21st-Century Lending Libraries: Books in a Cloud?

Article excerpt

The emerging ebook industry is built on the well-established base of quality reading products that has existed since Gutenberg first turned books into a mass market opportunity with movable type. Book publishing is a mature industry producing quality products for a strong, reliable customer base served by a clear, efficient distribution system.

One of the clear hallmarks of ebooks has been the expansion of consumer options. Content is no longer tethered to the printed page any more than it is chained to library walls. Today, consumers can buy hardcover, paperback, e-reader, or other device-delivered service or as snippets through Google Books, publisher sites, Amazon's "Look Inside," and similar services. Publishers are beginning to test options for content delivery--as, increasingly, are authors themselves. Yesterday's publishing system is dying, today's may be quite transitory, and no one can predict the future of publishing with any certainty. All we know for sure is that, today, we have unprecedented consumer choice.

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Choice is wonderful, but sometimes trying to serve these markets, with so much ongoing change in the book world, can be very challenging. J. J. Keller & Associates' Webb Shaw sees strong value to the growing, diverse ebook marketplace. "One of the most significant effects of the internet as a whole has been to bring choice to the market. Every segment can purchase and consume goods--which, for the sake of this discussion consist of intellectual property--in the way that makes the most sense to that segment. I think there will continue to be differences in the way different groups consume books." Each segment is able to grow and have their unique preferences represented in their mix of products and services.

"The providers that deliver the content and functionality people want--when and where it will do them most good--will win. That might not be a single device, app or platform," Shaw believes.

"The publication time-lag between release of print and ebook is narrowing," notes Ann-Marie Breaux, vice president of academic service integration for YBP Library Services. "When we first started profiling ebooks simultaneous with print a few years ago, we were seeing about 10-12% offered both formats, and today that is about 20-25% of new titles each week. The output of ebook formats is still small compared to the broad universe of print titles. There is also an upward trend in simultaneous ebook publication along with the print versions. This varies by publisher more than by subject areas." YBP provides libraries with one-stop acquisitions services with access to more than 4 million titles in its integrated database.

"Publishers have been protectionist toward their print sales," Breaux continues. "Most academic publishers now see that they need to do ebooks as well as print. Some of them know what they are doing and have everything in place. Some are still working to figure out how to proceed. The two big University Press projects--Project Muse and JSTOR--are examples of how some presses are working together, and getting themselves organized. These publishers are realizing that it might be easier to work as a group than for each of them to figure it out on their own. Smaller presses know that they need to move in this area but, generally, haven't figured it out yet."

"Publisher-based ebook platforms are intended to allow for integration across all of the products--journals, books, etc.--produced by that publisher for enhanced discovery," Breaux observes. "Leading systems include Springer, Wiley, Elsevier and Sage. Most publishers, however, also allow thirdparty integration with general book aggregators (such as YBP which handles both print and electronic versions), as well as with some of the ebook integrated platforms. Specialized services, such as Books24x7, have arisen to serve the needs of specialized vertical markets. …