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Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited
E-Books 2001 attracted a large audience of librarians and publishers to London on March 20, 2001 to find out about electronic books, relatively uncharted territory in the UK. Dedicated E-Book readers are difficult to get hold of over here; and the only e-library service with a UK presence so far is netLibrary, and they only started operating here in mid-November 2000. This intense day-long conference was organised by LITC, South Bank University, with further sponsorship from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and Dawson Books. Powerpoint presentations of many of the talks are available on the Web site, http://litc.sbu.ac.uk/ebooks2001/
Rick Lugg and Ruth Fischer of R2 Consulting, the first speakers, painted a sweeping and compelling picture of the Electronic book and electronic publishing scene generally, using interactive maps to illustrate features of the different sectors (http://www.ebookmap.net/). They were followed by three presenters from the major players in the E-Book or e-library market. Mike Dale from market pioneers netLibrary discarded his pre-prepared presentation, and simply demonstrated the power of netLibrary searching and tools, live through the net (http://www.ebookmap.net/ see also http://www.netlibrary.com). Carol Hughes described the service and market strategy of Questia, which is probably also familiar to Library Hi-Tech News readers (http://www.questia.com/). The scale and ambition of the undertaking are deeply impressive, especially as they have chosen to specialise in a relatively narrow field. Of particular interest to attendees were her diplomatic words about Questia's relationship with libraries; and to hear that Questia is talking with MLE vendors. It is still unclear if and when they will target the UK market.
The morning session was com-posed entirely of speakers from ebrary (http://www.ebrary.com/). Ebrary is a particularly novel business model, particularly interesting if the library can make money out of transactions! But librarians will want to know what content will be available, and of course the launch of the service has been postponed several times already. Ebrary says they are waiting to build up a critical mass of material in a number of subject areas, rather than risk launching with a disappointing service. Those concerned to see maximum choice in the market will wish them luck. It is disappointing, though, to learn that to use ebrary you must install a plug-in, always a potentially serious barrier to access.
The first speaker in the afternoon session was Michael Holdsworth of Cambridge University Press, who gave another very wide-ranging picture of how electronic content is being presented and sold in the academic arena from Fathom (http://www.fathom.com) and Blackwell's Headfiller (http://www.headfiller.com) to e-libraries (http://www.cup.org/). He was clear that PCs using the Internet rather than hand-held devices will be the dominant way in which people access E-Books, and that .lit and pdf would be dominant publishing formats. I noticed that a few days later at the London Book Fair CUP signed up to provide content to ebrary. Christoph Chesher followed by speaking about the publishers, Taylor and Francis' E-Book strategy to provide content in multiple formats to multiple distributors and not sign away their rights to any one intermediary.
The next speaker was Carolyn Rowlinson from the University of Stirling, who began by talking about two UK projects, Heron and Pelican. It was slightly disappointing that she did not really say how Heron would stand up to the US models (http://www. heron.ac.uk/). However, the following part of her speech on how libraries and librarians will select E-Book and e-content providers was full of insight. Libraries should expect to deal with multiple services, she said. In choosing services a major factor in choice would be what is the expected use multiple simultaneous uses for a key text, background readings or for reference? Is the full text required or are extracts sufficient? Other factors and criteria that the library needs to consider in choosing E-Book services include:
what functions are allowed under the licence (simple access, print/ download/cut and paste);
whether the total cost to the library is known in advance;
the comprehensiveness of collection;
value for money;
revenue sharing options;
value added tools;
Rowlinson also identified the tricky issue of whether it would be the library or perhaps academic departments that should be responsible for paying for e-library content.
Chris Armstrong of University of Wales, Aberystwyth gave the final paper. Revisiting earlier research, he and Ray Lonsdale have found little movement into electronic publishing by UK publishers since 1998. They commented on the weakness of bibliographic control of electronic texts. There were also some interesting insights from the JUSTEIS project on student use or rather lack of use of authoritative electronic sources (http://www.dil.aber.ac.uk/dils/research/justeis/jisctop.htm). JUSTEIS seems to show that in fact students use search engines, not library endorsed Web gateways and library Web sites, ignoring most that cannot be found through the OPAC.
Anthony Watkinson led the final panel session. Some of his own reflections are worth recording. He emphasised the different types of text, such as scholarly monographs or textbooks which would need different models of access and sale. So there will not be one unified E-Book market. He stressed that access not enhanced facilities is the most important thing about E-Books. Granularity of use of E-Books, he thought, would be the book, nothing smaller. Authors and publishers do not like reuse of fragments of texts.
E-Books 2001 was the best sort of event that sends you away buzzing with new ideas. I'm already looking forward to E-Books 2002; I hope there is one. This year there simply was not time to hear from all the parties in the E-Books publishing process, from authors and booksellers, for example. It would be interesting to hear something in detail on standards work, and a report on JISC working party activities. And by next year there should be reports from the first UK libraries using netLibrary; ebrary should be able to give us a live demo; and no doubt new players will have entered the market. We are also expecting exciting developments from Microsoft and Adobe.
Andrew Cox (email@example.com) is Senior Researcher, LITC, South Bank University.