Furthermore, purchasing an e-book is different from buying a paper version, for in the
former case the reader buys a licence but not a ‘book’. This is actually a reason why e-books
cannot be resold or inherited
like paper books (the license is non-transferable). However, in
2013, Amazon received a patent for re-selling used e-books.
This new practice has not been
implemented yet, but if it is, it will be extremely interesting to see how it changes the digital
world. Another serious issue is that in most cases one cannot obtain a refund for e-books or
return them (among publishers and distributors who refuse this are Bol.com
), or this occurs only at the discretion of company management (for instance,
). Amazon allows refunds and returns of e-books within seven days of purchase
but can remove this option from one’s account if too many e-books are returned.
Slowly but surely the subscription model is gaining acceptance among libraries and
individuals. Cambridge University Press is among those publishers who do not sell their e-books
and journals directly from their website but offer a subscription model for different collections.
Cambridge University Press Books Online are only available for institutional purchase.
individual scholars are virtually excluded from access to Cambridge University Press collections.
However, a subscription model is unlikely to become more popular than outright purchase of
scholarly monographs and books for personal use due to the type of the content involved. The
139 See also: Z. Knight, ‘What Happens to All that Digital Goodness You Have Purchased after You Die?’,
Techdirt, August 30, 2012 <https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120828/16191120192/what-happens-to-all-that-
digital-goodness-you-have-purchased-after-you-die.shtml> (Accessed 29 July 2014).
140 Amazon Poised to Sell Used E-books, Publishers Weekly, February 07, 2013, n.pag.
used-e-books.html> (Accessed 29 July 2014).
141 Kan Ik E-books Annuleren of Retourneren?, n.pag.
(Accessed 15 May 2014).
142 Brill’s Help and FAQ: Purchasing Books, Book Chapters, and Journal Articles, n.pag.
http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/help#purchase> (Accessed 29 July 2014).
143 Wiley: Return Policy for E-books, n.pag. <http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-302039.html#2> (Accessed
29 July 2014).
144 eBooks.com FAQs: What is your Refund Policy?, n.pag. <http://www.ebooks.com/help/faqs/#faq11> (Accessed
29 July 2014).
145 Kindle Return Policies, n.pag. <http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=200144510>
(Accessed 29 July 2014).
146 How do I Purchase Access to Cambridge Books Online?, n.pag.
<http://ebooks.cambridge.org/faq.jsf?pageTitle=FAQ> (Accessed 29 July 2014).
shorter the life span of a digital product, the higher the chances that it can be acquired on a
subscription basis. Thus, trade books (such as romances or thrillers) which are usually read only
once and can be substituted by any new title in such a series easily to sell on this model or in
bundles. Academic journals are as likely to be sold by outright purchase of individual titles as by
subscription. In the case of scholarly books and monographs with a longer ‘shelf-life’ in the
personal library, scholars may be reluctant to accept temporary access and prefer to buy a
paper copy or at least an e-book in PDF which is easier to save to one’s hard drive. To conclude,
pricing for the outright purchase of e-books is higher than pricing for subscriptions, which
makes the latter more attractive to libraries. For individuals who cannot afford to buy e-books in
quantity, outright purchase is more appealing unless the subscription price is extremely low – a
situation that is pretty unlikely in academic publishing.
In order to stimulate sales of e-books, publishers are looking for new methods to
promote them among potential readers who may still be suspicious of e-book purchasing. The
‘build your own e-library’ concept has been mentioned already. Perhaps to create a positive
image of e-book lending, the University of Chicago Press offers 30 days access to its e-book
collection – but calls it ‘30-day ownership for $7.00.’
Whatever the case, in all probability the
concept of ownership is better developed and still remains strong in the academic environment.
Short-term lending is not a model favoured by academic publishers because of the
meagre revenue they can earn from libraries by providing e-lending of their collections. On the
other hand, the reluctance of publishers and authors to cooperate with libraries and platform
providers in lending e-books tips the balance in favour of Amazon
which, among its many
other innovative projects, offers a Kindle Owners' Lending programme and self-publishing.
However, this offer is less relevant for academic publishing because there is little likelihood that
the 500,000 books that Amazon offers to borrowers for free and without due dates
contain any significant number of academic titles. In fact, this e-lending programme is a
147 E-books from the University of Chicago Press, n.pag. <http://press.uchicago.edu/books/aboutEbooks.html>
(Accessed 29 July 2014).
148 D.L. Mantzourani, E-book Lending: A Disruption in Process (Unpublished MA Thesis), (Universiteit Leiden, 2013),
149 Amazon.com: Kindle Owners' Lending Library, n.pag.
<http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000739811> (Accessed 29 July 2014).
camouflaged subscription model because there is no need for readers to return borrowed e-
books, and a $99 annual fee is charged for the service.
The power of online retailers like Amazon or bol.com (at a national level) lies not only in
the extremely wide range of books they offer, which can compete with any bricks-and-mortar
bookstore or the website of any single publisher. Amazon actually offers an additional service –
it can be used as a database of all the books (printed or electronic) that exist in the world. If one
knows the title of a book or only the author, one can easily find general first-hand information
about the book by looking it up in the web shops of this giant. As a result, the chances of an
order for a book being made with Amazon remain high.
Demand-driven acquisition (Brill, De Gruyter) is a model designed entirely for libraries,
while a variation of the pay-per-view model, the pay-per-use model, was introduced by Ebrary,
intended for students.
Traces of the pay-per-view model can be found in a growing number of
different paper and electronic book previews offered online to individuals. Among these are:
Amazon Search Inside the Book, which is used by 88 per cent of presses; Google Books for
Publishers (84%); Barnes & Noble See Inside (56%) and Bowker Indexing Service (33%).
Open Access – seen as the future for academic publishing – is especially successful in an
e-journal environment, but OA as a model for academic e-books and monographs is still a new
area for publishers: 53 per cent of American academic presses have no OA projects at all and
only 27 per cent offer specific series or select titles in OA.
OA academic books may be offered
by publishers via their own web sites as a part of their own OA programmes (Brill Open,
) or may be made available via various OA directories such as the Directory of
Open Access Books (DOAB), the OAPEN Library (Open Access publishing in European Networks)
or specialised OA publishers (Open Book Publishers).
At the moment, the OA initiative is predominantly adopted in academic publishing with
the aim of freely disseminating knowledge, and the question is whether OA is possible within
trade publishing because in this case the notion of ‘knowledge dissemination’ will have to be
150 J.B. Thompson, Books in the Digital Age, second edition (Polity Press, 2011), pp. 342-343.
151 Digital Book Publishing Strategies in the AAUP Community: Spring 2014, p. 7.
152 Ibid., p. 8.
153 Brill Open: Open Access Publishing, <http://www.brill.com//brill-open-0> (Accessed 29 July 2014).
154 De Gruyter Open, <http://www.degruyter.com/page/829> (Accessed 29 July 2014).
expanded as these publications do not represent the results of research. For instance, the
search for free Kindle books on Amazon gave more than 48000 free e-books with more than
15000 nonfiction titles among them. Another American publisher of science fiction and fantasy,
Baen Books (who earlier tried to use the OA model for its e-books), offers free e-books under
the Baen Free Library.
These genres can hardly be associated with knowledge dissemination
and reasons for dissemination for free may differ from objectives pursued by OA academic
With the advent of digital technologies, new business models have appeared with the
aim of exploring new ways to target the academic audience. Libraries are offered Patron Driven
Acquisition and pay-per-view options; at the same time publishers looking for new market
opportunities are showing more interest in the business-to-customer approach, which will be
discussed in the next section.
A shift towards a business-to-customer model
According to the Association of American University Presses, in 2013, the average percentage of
e-book revenue from direct sales from publishers’ websites was 4 per cent, with retailers being
still the second most important source of revenue (41%) after aggregators, who contribute 49
The percentage of revenue from direct sales may seem to be unimportant or small
compared to that from aggregators or retailers, however, depending on company size it can
easily fall within the top ten or twenty sources of revenue and cover the costs of web site
maintenance and development with something to spare.
The old and proven business-to-business model where the main ‘end-user’ was a library
is still viable but fails to bring as much revenue as it used to. Thus, publishers are looking for
new ways to keep their businesses growing. Before, they were mostly oriented towards
libraries, but with the development of an e-book market and appropriate technologies, a shift to
a business-to-customer approach is going to take place. No one would deny that, for academic
publishers, libraries will always be one of their most important customers, but it is becoming
The Baen Free Library, <http://www.baenebooks.com/c-1-free-library.aspx> (Accessed 29 July 2014).
156 Digital Book Publishing Strategies in the AAUP Community: Spring 2014, p. 4.
apparent today that publishers are being forced to adapt to what individuals want. Online
shopping made academic books better available to individual scholars than used to be the case
(24/7 availability, fast or immediate delivery, easy discoverability, etc.). POD was initially aimed
at lowering stock levels and the money tied up in it as well as to lower write-off costs of unsold
stock, and it worked well for academic presses because of low sales levels and long sales lives,
but eventually POD turned out to become a way of making any book available, more to satisfy
the needs of individuals than those of institutions (after all the libraries have already been
provided with the copies they wanted). For publishers to have a website of their own and sell
paper and electronic books from it is another step towards the business-to-customer paradigm.
Print and e-book bundling are as profitable in sales to individuals (aforementioned Brill’s
Mybook project, for instance) as to organisations.
Before adding a new format for e-books to existing ones (the second, the third and so
on) publishers will need to consider market demand. If a new format produces additional sales
without cannibalising revenue from other formats, it is feasible to offer it. In reality, academic
publishers cannot be sure that ePub will stimulate sales or that its users will be new customers
who are not already buying e-books in PDF. Publishers are increasingly asked to meet the
expectations of the individual scholar who wants to read e-books on a variety of devices: a PDF
version for laptops and tablets, ePub for mobile phones and probably one of the formats used
for reading on a dedicated e-reader. Furthermore, the button provided Amazon’s and Barnes &
Noble’s web shops to request an electronic version of a paper book for their own dedicated e-
readers can serve as an indicator to publishers of what their customers want. Making e-books in
different formats is actually a trade-off between publishers and individuals, because libraries
are not very interested in keeping and archiving several formats of the same book, at least
because of the additional costs involved.
The shift to a business-to-customer approach is not going to happen overnight for a
number of reasons. Although academic publishing can hardly be called a mass production
business, it is in the sense that distribution and marketing are aimed at selling, not at the title
level but in big deals, bundles, etc. Actually, it is rare enough for a single title to be marketed to
a large audience – publishers deal mostly in collections. Thus, the chances of selling more copies
of a single book are being reduced because individual scholars are simply overlooked. It is an
established tradition for scholars to take the initiative and actively seek out books but in a time
of financial stress, publishers will have to compete to grab individuals’ attention. This is a
situation where social media has proved to work well. At the moment, Facebook and Twitter
offer an easy and cheap but effective way of providing information about new releases not only
to a scholarly audience but to a large general audience. Nobody expects academic books to
become bestsellers, thus almost no effort is spent on targeting individuals: in the current
situation, this may be an example of an old and obsolete way of thinking and running a
A look to the future
The present day is a challenging, yet interesting period in the development of academic
publishing. Roads of scholarly communication and research are undergoing profound changes,
especially in the sciences:
Partly as a consequence of this ability to generate data on such an unprecedented scale,
scientists are now publishing more widely and at a greater frequency than ever before:
today, life scientists alone are generating more than two peer-reviewed papers every
It is quite likely that instead of lamenting the diminishing importance of academic
publishers in making public the results of research (because of so-called self-publishing), the
very near future will see publishers bearing a growing responsibility for publishing monographs
and academic books. They will perform the role of intermediaries between different scholars in
helping them to produce not an article but a full-length book. This role may become crucial in
the light of recent changes in the ways academic work is evaluated at universities. For instance,
in the UK, scholars are under pressure from new systems of evaluation; the Research Excellence
157 Pettifer, S. et al, ‘Ceci n’est pas un Hamburger: Modelling and Representing the Scholarly Article’, Learned
Publishing, Vol. 24(3) (2011), p. 208.
Framework (REF) is to be implemented in 2014. Crudely put, all research results are to be
presented in publications, and publishing articles is faster and earns more points than writing a
lengthy book that can be finished only after several years of work. If a publication is unlikely to
become REF-able (i.e. bring enough points), it will not be approved by the managing body of the
university. This REF-ability in fact represents an undermining of scholarship and a sapping of the
spirit of science, as it will result in a decreasing number of academic books and monographs.
Analogously, this practice poses a threat to academic publishing. The tendency to publish more
titles with the falling numbers of copies sold shows no signs of ceasing. In this regard, the role of
publishers is dual: they stimulate the development of scholarship and help to disseminate
knowledge but at the present moment the increasing number of publications partially caused by
their attempts to increase profits cannot but result in a deterioration in the quality of published
works. It may be of a particular relevance to trace the percentage of academic books that fail to
meet academic requirements to the works of this kind. Similarly, the quality of many OA
journals that are springing up in large numbers is in doubt, as is the whole procedure of peer
(regardless of its advantages and contradictions), because it cannot be mediated in a
proper way due to the overwhelming number of publications. Another relevant study can be
conducted in order to trace back the route of articles that were rejected by the high-ranking
journals and ended up published somewhere else.
