development of the market” (JISC Collections, 2009, p. 39). If this research is undertaken,
then we can expect to see in the future platforms and interfaces that are more intuitive and
easier to use whilst placing fewer barriers in front of users wanting to read ebooks. As the
JISC National E-books Observatory Project observes, “users should not need to be trained to
use an e-book platform, no-one receives training to use Amazon” (JISC Collections, 2009, p.
Some possible futures
One possible prediction is that many ebooks may converge back into the Web or as Web-
based apps, with the ebook as a format in itself becoming obsolete. A new format may appear
on the landscape and make existing formats redundant. This has happened before, with other
media formats such as VHS and Laserdisc.
This may cause difficulties for institutions that have invested in ebook platforms and ebook
readers. Publishers and aggregators may decide to shut down platforms or authentication
services, making ebook collections inaccessible.
On a similar note, the sustainability of ebooks has to be considered by institutions, both in the
short term and the long term. Publishers or aggregators may close down; as a result, access
may be denied or have to be renegotiated in order to retain access to the ebook collection.
Unlike a printed collection, once denied access, an ebook collection is gone; this radical
change would require far-reaching adjustments to curriculum delivery or reading lists so as
not to affect learners adversely. In cases such as this, institutions may need to replace ebook
collections with printed versions or to invest in a different ebook collection.
The JISC National E-books Observatory Project notes the pressures on publishers: “staying
still is not an option. The pressure to find viable and sustainable business models for course
text e-books is likely to intensify as consumer expectations for immediate access to digital
content continue to rise” (JISC Collections, 2009, p. 32). Although publishers may worry
that this level of access could reduce print sales, the JISC National E-books Observatory
Project found in its research that “there are no short-term indications that free at the point of
use e-books made available through the university library impact negatively on print sales to
students.” As the Digital Monograph Technical Landscape (Daly, 2012) notes, however,
47 See Price & Havergal (2011) for discussions of the future of ebooks as compared to video: “If we look at other
sectors we can see that digital versions of traditional media often result in new and exciting ways of consuming
those products. YouTube, iTunes, Freeview and BBC iPlayer show how the format and delivery of audiovisual
media has fundamentally changed the film and television viewing experience. We now access video at a time and
place to suit us, download it, and play it back on a range of devices.” (p. 257).
exposure to ebooks is growing steadily : “as print retail locations flounder and increasingly
close altogether, buyers are driven to the web to make purchases. Since most major online
retailers sell both print and digital books, even print buyers become progressively more
exposed to the idea of reading digitally.”
A more likely short-term scenario is that ebooks evolve as connectivity and technologies
improve, enabling the ebook experience to be enhanced. The Digital Monograph Technical
Landscape (Daly, 2012) recommends that “to remain relevant to an audience increasingly
consuming media in digital format only, scholarly authors and publishers must facilitate
digital-first publishing techniques that are open, aid in discovery, and are highly accessible
There may be a move from static to dynamic content. Currently ebooks contain content that
remains the same once the ebook is published (this is a similar process to printed books).
Publishers may be able to offer updated and new editions of ebooks faster and more frequently
than printed books (but again this a similar process to printed books). In the future the
provision of ebooks with dynamic content, however, would allow authors and publishers to
update ebooks whenever the need arises and to provide updated data or information at the
point of reading. Whereas an economics ebook, for example, may currently contain static
historical data on the economy, in the future a dynamic economics ebook could (once the
reader reaches a specific page) retrieve a dynamically updated dataset and display it on that
page. In this scenario, the reader would continually have access to the most up-to-date
information available (and this would have implications for referencing sources).
Future ebooks could dynamically change according to who is reading the ebook, where and
when the ebook is being read, and even where a reader is in the learning process. Making
ebooks aware of the context in which they are used creates new ways of reading and extends
considerably how books can be used for learning.
