I’ll be doing a session at the upcoming ScienceOnline 2011 conference on ebooks with David Dobbs, Tom Levenson and Carl Zimmer:

Here’s the description:

Sunday, 11.30-12.30

eBooks and the science communityCarl Zimmer, Tom Levenson, David Dobbs and John Dupuis

Ebooks are by far the fastest growing sector of the publishing industry. The New York Times is about to launch a best-seller list exclusively for ebooks. New systems, such as Amazon CreateSpace, allow writers to directly place their ebooks in the marketplace. In theory, they could do away with the need for a conventional publisher. Thus, ebooks could potentially disrupt traditional publishing in the same way blogging disrupted newspapers and magazines over the past decade. In this session we’ll survey the ebook industry, look some examples of science ebooks, and discuss some of the implications of this development. We’ll try to identify ways in which the science online community can take advantage of this opportunity.

My concerns are basically about access and business models. How do we get ebooks into people’s hands and onto their devices and who pays for it? The core issue seems to be that the publishers (and authors?) want to monetize every single act of reading. Libraries (and readers?) would prefer not to head in that direction.

Is this possibly emerging ebook ecosystem of business models just a last gasp attempt by content creators to grab all the cash they can before the Web completely blows up their ability to get anyone to pay anything for digital content? Or is it economically viable and sustainable in the long term for those content creators?

In other words, typical librarian’s point of view? Maybe, maybe not.

Some very rough notes on what I plan to talk about:

  • The librarian’s perspective is the perspective of buying stuff and providing short- and long-term access to a wide range of audiences.
    • authors write and “publish” ebooks but libraries have to get them into people’s hands, er, on their screens and in their devices
  • what are the business models for the range of “publishers” out there, from self-published to big mainstream trade publisher?
  • is the trade book industry headed for the same fate as the music industry? Why or why not?
  • ultimately, what’s the difference between an ebook and the Internet?
  • Scholarly vs popular & everything in between
  • Key concerns:
    • DRM

    • Open formats & standards vs closed, ie epub vs other formats
    • device dependence vs. device independance
    • long term preservation

Anyways, here’s some recent and not-so-recent posts on ebooks and online business models that I’ll be (re)reading to prepare for the session.

Needless to say, this only scatches the surface of the available material on ebooks and, more broadly, business models for digital content.

I might do another of these reading list posts next week. As well, Scott Rosenberg also does fairly frequent link dumps on ebooks.

Suggestions for more are, of course, welcome.

Comments

  1. #1 Misha
    January 7, 2011

    Librarians are hott.

  2. #2 David Dobbs
    January 7, 2011

    Excellent list, John, and thanks for putting it together for our session.

    One q I’m pondering: One could argue that a value-added ebook — a sort of book/app that added some high-quality media/app features to the text (I’ll discuss this at the session) — could be the ‘savior’. But will readers balk at that after the first wave, the way they’re balking at high ipad-mag costs?

  3. #3 breadmaker
    January 10, 2011

    I have the same concern about getting the ebooks to the people that actually paid for it. People love to share digital contents over the internet, perhaps a name or a unique ID should be printed onto the ebook and whoever found sharing it (by identifying the ID) should pay the fine or something?

  4. #4 John Dupuis
    January 10, 2011

    Thanks, David.

    One of the interesting things about the app model is that it creates an ecosystem where it’s probably too much work to pirate something. Probably close to 100% of the music purchased on iTunes could be downloaded for free. But iTunes is just more convenient for a lot of people. My 15 year old son, for example, has lots of time but not much money. Me, on the other hand, I have enough money to afford to buy music but I’d rather not spend my time hunting around for pirated music.

    On the other hand, it’s a lot more work to meaningfully app-ize most books than just to publish then as plain text. At the same time, turning books into apps will just work way better for some books than others. I’m sure many just won’t make great apps at all at reasonable investment levels.

    You also sort of end up with a situation where in many cases the programmers & designers of the apps will probably make significantly more than the original “authors” of the book. The authors will have the risk as ever in terms of making money off of any creative endeavours while the tech side it will be more of a regular job.

  5. #5 John Dupuis
    January 10, 2011

    breadmaker, if you could come up with a DRM system that actually worked…let’s just say buying books would no longer be an issue for you.

  6. #6 justin tv
    January 13, 2011

    I agree with John second comment…But I aways prefer to read from book which smells like book :)

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