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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

eBooks Make their Mark

After our highly attended Industry News webinar, many attendees expressed a great interest on what information we could share on eBooks. The amount of blog posts and articles we found on the topic was staggering. And it isn’t just the blogosphere blowing up with eBook talk. The newfound popularity of such digital reading devices as the Kindle, Nook, and iPad is influencing the way people obtain reading materials. More frequently, readers are choosing to download eBooks from virtual sources. And many major retailers—like Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart—are now offering devices to consumers. With eBooks becoming increasingly prevelant, it makes perfect sense that libraries are making every effort to fulfill the growing patron demand.

eBooks at a Glance

Sometimes referred to as electronic books or digital books, eBooks are simply published works in electronic form. To access eBooks, book lovers must download content onto a device, commonly called an eReader. There are dozens of eReaders to choose from, ranging in price from $99 to over $500.

Compatibility Issues
Consumers need to be careful when selecting from the plethora of devices. Publishers can encrypt eBooks in numerous file formats, which determines what brand of eReader will be able to display the text. To view an eBook, the eReader must be compatible with both the file format and the Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption of the file. Right now, EPUB is considered the standard eBook format. Sony’s Reader, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Borders’s Kobo Reader, Apple’s iBooks, Adobe Digital Editions, and a number of other reader devices and applications use it. Amazon’s Kindle, however, won’t read EPUB files.1

To limit eBook piracy, publishers use DRM software. DRM preserves copyright control of the digital version of books and restricts the ability to share eBooks to others. Additionally, DRM makes it difficult to put an eBook purchased from one company onto another company’s eReader. This means that Amazon Kindles or Kindle applications can only access eBooks from Amazon. However, as we mentioned in our previous blog story, Libraries, eBooks, and the DRM Debate, this makes it difficult for libraries to lend eBooks to their patrons because not everyone is using the same eReader with the same compatibilities.

If your library uses Overdrive to obtain digital material, use the graphic below to determine which eReaders are compatible with your library’s eBooks.

Libraries and Lending
The differences in devices and formats are a huge barrier to libraries. It is difficult to be knowledgeable on every eReader and every format. Despite these setbacks, libraries are still embracing eBooks as much as they can. Recently, 781 public libraries responded to a survey, The Growing Importance of Ebooks in U.S. Library Collections, from Library Journal. Of the libraries surveyed 72% offer an average of 1,529 eBooks.2 Additionally, according to the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study, free access to eBooks is up 38% from three years ago, and 66% of public libraries report offering library patrons free access to eBooks.3

eBooks and the Marketplace
Even though eBooks have been around since the early 70s4, they haven’t seen a spike in popularity until just recently. According to the Association of American Publishers, sales are up 193% to $263 million compared to a year ago.5 Last year eBook sales only comprised 3.3% of total book sales. However, this year, eBook sales make up 9% of the consumer book market. Additionally, an estimated 4 million U.S. homes have an eBook reader, according to Forrester Research.5

With holiday promotions and deals right around the corner, researchers expect sales for eReaders and eBooks to boom in the next few months. In a recent New York Times article, Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company, declared that “this is the tipping-point season for e-readers.”6 Currently, there are about 9 million eReaders in circulation in the United States. However, Forrester Research expects that number to grow to at least 10.3 million by the end of the year.6 In turn, eBook sales are expected to increase as well.

Statistics show eBooks are on the rise but their vitality is of great debate and speculation. While some blogs say eBooks are here to stay, others report that they will fade out just as quickly as they rushed in. For example, Nicholas Negroponte, former head of MIT’s Media Lab and founder of One Laptop per Child, only gives the era of the printed book another five years before eBooks take over.7 On the other hand, novelist Stephen King says, “People tire of the new toys quickily.”8 And vice president of marketing at Raincoast Books, Jamie Broadhurst thinks that print and digital books will continue to coexist. “People are going to continue to use print product when it is the best design at the best price and the best package, and switch to digital when it's convenient, but it's not going to be an either/or proposition," he says.9

What’s Next? 
As eReader companies try to stay on top of their competition, there will be constant technology upgrades to the devices. For example, just recently, Amazon announced that they will allow Kindle eBooks to be loaned between Kindle devices and Kindle application users. Users can lend their eBooks once for a 14-day period. Publishers will determine which titles will be capable of doing this, as not all eBooks will be enabled for lending. This is nothing new, though, as several other devices already have this capability.

Additionally, Barnes & Noble just introduced their new NOOKcolor. As the name implies, the NOOKcolor displays in color as opposed to black and white and has internet browsing over Wi-Fi. As other eReaders move in this direction, we may see enhanced eBooks debut. This variation of an eBook would not only contain the work in digital form, but also author interviews, videos, reading guides, internet links, and social networking applications. These enhancements, however, may drive up the low price of eBooks compromising one of their key selling points—cost.

Despite the increasing popularity of eBooks, their success in libraries may be hindered by inconsistencies between file formats and eReaders. Libraries will continually have to research in order to stay up-to-date with the latest technology and compatibility advances. Frequent CVS Midwest Tape’s News & Views as we will continue to track the latest eBook news as it pertains to libraries.

Does your library lend eBooks? What hurdles have you encountered with the format? Do you think eBooks are here to stay? Or do you think eBooks will fade away as quickly as they emerged?







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