Ebook presentations at LIBER 2013 – guest post no. 3

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.

All LIBER 2013 presentations can be found at http://www.liber2013.de/index.php?id=42 (parallel sessions) or http://www.liber2013.de/index.php?id=38 (invited speaker/plenary sessions)

Patricia Killiard (Head of CDD, Cambridge University Library / member of the ebooks@cambridge Advisory Group)

Patricia blogs at Room for progress.


Open Access monographs in the humanities and social sciences – guest post no. 2

Sarah Stamford’s summary of the JISC/Open Access Network conference held at the British Library 1st & 2nd July 2013.

Condensing a two-day conference into a short report is quite a tall order, so I will bring together points which particularly attracted my attention under four headings: Concept, Models, Issues and What’s missing.

“OA monographs” presupposes the product will be an ebook, or ebook and print in some combination, possibly including paid-for content and licensed under Creative Commons.  Although this implies the content will be free at the point of use, costs are involved in getting it to the reader and how these will be met is unclear.  The potential is there to change both the shape and the delivery of the scholarly monograph.

1.         Concept

  • Open Access is an opportunity created by technological developments.  The level of demand is unknown but may be presumed to exist from the use of the (relatively small) number of OA monographs currently available.
  •  It grants access to scholarly research to readers outside universities and institutions in developed countries, for example to general readers and those elsewhere in the world.
  •  HSS topics appeal to a broader readership than science; to some extent OA may help to raise the profile of these disciplines and justify continued research.
  • The value is not just in the monograph per se, but the ability to bring a number of texts together for correlation and further study (as with a print library collection).
  • Including multi-media and interactive content in ebooks expands the potential to link to primary source material (digitized texts, 3-D images, video clips etc).  This is likely to change the identity of the scholarly monograph.
  • Although paper remains “a viable product” (Rupert Gatti, Open Book Publishers) and authors like to have a print copy with their name on it, is print, originally seen as the revolutionary way of disseminating ideas, now restricting accessibility?
  • “Commercial ebooks are stupid” (Philippe Aigrain, author of Sharing)
  • Is the monograph the purpose of research, or something produced as a by-product of it?
  •  Is the concept of “an author” valid when research is often collaborative?
  • Authors expect to earn money from book publishing, but not from journal articles.

2.         Models

We already have Google Books, Hathi Trust, Project Gutenberg, etc, as Open Access ebooks.

Open Library of the Humanities

Considering options for funding OA – same as journals? Take advertising? Author pays (APCs)? Library pays, possibly via a consortium. Or maybe journals subsidise ebooks?

How to satisfy need for author’s prestige, also looking at formats, preservation, costs of production. What might be the effect on sales of print books if OA ebooks become the norm?

Knowledge Unlatched

Consortium of libraries and publishers based on lowering the risk to both. Price to libraries set (either for individual text or a collection) by the number of libraries willing to commit to a subscription once title is published.  OA version on KU’s platform will be basic text (.pdf?), a premium model with extra whistles and bells will be available from the publisher at a higher price.

[I have some problems with this model – transparency of costings, libraries may be unable to decide whether to purchase title in advance of publication as it is often some years before the relevance of a monograph is appreciated, can’t see why library would want to purchase the OA version if academics will want the premium model, and a cost model whereby most popular texts are the cheapest may be the wrong way round]

Palgrave Open

Model at present is similar to that for traditional publishing. They claim it is sustainable but haven’t yet decided who will pay – could be author, funding bodies or institutions or combination of all three. Aim to publish 10 titles in 2014.

Open Book Publishers

Based in Cambridge set up by 3 academics.  Not for profit organisation, funded by Universities, EU, Wellcome Trust and their own sales.  Also crowdsourced funding for one book via Twitter.

They have published c.30 titles as ebooks on OA.  Revenue from sales comes from payment for POD, digital .pdf or downloaded ebook but it’s the same content in all formats.  Expanding into allowing comments from readers to be added to text and adding QR codes to embed video material in print copies.

Aim is to extend scholarship and cite readership of c.500 hits per book per month against how many people would read a print run of 200 copies sold mostly to libraries and restricted to their members only?

ebooks@cambridge have previously assisted this company.


Their OA books findable via Google Books and Amazon. Some discussion about their imposition of CCNC licensing on all authors, restricting reuse, and their costing model.

Directory of Open Access Books launched at the conference.

3.         Issues

These are points which came up several times in discussions.

Peer review              Is current system broken? Are there better ways to carry it out in a digital environment? Who can review? Who reviews the reviews?

Gold v Green              Arguments as with ejournals

VAT                            OA (zero price) would not attract VAT, or would it?

REF                            HEFCE seem unlikely to include OA in the next REF due to lack of viable model.

Repositories                What are their role? Should they consider moving more in publishing content?

Learned societies        What is their role in OA publishing?

Long-term access       With no contract or money changing hands, is there any obligation to retain OA monographs in perpetuity? Who has responsibility for this? Archiving critical (eg Portico etc) – who ensures it happens?

Costs                           What exactly are the production costs? Paper is cheap, print pricing based on extra work carried out by publisher in bringing book to market (copy-editing, metadata, supply and marketing) So who pays for those functions in OA?

Copyright                   Who ensures it is enforced?

ORCID                        Identification of researchers would assist OA, but can be contentious.

Digitising                    Primary sources, even more important if OA monographs are going to link to them. But what happens if they are licensed?

Cataloguing                Should OA resources be included in library catalogues/discovery tools? How?

4.                     What’s missing?

  • No mention of market research into the extent to which researchers want to read monographs in e-format.
  • Current models are based on production and delivery, not consumption.
  • Impact on library budgets.  Will these be used to fund institutional publishing via OA, and what happens if libraries are then expected to buy premium content?
  • Do librarians have the skills to support academics in publishing their research?
  • What is the role of the University press here, for example, should CUP publish Cambridge University-generated content in OA?
  • Less profit in monographs than journals, so money is tight.
  • In an environment where all Universities have access to the same content, what will distinguish their libraries?  Services and their historical collections?

Videos of the conference presentations are available on YouTube.

Sarah Stamford (Selwyn College Librarian / Chair of the ebooks@cambridge Advisory Group)