ebooks featured heavily at the 2013 LIBER (League of European Research Libraries) conference, reflecting in particular the strong interest of Scandinavian libraries with two presentations from Finland and one from Sweden, but those on the background to the Directory of Open Access Books and the ebook market in France had wider significance.
Karin Byström, (Uppsala University Library) outlined a project in which three Swedish university libraries – Uppsala, Malmö, and Södertörn – developed a PDA checklist for libraries. Having come up with a nearly exhaustive checklist of questions, which would be a good starting point for any library tackling PDA for the first time, the group evaluated it against a number of vendors who would be familiar to UK librarians: Dawson, EBL, Ebrary, Ebsco, MyiLibrary. Their recommendation was that libraries planning to start using PDA should be aware of the risks and opportunities in advance in order to maximize the advantages and avoid the biggest pitfalls. The checklist poses many questions designed to help libraries with this planning. It and their findings are available in full at bit.ly/X9sSSK.
Consortial approaches have been adopted in a number of countries as a way of addressing the complexities of ebook licensing and rapidly changing technologies. In France, the Couperin consortium of all French academic and research institutions, which more than 200 members, set up an ebooks team as early as 2005 with a remit to watch over developments in the ebooks market and maintain technical and juridical expertise for libraries.
In ‘Too Early, Too Fast?’: The Regulation of the eBook Market in France and its Possible Effects on EU Libraries Sébastien Respingue-Perrin (Couperin), looked in particular at the legal framework surrounding ebooks in France. Like JISC Collections in the UK, the Couperin consortium had experience of negotiating national agreements for e-resources. Concerned at the slow rate of ebook development in France (0.6% of the market compared with 15% in the UK), they challenged the application of the full rate of VAT on ebooks.
In 2011, the French Parliament voted to regulate the digital book market, reducing the VAT rate to 5.5% from 1 January 2012 rather than 19.6%. But how to define an ebook in law? French law came up with two possible definitions : « A copy from the print version » OR a « database, resulting from the integration of textual content and features provided in an electronic environment « ebooks under the Law are subject to fixed-pricing rules and the others are considered as a databases. All retailers have the obligation to apply the fixed price. The result was a dramatic rise in ebook publication, most of it native.
However, there are dangers for libraries. No more negotiations. What will be the future of consortia? Without competition, market prices would be high and ebooks would include DRM. No possibility of discount for libraries is provided by the law. The consequences, both positive and negative, of lower VAT and legal definitions of ebooks are still being worked out.
Margo Bargheer (Göttingen University Library)s, provided the background to the newly launched Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), looking at the very different ecology of humanities and social sciences research and monograph publishing.
For non-STM researchers monographs remain important in establishing their status and they are still listed above articles in their bibliographies. At the same time monograph purchasing power is falling even if the funds available are rising slightly. Books remain important for developing and communicating long arguments. 83% of scholars in the humanities read their last book in print. But there is a mesh of digital information behind it. The print book is part of the digital chain.
In this environment OA monograph publishing has emerged, both commercial and non-commercial. Commercial publishers experimenting with OA books include SpringerOpen, which has been operating since 2012, and there is an increasingly important role for university presses (e.g. Göttingen, Athabasca).
For OA Journal articles there are standards for indexing, dissemination, evaluation, language, production. So what would the digital media of OA monographs in the humanities and social sciences look like? They need to support:
- a variety of languages, not just English
- peer-to-peer communication
- the long argument
- a common understanding of quality control (peer review)
- targeted funding for monographs (e.g. the Wellcome Trust extends OA policy to include monographs and book chapters, as do the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and its Austrian and Dutch equivalents)
- the right licenses: what makes a book “walk” in the digital world is a Creative Commons license.
The OAPEN Library is supported by the OAPEN Foundation, originally with EU, now mainly Dutch funding, and acts as a data provider for aggregators as well as an ebook platform. They are currently working on getting titles indexed in Serials Solutions, Ex Libris products, and Web of Science.
The DOAB was established with resources from the OAPEN Foundation. It first harvested metadata from OAPEN but is now getting new publishers involved. Quality control is important and everything in OAPEN has a CC license. DOAB covers 1500 books from 41 publishers.
Different efforts go into peer-to-peer and textbook publishing. Commercial publishers do put a lot of effort into textbook editing and marketing but the presenter argued that peer-to-peer monograph publishing is more appropriate for OA publishing. Less editing is involved and it is more straightforward for publishers. It is closer to the OA journal publishing model and the importance of peer review is recognised.
Margo Bargheer concluded by highlighting some new approaches to OA monograph publishing:
•Library consortium – collaborative underwriting (Knowledge Unlatched)
•Crowd-funding (Gluejar Inc.)
•Library licensing model: OpenEdition Freemium
It is worth catching up on the full presentation for a snapshot of the state of OA ebook publishing.
Patricia Killiard (Head of CDD, Cambridge University Library / member of the ebooks@cambridge Advisory Group)
Patricia blogs at Room for progress.