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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Sony’s E-reader opens up, sort of

The buzz in the e-book world is all about Sony’s announcement this week of its forthcoming support for a more open standard of e-books, called “e-pub”:

From Gizmodo:

A firmware update scheduled to drop later this week will allow Sony Readers to use the .epub format, an open standard (with DRM support) that has the backing of several major book publishers. This means you’ll be able to get books from sources other than Sony’s own Connect store, which currently only has one third the titles of Amazon’s Kindle store. The Kindle, however, currently uses the Mobipocket format for its Kindle Store books, and does not yet support .epub.

More from PCWorld:

…EPUB. It is known more technically as “the International Digital Publishing Forum’s XML-based standard format for reflowable digital books and publications.” Many book publishers apparently are already publishing upcoming ebooks in this format and this is something Sony wants to capitalize on by making the Reader the first device of its type to support this. The Reader model PRS-505, starting next month, will be able to let users access ebooks in the EPUB format. It will also support, said Sony, Adobe ebooks with DRM protection as well as “the capability to reflow standard text-based Portable Document Format (PDF) eBooks for improved flexibility and readability.” These Adobe updates will be possible with the use of Adobe Digital Editions 1.5 software.

[For an earlier discussion of this standard, see my May 19 Post]

To paraphrase another, admittedly more significant milestone, that took place nearly forty years ago this week, “That’s one small step for a reader, one giant leap for e-books.”

Adopting an open format can only help accelerate the range of choices for readers, which in turn will help drive demand for more titles, and other documents that could be stored on an e-reader. Note that the E-pub standard allows for DRM to be applied after the conversion process, which makes it up to the publisher whether the content is protected or not.

It remains to be seen whether Amazon’s rumored Kindle 2.0 will support this standard. One piece of information was notably absent from all the hoopla around the Sony announcement this week. Sony recently made a major announcement about their corporate strategy and it contained the following quote:

Ensure that 90% of our electronics product categories are network-enabled and wireless-capable by the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011 (“FY2010”)

No mention this week about when the Sony Reader will have this capability. To my mind, this is the feature that most differentiates Sony’s reader from the Kindle. Despite Kindle’s less than elegant form factor and interface, the ability to download content wirelessly, at no extra cost, puts it miles ahead of anything else in the category. When does Sony plan to incorporate the wireless feature into their reader? (The PSP already has it, and so do a couple of their TVs.) Until they do, they will remain a distant second in the e-reader world, despite their adoption of a more open format of e-books.

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.