Saturday, September 19, 2009
University librarians are frustrated by the poor availability and high cost of electronic textbooks, despite growing demand from students and academic staff, the biggest-ever study of e-books has found.
So far, publishers have held back from releasing e-textbooks amid uncertainty about their impact on the market for printed texts, but the findings of the two-year study suggest that making more e-books available would not affect sales.
As part of the UK national e-book observatory project, run by the Joint Information Systems Committee, electronic versions of 36 textbooks were made available to 127 universities and colleges for a year. In that time, 46,000 visits were made and more than 761,000 pages were viewed. More than 50,000 university staff and students were surveyed.
Researchers found that the exercise had "no conclusive negative impact" on the sale of printed texts. Instead, e-books were used for "grazing" information rather than for continuous reading, meaning hard copies and e-books are complementary.
University librarians are hoping the results will give publishers the confidence to release more e-books.
"With growing student numbers and more part-time and distance-learning students, it is becoming increasingly difficult for university libraries to provide the books they need on their courses. We think e-books could be the answer," Dr Woodward said.
The study, "UK National E-book Observatory: Key Findings and Recommendations", suggests that e-books could offer a valuable back-up for hard-pressed short-loan collections, allowing a "safety valve" at peak times.
Available anywhere and at any time, e-books were valued for their convenience and searchability. Analysis of user behaviour showed that almost one third of pages viewed were looked at off-campus and at all hours of the day. The study also found that library users were "hungry for digital content".
Dr Woodward said: "What the research seems to indicate is that there is going to be a continued demand for us to provide printed texts - at least for the short to medium term - but also to supplement printed copies with online access.
She also stressed the practical value of e-books: "They don't get stolen, they don't get their pages ripped out and they are always available when people want them."
Readers' comments >
Related / See Also
JISC National e-Books Observatory Project
at 8:23 PM