Ebooks picture It seems that in 2010 we have been finally witnessing the “tipping point” for e-books, with more and more libraries making a positive choice to purchase e-books instead of print editions.  Do publishers’ business models make this migration easier for libraries to implement, or actually place obstacles in their way?  E-book collections versus individual title selection; annual subscriptions versus one-time purchases; simultaneous users versus unlimited site-wide licensing; availability or not of online textbooks … We asked librarians from three very different institutions for their views. Read what they said and add your own opinions below.

“I believe there are some interesting e-book models available, but there is still room for improvement with both cost and ease of purchase”

There is no doubt that our patrons desire more and more online resources including e-books. At the University of Kentucky, we have purchased e-books for several years from a variety of publishers and vendors both as collections and title-by-title.

Recently our university trialled a new process for ordering e-books from a single e-book platform that was as simple as ordering print books. I believe this will become a popular choice for our busy collection managers who wish to purchase books title-by-title and I hope more platforms/companies will be approved in the future. For e-book titles that are more or less the same price as the print titles, it is usually an easy decision to select the online format. However, it is much more difficult when e-book titles are four or more times the price of the print version.

For e-books available by subscription, there is another set of problems for those of us with limited recurring funds for such purchases. So, for CAB e-books many of us still need to purchase them title-by-title instead of by subscription. I believe there are some interesting e-book models available, but there is still room for improvement with both cost and ease of purchase.

Valerie Perry
Agricultural Information Center, University of Kentucky

“We are hindered by the current e-book business models”

Over the past few decades Wageningen University & Research Centre Library has succeeded in developing a very good digital library with an excellent package of bibliographic databases and a huge number of e-journals. Doing the same with e-books would be a logical and necessary next step. Researchers and students have become used to information being available in a digital format.

However, we are hindered by the current e-book business models. Many publishers offer only collections or packages of e-books. These packages are too expensive and offer a lot of titles not of any interest to us.  We need to be able to buy on a title-by title basis. But even when publishers offer this option there can be restrictions: for example, you may have to order a set of 20 books first before you can order single titles. This causes an unacceptable delay in supplying those books to our users.

Publishers still show that e-books are only a derivative of print books by creating a time-lag between print and digital publication. In many cases it’s not even clear whether there will be an e-version or not, let alone when it will be available.

Pricing policy is often unclear as well. For our core collection we prefer to purchase, but many publishers use subscription models. E-book platforms might offer a solution for some of these problems, as they offer the single purchase option and you can choose from a large variety of publishers. But they still lack functionality and have more user restraints than publishers do.

There is still a lot to win in this field. Publishers have to realize that have to do more in this market: better business models, better pricing, better and more functionality. If they don’t the scientific e-book will never mature and will disappear.

Corrie van Zeist,  Ger Spikman
Wageningen University & Research Centre Library


“Now that there is a variety of purchasing models … it is much easier for us to buy e-books and to know that this is not an ongoing financial commitment”

There have been a few drivers for us in our decision to purchase more e-books.  One has been the purchasing model: when we had to pay for an annual licence per simultaneous user it wasn't always financially viable for us to buy e-books.  For some titles one simultaneous user annual licence was more than the cost of five print copies. Spending like this was especially hard to justify at a time when we were cancelling journals, and in some cases databases.

Now that there is a variety of purchasing models, such as the one-off purchase (as in the CABI e-books archive) or 'pay as you go'-type option, it is much easier for us to buy e-books and to know that this is not an ongoing financial commitment.

Another driver for us has been the increase in online-only courses which the College is providing.  To support these courses we have been looking to buy more material in online formats and purchasing e-books is an obvious way to do this.

Our staff and students are not always on one site and having e-books allows them more access to the library material.  E-books are useful for vet students engaged in extra-mural studies and provide all users with access to library materials when they can't get to the library.

We are still buying print copies of books though.  We may buy one fewer print copy and buy an e-book as well, but at the moment we're not changing fully to e-books.  The students still like to use the print books but they do appreciate the e-books as well.  My colleagues in the Medical Libraries ran a survey of their students' views of print and e-books and the overwhelming view was that the students liked having access to both formats.

Fiona Brown
Veterinary Library, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh

Please add your opinion to this article, post your comments below.

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