Who is Smik?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What is an e-book?

Searching out e-text book initiatives in Australian educational institutions, particularly schools, has led me to the conclusion that in some cases we are not using the same terminology and that there is a wide spectrum of what people mean by the term e-book, depending on where they are coming from.

I like this definition from Wikipedia:
An electronic book (also e-book, ebook, digital book) is a text and image-based publication in digital form produced on, published by, and readable on computers or other digital devices. Sometimes the equivalent of a conventional printed book, e-books can also be born digital. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines the e-book as "an electronic version of a printed book," but e-books can and do exist without any printed equivalent. E-books are usually read on dedicated hardware devices known as e-Readers or e-book devices. Personal computers and some cell phones can also be used to read e-books.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-book (check the link for further information)

What I like about that definition in particular is that it points out that an e-book is usually read on a dedicated device, and I would add to that, that the e-book can be read off-line.
In Australia where good bandwidth is still a pipe dream in some areas, this feature is really important. Anything else assumes that the device will have 3G connectivity rather than wireless.

It appears that some publishers are supplying what they call "e-book versions" of existing text-books on CD for installation onto netbooks or laptops. The cost is basically the same as a print version of the text, and in fact, in some cases they say they are throwing the CD in for "free", as a justification for charging the same.

Another the scenario is the one where the publisher is supplying a pdf of the text to the school at "half-price". They are supplying the school with a limited download (number of copies) of the pdf, and the school has agreed that the pdf will expire at the end of the academic year, and in the following year they will need to pay the same licence fee. Once again it does not seem to me that this is really an e-book. The responsibility for downloading the pdf to the student laptop/netbooks has been thrown on to the school and the netbooks require Adobe software for the e-books to be read.
Another version of this is the publisher supplying the school with a list of codes which enable the download of a pdf to an individual computer.
Where the publisher is supplying the pdfs at "half-price", they will recoup the profit margin on supplying the books over 2 years, and then continue to reap profit in ensuing years.  I can't see any ongoing costs for the publisher unless they are promising to update the e-book on an annual basis.

Here are my calculations:

Scenario 1: continue to buy paper books
The school buys 200 copies of a paper text book at $60 per book - the cost is $12,000
Under normal circumstances these text books will last 4-5 years.
If 4 years, the cost is $3,000
Scenario 2: embark on the e-book scheme
Year 1: Buy 200 "digital versions" @ $30 = $6,000
Year 2: Buy 200 "digital versions" @ $30 = $6,000
At the end of this period the school has nothing to show for $12,000, no books to hand on, no stocks on the shelves.
They will continue to pay $6000 a year for the scheme.
At the end of 4 years the cost has been $24,000

The other e-book scenario that is beginning to emerge is the "cloud computing" one where the e-book is supplied online and is never downloaded to the device.
The recipient's "library" is admittedly always available online but again this scenario assumes "always-on" connectivity and good to high bandwidth.

What are your thoughts?

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