Ebooks are Up-To-Date
Richard says another issue driving the use of online reference book databases is the need for the most current information. Due to its inherent limitations, a book on the shelf cannot possibly contain the most up-to-date information, but an online book can be updated as often as needed. "The nature of reference books is, of course, that you want the most current and up-to-date content, and the subscription model gives you that. Users constantly have access to updated material without having to purchase the latest new volume," Richard says.
The flip side of this says Devine, is that the online book database also serves to extend the lives of books, sometimes years after they have been pulled from the retail channel. "We find that inside Safari, books get used longer. The reason for that is in the retail channel, a book has a limited shelf life. The retail outlets have to sell top-selling books, and there is limited shelf life for front-list books. If you need a two-, three-, or four- year-old technology book, you may find them on Safari," Devine says. In fact, Safari has found that the most-read books are older ones not available anywhere else.
Devine says Safari typically acts as content aggregator for publishers, which build electronic distribution rights into the standard contract so authors are compensated for electronic use of the book. "We are owned by publishers. They have contracts that enable redistribution of content in electronic form. This is covered in the author contract, and authors are compensated for use of the content in Safari," Devine says. CJ Rayhill, the CIO for O'Reilly Media who runs a new self-service publishing arm of Safari called SafariU, reports that authors have no complaints about this service. "We've had overwhelmingly positive feedback from authors. If my album doesn't sell, but my song does, are you going to be upset?" Rayhill asks.
Making it Portable
So far, these companies have only begun to touch upon making content portable, and all are at least exploring the possibility of making content available on handheld devices at some point in the future. Some have made at least some of the material available in a format users can carry away from the office. Woishnis says Knovel is looking into it, but for his audience, mostly scientists and engineers, he doesn't see a big need for it just yet. "We are exploring it. It is not a place we are putting resources immediately, but it would be appropriate for certain types of content . . . It's probably something we will get into eventually, but for a lot of our content, I don't see a direct need there yet," Woishnis says.
Devine says that for certain subscriptions, users can download chapters in PDF; this gives people the ability to carry some of the material with them on the road. Pam Dubois, director of publisher relations and product marketing at Books24x7 says that they provide executive summaries from ExecSummaries, an eight-page synopsis of certain books in the Books24x7 repository, in PDF or MP3 formats. She says in the latter format, users can load the file on an Apple iPod or burn it on a CD and take it with them.
The first iteration of ebooks never really captured the public's imagination. Perhaps we are more attached to paper than early digital pioneers believed, but a model that uses reference books and a searchable database holds a lot of obvious appeal to workers who need to find accurate information from a variety of trusted sources quickly. Woishnis says it's all about empowering users. "It's not about reading a book online versus reading a book in hard copy. It's about finding answers to questions faster, but more importantly, to help them make better decisions."
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