There are currently apps on smartphones and other devices that send notifications about
upgrades; similarly, apps have been developed that are location-aware. It would be relatively
simple to embed these technologies into a future ebook format.
In scenarios such as these, errors and mistakes would be easily corrected and users could be
confident that they are reading the latest edition. However, these scenarios do create their
own issues: someone has to update the book and if this is happening all the time then that
represents an additional cost to the publisher, which may result in higher costs to institutions.
There are also referencing problems, so access dates would need to be added to citations.
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Dynamic ebooks open the possibility of collaborative authorship among academics. This
collaboration could take the form of academics creating and jointly writing ebooks for
students that could be used at multiple institutions and updated as requirements changed.
These ebooks could be “forked” to enable custom versions for the different institutions using
them. As with Wikipedia and similar crowdsourced content, issues of authenticity and
accuracy could arise and these issues would need to be addressed by those using such ebooks.
Already on devices such as the iPad we are seeing how “publishers are beginning to explore
richly visual interfaces that include multimedia and collaborative elements” (Johnson et al,
2011, p. 8) . As noted in the 2011 Horizon Report (Johnson et al, 2011), the successes of apps
for the ‘social magazine’ Flipboard
and digital magazines such as Wired
their readers’ experience of textual content. Over the next few years, we are going to see more
kinds of books echoing the Flipboard social magazine format as well as greater use of
interactive graphs and (as might be expected) more richly integrated use of video and audio.
Research shows these aspects “can genuinely add value” as “students [find] them
invaluable” (Armstrong & Lonsdale, 2009).
The linking, embedding and integration of ebooks with the institutional virtual learning
environment (VLE) is one area not currently exploited fully by institutions. Whereas most
courses have required and recommended reading lists that students can use to access the
relevant texts in the institutional library, what ebooks allow is immediate access to those texts
from the confines of the module within the VLE. With this closer integration of ebooks to the
VLE, it will be possible to hyperlink a specific reference to a source, allowing students to
follow links within ebooks to find a specified passage within a source and to see how the
specified passage fits within the context of a chapter or book as a whole.
As noted in the JISC National E-books Observatory Project (JISC Collections, 2009), “our
understanding of a whole range of issues needs to be clarified: the interface between libraries,
technical staff and academics is often unclear.” The integration of ebooks and VLEs does not
just happen; planning between different parts of the institutions is required. Within
institutions, stakeholders with different needs and expectations tend to produce complex
solutions, so discussions to clarify fundamentals are necessary .
The JISC National E-books Observatory Project also notes the lack of clarity of “appropriate
business models and licensing arrangements” (JISC Collections, 2009, p. 2). Academics
and, more importantly, students may like and prefer the potential opportunities that
embedding ebooks into the VLE may represent, but unless there are flexible licensing models
and cost-effective solutions this may remain an unfulfilled dream. The gap may be filled by
commercial VLE vendors; as the 2011 Horizon Report noted, “Blackboard has partnered with
McGraw-Hill and two booksellers to enable members of faculty to assign and students to buy,
electronic texts within the Blackboard system” (Johnson et al., 2011, p. 9). This is certainly
different to the arrangement promoted within the JISC National E-books Observatory Project
report, which designated free access to ebooks within the VLE as the preferred model.
Many within the education community would prefer an ebook model based on open access.
The Digital Monograph Technical Landscape: Exemplars and Recommendations (Daly,
2012) found that the “emergence of open access as a preferred or even mandated distribution
method” by some institutions was pushing academics and authors down the ebook route to
ensure that their publications were open access.
The ebook landscape is an evolving model with rapid changes in technologies and formats in
recent years; however, it is still early days compared to other media such as music and films.
The surge in interest in ebooks and ebook readers may have caught many Higher and Further
Education institutions by surprise. They may not yet be in position to exploit to the full the
potential that the format can bring to education.
As with any emerging technology, technical issues in terms of standards and formats can
cause problems and frustration to learners. Cultural barriers to the successful adoption of
ebooks also need to be overcome. As the JISC National E-books Observatory Project (JISC
Collections, 2009) observes, “we know very little about student purchasing behaviour with
regard to course texts in either print or electronic forms.”
Higher and Further Education institutions can start to prepare and ensure that processes and
systems are in place to take advantage of the benefits that ebooks can bring to education
whilst minimising the potential problems that adopting new formats and technologies can
Looking to prepare for developments over the next five years, Higher and Further Education
institutions should take into consideration these factors:
Institutions should develop an explicit ebook strategy that complements existing strategies,
or integrate the use of ebooks into those strategies.
Institutions need to be responsive and agile as they adopt and use ebooks, because the
ebook landscape is an evolving one: formats, standards and licensing are not yet in a stable
Institutions need to prepare for new subscription, purchasing and licensing models as the
current ones are in an embryonic stage (often following traditional printed-book business
models). If ebooks follow a similar pattern to music and films, these subscription,
purchasing and licensing models will evolve and change.
Institutions should ensure that their users are fully aware of the possibilities and limitations
with any collections or subscriptions, as many technical issues need to be overcome when
adopting ebooks. Specifically, incompatibilities between readers, devices and ebooks need to
be identified and addressed whilst users should be made aware of potential issues. Ensuring
that different stakeholders actively read and (where appropriate) create ebooks can support
this process of understanding.
Institutions should consider the current devices their users have before deciding on or
recommending a preferred format of ebook, and they should also take into account the
range of ebook reader devices that future users are likely to have. Institutional support for a
single ebook format could exclude many users from institutionally provided ebooks.
Conversely, providing multiple formats could require additional time and extra costs.
Institutions need to consider the importance of cultural change as they challenge and allow
for expectations and perceptions of academic staff and students who are adopting and using
Clearly, there are many challenges remaining for academic librarians, managers and members
of faculty preparing for the effective adoption and use of ebooks in academic contexts.
As academic institutions need to navigate significant challenges in the creation, curation and
consumption of ebooks, JISC is working actively with stakeholders to provide practical
support in this area. In a forthcoming report (JISC, in press)
, further guidance will be made
available on key areas such as: licensing, budget, workflow, technology, and return on
investment (see below the preview graphic from the forthcoming JISC report). Academic
decision-makers involved with ebooks should keep a watching brief on this forthcoming
report, to be released in 2013.
50 Entitled The Challenges of eBooks in Academic Institutions, this Digital Infrastructure Directions Series
report (to be published online) builds on work by JISC Innovation, JISC Collections, and JISC Digital Media.
Figure 2: Preview graphic from forthcoming JISC report: The Challenges of eBooks in
Academic Institutions (in press, to be published online 2013)
3G is a mobile wireless Internet service used by different devices
Adobe Content Server is software developed to add digital rights
management to ebooks distributed in PDF or EPUB format through
Adobe Digital Editions.
Adobe Digital Editions is a software application that can be used to
manage a library of ebooks and devices, particularly ebook readers.
It can also be used to manage access through DRM for protected
Aldiko is an ebook reader application for the Android operating
system. Supporting the EPUB format for digital publications, this
application facilitates browsing and downloading books from online
catalogues and provides many options for configuring ebook
display. Aldiko does not support font embedding.
Android is a Linux-based operating system developed by Google in
conjunction with the Open Handset Alliance primarily for
smartphones and tablet computers. Google releases Android code
as open source, under the Apache License. Android has a large
community of developers producing applications (‘apps’), written
primarily in a customised version of Java, that extend the
functionality of mobile devices.
App is a commonly used abbreviation of application, often used to
describe applications on mobile devices.
The American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII)
is a character-encoding scheme widely used to represent text in
computers and digital equipment. Most modern character-encoding
schemes are based on and extend the 128 characters in ASCII,
adding more characters to support non-English languages. ASCII
was used in the earliest ebooks produced by Project Gutenberg and
prevailed on the Web until late 2007.
