF downloads available from selected novels via its website, for the past six months. It currently has the first chapters of over 50 titles available for download onto computer screens, iPhones, Palms and Blackberrys. The publisher says the decision to include all fiction in the scheme as of next week is “a 21st century version of what Allen Lane set out to do when he started Penguin-making good quality contemporary fiction available to everyone”.

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/54558-fiction-for-free-from-penguin.html

In a similar vein, the same site posted this item:

Random House chair and c.e.o. Gail Rebuck last night welcomed digitisation as a liberating force for books—but said it was inevitable that it would transform the book publishing industry. Rebuck compared current digital developments to the advent of moveable type in the 15th century, and argued that book publishing faces a time of great challenge but also “unprecedented opportunity” which will free the book to reach new audiences in new ways. Rebuck warned against complacency around e-books, describing them as a phenomenon that traditional publishers must take seriously. She also stressed the need for vigilance over copyright, not just in the interests of publishers but most especially for writers. However, she said that ultimately it did not matter if, in 2050, a writer is read in a traditional paperback or a hand-held device. “As a publisher, I am happy to supply either to customers, and the essence of what I am selling will be the same, whatever the technology transmitting it. I think there is an irreducible quality to reading that means the book will never die.”

And in a hint that the Kindle and Sony’s reader are coming to the UK, theBookseller reports:

The two biggest publishers in Britain are to offer dozens of likely bestsellers to read on a hand-held screen this autumn in a sign that, after many false dawns, the electronic “ebook” may finally have arrived, reports the Sunday Times. Two rival devices due to come on sale in Britain over the next few months – Sony’s Reader and Amazon’s Kindle. Random House and Hachette, which together control just over 30% of the British book market, are to offer downloadable versions of titles by authors ranging from Delia Smith to Ian McEwan and Michael Parkinson. Every other major publisher is drawing up plans to follow suit, pitching the books at just below the price of a hardback, according to the piece.

But in this article describing Penguin’s decision to sell its audiobooks DRM-free, it’s apparent that the suits at the big publishing houses are starting to pay some attention to the digital revolution. Quoted in the Guardian, the CEO of Pearson, Marjorie Scardino, said last week:

“I don’t think we can be worried about every incursion from electronic selling and electronic use. We have got to think about what the future is going to be and look at how to experiment with it”. Scardino admitted that another potential electronic version of literature – digital books or e-books – has yet to take off because there is still no attractive digital book-reading device. Last year Amazon tried to revitalise the market with the Kindle, but Scardino reckons it “is not quite there yet, and I think we are still waiting for that piece of kit. It’s like downloadable music – iTunes came first but without the iPod I think that would not have really mattered.”

OK, it’s time for a short history lesson here. The iPod was introduced in 2001, although there were other MP3 players on the market at that time. Music sales peaked at $16.7B in 2000 and fell by over 30% by 2006. Whether or not Amazon’s Kindle will turn out to be the iPod of ebooks is unknown at this stage, but one thing is clear: the traditional model of publishing using dead trees and glue is going to crumble over time. Ever hear of of a company called Harms, Witmark & Remick? They were the largest sheet music publisher in the US in the early 20th century. In 1929, they were bought by a “new media” company, Warner Brothers, because the introduction of the grammophone led to a decline in sheet music sales. Can you spell Deja Vu?