Thursday, 29 October 2009

e-Books and Content Packaging

One thing I've noticed wandering around the bookshops of Cambridge is that they have started putting up Point-of-Sale marketing displays pushing e-book readers. I'm still not sure whether these will fly or not, though I can see the form factor is more accommodating than reading ebook content on a mobile phone or iPod touch, because I'm not sure what the future of the book is...

For sure, I'm a fan of books (our house is full of them, I buy them regularly, new and old, I borrow them from libraries (note to self: renew overdue library books) and so on), but I'm not convinced that ebooks will necessarily work like books when it comes to buying them. Just like I'm not sure that e-journals are necessarily like print journals when it comes to buying them. Becuase in an academic or technical context at least, books and journals aren't so much as read, as dipped into...

So for example, textbooks and reference manuals aren't necessarily read cover to cover - they tend to be dipped into at a topic, or problem level.

And journals aren't typically read cover to cover, nor are the papers within them necessarily read from start to end. Taking a leaf out of Peter Murray Rust's book, I've been chatting to folk over the last week or so and asking them how they read journal papers - a skim of the abstract, a quick look over the conclusions, and possibly a deep dive into a particular section seems to be as common a way as any.

So with a library purchasing policy based on buying (and lending) whole books, and subscribing to whole journal sets (not just single journals), how does this compare with the way the information contained within these content packages is actually referred to? Not very well, I think?

The origins of this idle thought lay in part with a TechCrunch splash earlier today about DeepDyve, also reported in DeepDyve — iTunes comes to Science Publishing:

("Article renting" - how does that sound to you?!;-) I haven't looked at the detail of this rental service yet, but with competitive pricing ("For just $0.99 per article, users of this 'pay-as-you-go' plan can rent and read a premium article from one of the many prestigious journals available through DeepDyve. Articles can be read multiple times for up to 24 hours.") I think I can see what they're trying to do... (which is to make the fee bearable for the convenience of accessing the content that is being sold... (that is, the convenience that is being sold...).)

Remembering the various debates around whether services like Google Scholar (and the ill fated Microsoft Live Academic search*) offered a comparable service to subscription databases in terms of the content that was being indexed, I wonder how well the list of publishers/publications that DeepDyve is indexing will stand up?

(* Hmmm.... seems that Microsoft has a research search engine for computer science literature? Microsoft Academic Search)

The TechCrunch post was presumably a lazy response (I hold TechCrunch in very low regard...) to a PR push (and this press release) from DeepDyve following the announcement of Safari Books Online 6.0, which offers subscription access into O'Reilly's online technical books content. (Disclaimer - I buy loads of O'Reilly books... And on the convenience ticket again, I know several members of HEIs who have taken out personal subscriptions to Safari to get round the limited access subscriptions that many institutions have to Safari.)

Looking round the O'Reilly site a bit further, their e-book offerings try to cover the range of likely candidate formats - mobi for the Kindle, PDF for laptops, epub for mobile devices.

In a tweet earlier today, @ostephens also pointed out there is a keen pricing policy on O'Reilly titles as iPhone apps

And as if to close the circle, there is also an appstore on the O'Reilly domain - O'Reilly Best iPhone Apps:

But what's this - no books category???

So where are we at? When it comes to ebooks, don't think of them as books... to get your creative juices flowing, it may be more rewarding to think of them as apps... ;-)

No comments: