Handheld E-Book Readers and Scholarship
dependent on conversion order, where the books were ﬁrst processed as ePub ﬁles,
then converted to .prc/MOBI, the most efﬁcient approach according to every vendor
from whom we solicited a quote. Finally, XML processing was somewhat cheaper
than processing of OCR-derived text ﬁles, since tagging of the XML source already
represented a closer match to the ﬁnal output.
For the purpose of scalability, it may be useful to recalculate the per-title cost using
page-image titles only
and omitting the set-up fee. Since converting from OCR
text is more expensive than from XML, even without the set-up fee, for a sample of
three page-image titles reﬂecting the HEB collection’s average 370 pages and 10
illustrations per book, the per-title cost would be somewhat higher and comes to
about $266, or $133 per format. Larger-scale jobs would come with a price break.
Hence, if converting, for example, 300 average page-image titles, we estimate the
unit cost would come closer to about $116 per title per format, or $232 including
both editions, if the same conversion order were retained and both ePub and MOBI
editions were being created.
The estimate for ePub only would amount to about
$195 per title. (Again, since MOBI was derived from ePub, HEB currently does not
have an estimate for this as a stand-alone format.) These totals do not include OCR
scanning to obtain the source text ﬁles for page-image titles, since this step was
performed in HEB’s case before the books were uploaded to the online collection.
Therefore, producing a title suitable for handheld reading from a print source
without a preexisting digital ﬁle would add about $170 per title, based on HEB’s
regular preparatory workﬂow for page-image titles. Note that these calculations do
not include any overhead expenditures for project management, communication,
trafﬁcking of materials, third-party retailer fees or distributor discounts, et cetera,
and these would need to be added in by publishers according to their standard
accounting methods and breakeven calculations.
In HEB’s case, assuming a charge of $10 per download for each book, which
appears to be within an acceptable price range as per our survey results, production
costs would be offset at twenty-four downloads for the average page-image book in
our online collection if producing both the ePub and MOBI editions; for ePub only, the
cost would be offset at twenty downloads. For most presses this would represent a
relatively modest and achievable target ﬁgure, especially if course adoptions were a
possibility for the titles in question; again, however, these breakevens do not include
overhead and other costs, which would have a determinant impact on ﬁnal ﬁgures.
20. As mentioned, page-image backlist titles make up the bulk of HEB’s collection of now close to 2,800
books, which as of July 2010 also includes seventy-seven XML titles.
21. This number represents a realistic quantity for HEB, were we to pursue conversion of additional
books, as these would probably only include titles for which rights have been assumed or could be easily
obtained. The model for offering these for individual download would likely be HEB’s print-on-demand
program, which currently includes 390 titles. For more information, see
ACLS Humanities E-Book White Paper 3
DO WE EVEN NEED A VENDOR?
There is also the possibility for publishing entities of taking on the entire production
process themselves and forgoing employment of an external vendor altogether.
On the one hand, as alluded to above, oversight of and technical insight into
the conversion process may become increasingly challenging for publishers as
handheld reading devices and formats evolve.
Even at this stage, examining
or implementing post-prooﬁng corrections to handheld editions is difﬁcult without
more extensive staff training; as additional devices enter the market, and until one
standard emerges as predominant, publishers may simply not be able to keep
enough employees on staff who possess both the editorial expertise to be able
to function as traditional production editors plus the technical skills to oversee all
details of multifarious digital production. This seems in keeping with a general trend
in publishing toward outsourcing the majority of tasks requiring specialized skills
rather than continuing to employ in-house design or copyediting staff, for example.
Therefore, handing over production of titles formatted for handheld readers to an
outside vendor with greater technical knowledge may be the most practical course
for many presses.
Then again, in answer to this technological predicament now facing every publisher
and prospective publisher of handheld e-reader editions, a number of programs
have been developed to facilitate generation of ePub and MOBI ﬁles. Many of these
are available free of charge;
others are available for purchase.
Making use of
these options — especially some of the less reﬁned third-party tools — may require
a considerable time investment and in some cases would entail manual, piece-by-
piece reconstruction of books from existing Microsoft Word documents or HTML ﬁles;
nonetheless, the prerequisite technical know-how would be greatly reduced.
22. For an overview of predominant technical as well as other practical concerns for publishers, see the
Association of American University Presses’ report “Digital Publishing in the AAUP Community” (Winter
2009-2010), detailing results from a survey of ﬁfty-nine university presses and available here:
. Among other ﬁndings, the survey
indicated that “Business Model, Rights, and Resources are considered the greatest concerns in
pursuing digital book publishing opportunities” (page 6). Note that this particular report addresses all
types of digital publishing, regardless of format and platform. For another overview of the “biggest
challenges in bringing eBooks to the market,” among other statistics on publishing trends among 300 of
the company’s clients and other interested parties, see Aptara’s survey report “EBooks: Uncovering their
Impact on the Publishing Market” (http://www.aptaracorp.com/index.php?/eBook-survey1.html). Here
DRM-related concerns represented a problem for 16% of all participants, outweighing concerns about
cost and quality.
See, e.g., Lexcycle’s online guide listing a number of tools for generating ePub ﬁles:
http://www.lexcycle.com/faq/how_to_create_epub; the free Mobipocket Creator for Windows:
http://www.mobipocket.com/en/DownloadSoft/ProductDetailsCreator.asp; and the eCub tool for creating
both formats (though MOBI ﬁles require an additional third-party download):
24. For example, DNAML’s PDF to ePub wizard for Windows. This software is described in greater detail in
the article “DNAML Releases PDF to ePub Conversion Software,” Publishers Weekly (September 16, 2009).