Common practice today is to publish more new titles to compensate for the decreasing
sales. One concern that can arise in this situation is how the scholarly world is supposed to
digest this growing number of publications with shrinking funds available. When there are so
many publications available, the visibility of scholars who are at the beginning of their careers
will definitely decrease and one’s inability to read or keep track of all the publications in a
particular field may become a real problem (for libraries too). Logic suggests that at some point
the number of publications will reach a maximum where it is no longer possible either to publish
more titles or to find academic material to publish. Publishers are already experiencing
problems in finding authors, especially for journal articles; if there are so many new journals in
existence, where can authors be found? This means that the pace of a growth of academic
158 J. Bohannon, ‘Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?’, Science, 4 October 2013: Vol. 342, no. 6154, pp. 60-
65, <https://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full.pdf> (Accessed 15 June 2014).
publishing should be co-extensive with the growth of the academic community wishing to
publish the results of the research. University presses seem to be in a more favourable situation
because they are not under the same pressure to produce more and more titles in order to
maintain constant growth as publishers are who are listed on the stock exchange and who are
thus forced to show growth every year. All in all, the downfall of academic publishing is not very
close and it will be intriguing to see how digital technologies will change it and perhaps prevent
Academic publishing covers a wide range of content which needs to be delivered to the end-
user in an appropriate way. It is out of the question that it could be delivered in only one
format. The more bitty the content, the more amenable it is to online dissemination and
consumption. Long narrative content requires other forms of consumption while dissemination
can be achieved with the same simplicity as bitty content (e-books are downloaded easily from
the web but are consumed on dedicated e-readers or laptops). The next step is to determine
which device should be used as the medium for consumption and which mode of reading will be
applied. By answering these questions, the best format can be chosen. All in all, the type of
content will be the most important factor in determining the choice of a format.
As this paper has focused on academic e-books, two formats that are seen as the most
common formats for e-books were examined. The choice of a format for a publisher is not a
straightforward matter when several formats compete with one another. The attempts of ePub
to become a recognised format for academic e-books have proved less successful than its
developers would have liked. No one will deny that much work is being done to promote it but
it is without effect and it still too early to proclaim the dominance of ePub in academic
publishing. This paper has attempted to demonstrate this by examining various software
reading systems and the functionalities of different file formats. PDF is, however, acknowledged
as the leading format for academic e-books by the academic community itself.
159 It is mentioned in too many articles to list them all here. Amon them: M. Aaltonen et al, ‘Usability and
Compatibility of E-book Readers in an Academic Environment: A Collaborative Study’, IFLA Journal, Vol. 37(1)
ePub nor PDF, with their pitfalls, limitations and benefits, can be considered to be the only
possible format for academic e-books. The requirements of different modes of use (a context in
which a particular type of content is used determined by a device and a reading mode applied)
will differ too much to exclude other formats from the academic e-book market, but some
modes of use become prevalent for a particular type of content and therefore guarantee the
dominance of some formats. For instance, reading and working with academic e-books, which
involves in-depth reading, is mostly done on laptops or PCs, and thus this mode of use grants
PDF its current market leadership. In addition, the ability of formats to imitate some features of
other formats (reflowable PDF and fixed-layout ePub) complicates matters.
Academic publishing today is in a state of a constant flux caused by changes in
technology. If a publishing house cannot keep up with these changes, it is very likely to be
overtaken by another publisher. Among new trends is the issue of accessibility where there
seem to be greater technical advances than have been implemented in practice. New
technologies have also been stimulating the appearance of new pricing and business models as
well as changes in production processes (XML-workflow, for instance). One of the main issues in
academic publishing today is whether adding new formats to existent ones will help publishers
reach new end-users and cover the costs of production of these formats. Adding new digital
formats may be dealt with by publishers in the same way as they approached the first e-books
which were thought to cannibalise revenue from print editions. However, all this shuffling of
formats is no more than the publishers’ attempts to meet the expectations of their end-users,
and this paper has tried to trace this shift from a library-oriented paradigm to a reader-oriented
The loss of physicality by e-books and inability to be translated into cultural capital in a
habitual way, as well as to represent someone’s social identity, are virtually treated as a serious
drawback for the uptake of this electronic medium. But e-books have been portending a
significant change in the book industry, and it should not be forgotten that in the course of its
advancement this new medium may develop a new culture of social identities: reading e-books
may be opposed to reading paper books as being old-fashioned, unprogressive and
(2011), p. 21. or Pettifer, S. et al, ‘Ceci n’est pas un Hamburger: Modelling and Representing the Scholarly Article’,
Learned Publishing, Vol. 24(3) (2011), p. 213.
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