AZW (probably acronym for Amazon Word) is a proprietary file
format used by Amazon for the Kindle.
Born-digital is a term referring to content originally created and
produced only in a digital format. In the context of ebooks, this
born-digital content contrasts with more traditional content created
for distribution via printed books. With the rise of ebooks (and
digital music), born-digital content is becoming more common.
Synonyms include ‘digital-first’ and ‘digital-exclusive’.
Disintermediation reduces intermediaries between producers and
consumers (for example, between authors and readers).
Digital Rights Management (DRM) describes various technologies
that support access control of protected content. DRM can be found
in software and hardware and is designed to limit or inhibit the
misuse of digital content and devices after purchase by consumers.
Ebook is originally a shortened version of the term electronic book,
now often used to describe a digital book.
An ebook reader (also known as e-reader) is a single-function
device used for ebooks.
An ejournal (also known as electronic journal and electronic serial)
is a scholarly journal or magazine accessible via the Web (or other
form of electronic transmission). Some ejournals are online-only
journals; others are online versions of printed journals (in some
cases, they provide the online equivalent of a printed journal with
additional online-only material such as multimedia or extra data).
Electronic paper is a term for describing the display technology on
ebook readers that mimics ink on paper, sometimes inaccurately
described using the proprietary term e-ink.
EPUB is a popular open file format for ebooks, used by many ebook
readers and the iPad. At time of writing of this report, EPUB3 is the
current version (although most ebooks are currently published in
EPUB2 format due to limited support for EPUB3 in e-readers at
An e-reader is another term for ebook reader, a single-function
device used for ebooks.
An etextbook is a type of ebook (typically assigned as required
reading) that provides in digital format some or all of the key
educational or instructional content related to an academic course.
FairPlay is the name for the proprietary DRM technology used by
Apple for its iOS devices.
Federated access is an open authentication technology used for
Further Education (FE) in the UK is post-compulsory education
distinct from that offered by universities (Higher Education). This
can range from basic skills training to higher vocational education.
Google Play (originally named Android Market) is a digital
distribution service operated by Google for books, magazines,
music, movies and Android applications. This service can be
accessed over the Internet and via the Play Store mobile app
(included with most Android and Google TV devices).
Higher Education (HE) in the UK is a term describing academic
work towards a university degree. Within the realm of teaching, it
includes both undergraduate-level and graduate-level (or
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is the coding language used
for displaying content in a Web browser.
HTML5 is the fifth revision of the standard HTML markup
language, still under development as of September 2012. Core aims
of HTML5 are to improve its support for multimedia while keeping
it easily readable by humans and consistently understood by and
adaptable to a very broad range of computers and devices.
iBook is the proprietary file format used by Apple for ebooks sold in
the iBookstore or created using the iBooks Author application.
iBooks Author is Apple’s ebook authoring application, which
creates proprietary ebooks in the ibook file format that can only be
read using the iBooks application.
iBookstore is Apple’s ebook store, which can only be accessed from
iOS devices. The same ebooks are sold in the iTunes Store on Macs
and Windows PCs.
International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) is a trade and
standards association for the digital publishing industry, which
defines the standards for ebook publishing.
iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system used on the iPhone, iPad,
and iPod touch mobile devices.
An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a label, in numerical format,
that enables devices to be found on the Internet. IP addresses can
be used to restrict access to protected content by only allowing
access to content from devices with specified IP addresses.
iPad is a tablet device made by Apple, which runs iOS.
iPhone is a smartphone made by Apple, which runs iOS.
iPod Touch is small handheld device running iOS made by Apple.
iTunes is Apple’s desktop software for managing iOS devices.
iTunes software is also the gateway to the iTunes Store, where
ebooks can be purchased for use on iOS devices.
Kindle is the brand name used for Amazon’s ebook readers and
used for their applications.
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