Handheld E-Book Readers and Scholarship
Finally, some vendors are offering hybrids of these two approaches, in which the
(presumably more sophisticated) automated conversion platform is provided by and
housed on the vendor’s server rather than residing with the publisher. An example of
this is Aptara’s recently released eGen conversion tool, which can be custom-tailored to
match a publisher’s speciﬁcations and process a greater quantity of books at once (see
It is likely that many publishers, especially smaller university presses and learned
societies, will continue to struggle with this production workﬂow conundrum in the
future. The extent to which it is feasible for a publisher to take handheld conversion into
its own hands may in the end simply boil down to the number of titles to be published.
CONCLUSION: SCHOLARLY MONOGRAPHS ON HANDHELD DEVICES
PRINT VERSUS DIGITAL, ONLINE VERSUS HANDHELD
In spite of the expanding role of digital resources in scholarly research, a recent article
from Inside Higher Ed titled “E-Library Economics” addresses the prevailing reluctance
in academia to adopt electronic editions. Citing two separate studies by the Council on
Library and Information Resources, the article laments the lack of a universal e-book
standard not just for the convenience of an immediate readership, but also for archival
purposes — the latter being especially important to university libraries. In addition, one
of the studies reﬂects the problems experienced by both HEB staff and our survey
participants in working with our sample handheld titles, pointing out some of the
concrete drawbacks these editions entail in comparison to traditional print books:
Though e-books are poised to gain a ﬁrm foothold in higher education within
the decade, the authors predict, academics and e-reader vendors aren’t yet on
the same page. This is largely due to the fact that e-readers have not managed
to replicate certain aspects of the traditional book-reader’s user experience:
“You can do a lot with a print book: photocopy or scan as many pages as you
like, scrawl in the margins, highlight passages, bookmark pages, skip around,
read it in the bathtub, give it to someone else, make art out of it, etc.,” the
Rice researchers note. “Due to constraints imposed by some [Digital Rights
Management] regimes, readers of e-books may ﬁnd that they only can print a
limited number of pages, have to navigate awkwardly through the book, cannot
take notes or bookmark pages, and cannot give the book to someone else.”
While they enjoy the searchability of electronic documents and databases,
academics still prefer holding a book in their hands to read it.
It is important to note that the above passage does not differentiate between platforms
or types of e-books; the problems surrounding digital editions are attributed in equal
25. Steve Kolowich, “E-Library Economics,” Inside Higher Ed (February 10, 2010). Also see CLIR’s
subsequently released report, Lisa Spiro and Geneva Henry, “Can a New Research Library Be All-
Digital?”, Idea of Order, pp. 5–80.
ACLS Humanities E-Book White Paper 3
measure to handheld titles and online collections. Meanwhile, as HEB determined in its
own experiment, online books currently outperform handheld titles in several respects
that could be important to scholarship, such as being able to access and search a
vast collection of titles simultaneously. Then again, certain problems touched on in
the above passage are actually more pronounced in online titles, since unrestricted
portability and permanent “personalization” of titles through annotation and other
means, mimicking the characteristics of a print edition, are generally only accomplished
Several studies have been conducted in university classroom settings that focus on
handheld digital titles in particular. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education,
a fall 2008 pilot project at Northwest Missouri State University — involving textbook
assignments on the Sony Reader and undertaken with the participation of selected
textbook publishers — misﬁred because students couldn’t work with their textbooks
as quickly and efﬁciently as they were accustomed to with the print counterparts.
Not being able to quickly ﬂip and skim pages and awkward note-taking were cited as
speciﬁc impediments. Notably, participants in the experiment were eventually switched
to laptop-friendly editions, sticking with digital over print but moving away from handheld
A change in devices yielded nearly identical results in a study conducted at
Princeton in May 2009, in which ﬁfty students were provided with Kindle DX readers
(these have larger displays compared to the traditional Kindle) and asked to try out
textbooks on this platform. Here, too, the e-reader’s text mark-up features were
considered inadequate as compared to the physical edition, and the absence of page
numbers was considered an impediment to citation.
In HEB’s own experiment too problems with annotation were seen as a paramount
drawback to reading scholarly monographs on the handheld devices. HEB’s survey,
however, found less dissatisfaction with navigation than the two studies referenced
above; this is likely because textbooks generally represent denser and more wide-
ranging reading material, and paging through one on an e-reader while scanning
for keywords could lead to greater frustration than following a linear thesis in a
scholarly monograph. The further sticking points surrounding interactive features,
multimedia and Internet access uncovered by HEB were not investigated by the
textbook-oriented studies cited above and represent additional shortcomings for
these editions when compared to existing online resources.
All this seems to reinforce HEB’s survey-derived postulation that certain aspects of
digital scholarship fare much better in online collections that forgo portability and — in
26. Jeffrey R. Young, “How a Student-Friendly Kindle Could Change the Textbook Market,” The Chronicle of
Higher Education (May 6, 2009). Also see Young, “Six Lessons One Campus Learned About E-Textbooks,” ibid.
(June 4, 2009). Subscription required to access latter article. For a more detailed description of this survey, see
“A Campus-Wide E-Textbook Initiative,” EDUCAUSE Quarterly Magazine, Volume 32, Number 2 (2009).
27. “Princeton Students dislike Amazon Kindle,” The Daily Telegraph (October 1, 2009). For more on the
project, including a link to a detailed report featuring extensive student responses, see the institution’s own
“E-reader Pilot Program at Princeton, Fall 2009”.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested