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Experimenting with e-books

E-books have been around for a while now but publishers are still experimenting with different formats, interactive content, open access and business models, writes Nadya Anscombe


-books are changing the academic publishing landscape. For some publishers, e-books represent an additional revenue stream while, for others, e-books have enabled

entirely new business models to be developed (see box). The advent of e-books has enabled some companies to enter or re-enter the book publishing market, a market that may not have been financially viable with print. For several publishers, the introduction of e-books has meant a dramatic change to their business – but, for the majority, the change has been gradual. ‘The proportion of e-book sales started slowly for us, but is growing at a steady rate,’ said Sam Bruinsma, vice-president business development and e-publishing for Dutch publishing company Brill. ‘Of our book sales, 35 per cent is currently digital. For monographs and edited volumes only, it is more like 15 per cent.’

At Oxford University Press (OUP) UK, e-book revenues make up around 10 per cent of the total academic books sales revenue, according to Sophie Goldsworthy, OUP’s editorial director, academic and trade. She said: ‘We anticipate that this will continue to grow steadily in the institutional market as library and student resources move from print to electronic.’ When OUP first started making e-books

16 Research Information APRIL/MAY 2014

available, it involved a laborious process. But today the company says that e-books are fully integrated into its publishing process and it aims to make all its front-list titles available as e-books. ‘As OUP starts to publish more born- digital content, we will likely see the number of e-books published per year outpace print,’ said Goldsworthy.

Several publishers, including Palgrave Macmillan, currently offer some of their products as e-books first, with print versions available on demand. ‘E-books are now a significant proportion of our revenues (around 30 per cent), having grown rapidly in the last five years,’ said Hazel Newton, head of digital publishing at Palgrave. ‘Libraries are taking e-books more seriously and starting to put in place strategies for e-book purchasing. Our authors are also much more likely to ask us about e-books than ever before. All the indications are that this trend is set to continue, although different countries are adopting e-content at different speeds.’

Legislative differences Richard Fisher, managing director of academic publishing at Cambridge University Press, believes that state legislation is one of the reasons for this difference in e-book adoption. ‘Australia and the USA are very keen on e-books whereas Japan is not,’ he observed. ‘We find that it depends which parts of institutions are in control of purchasing – if librarians are in control then the transition to digital tends to be

‘Of our book sales currently 35 per cent is digital. For

monographs and edited volumes only, it is more

like 15 per cent.’ Sam Bruinsma, Brill

faster. But the e-book market is extraordinarily complex. While there is a global market, there is not a global route to supply. Our e-book sales made up around 18 per cent of our revenues last year and we expect this to grow to around 30 per cent in the next two years. But while e-book sales are definitely increasing, a variety of factors, such as different formats, different purchasing models and individual state legislation makes this a complex and fragmented market.’ The opportunities for growth mean that the situation is likely to get more complex before a

‘As OUP starts to

publish more born-digital

content, we will likely see the number of e-books published per year

outpace print’ Sophie Goldsworthy, Oxford University Press

consensus is reached as more companies enter the market to get a slice of the action. A notable recent entry is the Institute of Physics Publishing, which launched its e-book programme in October 2013 after an eight-year absence from the book publishing industry. According to Olaf Ernst, commercial director of IOP Publishing, the company sees e-books, not print, as the primary publication format for its books. ‘This means we are not constrained by the limitations of print,’ he said. ‘We use the newest EPUB standard, EPUB3, even on the chapter level. This has enabled us to give our authors the freedom to create relevant content rather than be constrained by a print template.’ These opportunities have, however, meant a steep learning curve for both the IOP and its authors. ‘The possibilities available in this arena have changed the commissioning and editorial development functions,’ said Ernst.


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