With the Google Print initiative on one side and the familiar comfort of traditional publishing models on the other, STM publisher Springer has announced plans to launch an aggressive new ebook initiative this summer. Anchored by its online publishing service, SpringerLink, Springer will add ebooks to the database of electronic journal content the company has offered for nearly ten years, and may just breathe new life into the ebook market.
The plan called for the initial inclusion of 10,000 ebooks on an updated SpringerLink platform at the time of the June 24 launch, with the goal of adding 3,000 titles each year. The collection will consist of three types of content: ebooks (textbooks, monographs, atlases), ereference works (handbooks and major reference materials), and an ebook series (which is organized into 12 subject categories).
"We have developed an electronic workflow on our production side to mirror that of the journal production workflow where all of our books will now be available," says Ray Colon, global manager of ebooks for Springer, noting that exceptions include works to which Springer does not own distribution rights. "We've provided a journal-like environment. We've journalized the ebook in the indexing, the production workflow, and also the chapter-level approach. We have created the ability for a user to perform a search, find a book chapter just like they would a journal article."
Users can search ebooks on SpringerLink according to several criteria, such as title, abstract, and author. They can also target the search to media type (ebooks, journals, reference works). The ebook search results include information such as publisher, copyright date, and ISBN; and above those entries, green squares denote the level of access the user's library has to that particular piece of content. All the ebooks—like electronic journals—will be fully indexed, making them more prominently displayed in the search results. "Some of these titles will now have a great opportunity for high visibility and high usability," says Colon.
Users will be able to view and search the ebooks either by individual chapter or the entire text via PDF, which replicates the pages of a printed book—including high resolution photographs and images. The reference works are available in HTML because the files are too large for a PDF, says Colon. And because the PDFs can't reproduce all images in a high quality, SpringerLink will offer an area on the service where users can obtain those images separately from the ebook. (Other materials, such as CD-ROM content that sometimes accompanies print books, will also be accessible in this supplemental materials section.) Users will be able to print individual chapters or entire ebooks, although Colon admits that printing out a 500-page book, for example, is a formidable task.
Springer will grant unlimited concurrent access and use—more than one user can read an ebook at the same time—and users can save and store the ebooks on their hard drive, if desired. "We hope this will set a trend that this content should be available to the researchers," says Colon. "We believe there is little risk in our policy. There is no reason to suspect there will be incredible amounts of piracy. We believe that providing unlimited access to the content and unlimited use will increase the visibility of our content and provide the ability to sell more print books."
Libraries can purchase desired subject areas (such as computer science, engineering, or medicine) or the entire ebook collection. And once they purchase ebooks, they own them forever—unlike expirations typically associated with subscriptions. Pricing is based on several factors, including an institution's size. In addition, Springer has partnered with ebrary, NetLibrary, Amazon, and Google to offer individual titles for sale.
Colon claims that the library purchasing model and the unlimited access feature separate Springer's ebook program from the competition and that the company feels those attributes will contribute to this venture's success. "It's creating that journal environment that's what is going to make ebooks successful," says Colon.
As far as the technology is concerned, Colon says Springer started on the ground level, with plans to enhance it as the program gains momentum in the user community. "We've got a ‘plain Jane' [technology] that we're launching into the market," he says. "We'll worry about the accessories, the earrings, and the dress later. We want to see if the end users will start using the books."
Colon says Springer expects to quickly learn the impact of the ebooks by tracking usage on SpringerLink. He adds that this information will also help Springer determine which subject areas warrant additional or fewer ebook titles. "We'll have the ability to capture frequency of search terminology being entered," says Colon. So, for instance, if a particular topic is the subject of many searches, Springer will consider adding content in that area.