What’s Happening With E-Books

Apple announced today the release of iBooks 2 which is supposed to revolutionize the etextbook market. 

The area of ebooks is very tumultuous in general but then add specialty books like medical texts, volume usage (libraries buy one book for many to use), license agreements, platforms, and easy discoverability and accessibility and it becomes a giant quagmire.  Additionally, I think major medical publishers have been v-e-r-y slow to get into the ebook market.  Oh yeah they had ebooks for a while, but those were produced similar to ejournals.  They were available online and accessible usually by desk top or laptop.  The Kindle started the movement but the iPad just turn things on its ear. 

Many of the ebooks medical libraries have bought are from established publishers like the AccessMedicine books through McGraw Hill, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins books through Ovid, or multiple different publisher titles through Rittenhouse or STATRef.  The one problem is that while most of these books are online, they are really only accessible via regular computer. The vast majority have not been formatted for the iPad or other platforms. (Interesting since Apple just announced they are partnering with McGraw Hill to make textbooks on the iPad, but it seems like they haven’t really done that with the Access textbooks.)  Now for some books not being optimized isn’t a big deal because they display alright using the iPad browser.  However even if they display correctly the publishers’ sites make it MISERABLE to access the book.  This was a major problem BEFORE mobile readers.  Librarians world wide for years bemoaned the difficulty their users had at finding and accessing their ebook packages.  The silos that publishers host their ebooks makes it difficult for library users to access titles. The problem hasn’t changed now that we have tablets, it has just gotten worse. 

The one saving grace prior to tablets was that many accepted that ebooks were accessible by traditional computers. But when smartphones came out people starting accessing the web using their phones.  They were beginning to access online resources via the phone when they weren’t near a computer.  Instead of walking down the hall they whipped out their phone.  The iPad just continued to ween people off traditional computers.  Instead of using smartphones doctors were using iPads and they were using them so much at work that the traditional lab coat got a make over to include an iPad size pocket.  People not walking to a computer to access the web, they have the web with them and they want their online texts.

In the past when I would talk to various publishers and library vendors about accessing their texts via mobile device (pre iPad and Kindle) they would smile and gently say that nobody wants to read a book on a phone.  Well I disagreed.  What do you think Unbound Medicine or Skyscape did?  They made texts (and other medical programs) available for handheld devices.  Originally they did that with PDAs now they have transitioned to smartphones.  Heck they have some of the major publishers, McGraw Hill, Elsevier, LWW, etc. on their site all ready to be used on a smartphone or the iPad (they don’t have Kindle or Nook stuff).  Yet the publishers, while trying to push their own silo suite of online books, have been slow to adapt to technology and user demands.  The writing was on the wall folks.

Medical librarians are left trying to figure things out.  We have the silos of ebooks that were difficult to find and access prior to mobile devices and now we are getting more users asking us for ebooks.  What do we say or do?  Do we tell them we have ebooks…sort of?  Yeah you can access it online but no it isn’t optimized for the tablet or smartphone so it may or may not be readable.  We have quickly moved from ebooks as simply online books on the computer to a portable information resource that can be accessed anywhere without lugging around a computer.

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