Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less
Now that they are firmly established in the consumer sector, electronic books are beginning to demonstrate capabilities that challenge the very definition of reading. Audiovisual, interactive, and social elements enhance the informational content of books and magazines. Social tools extend the reader’s experience into the larger world, connecting readers with one another and enabling deeper, collaborative explorations of the text. The content of electronic books and the social activities they enable, rather than the device used to access them, are the keys to their popularity; nearly everyone carries some device that can function as an electronic reader, and more people are engaging with electronic books than ever before.
Electronic books have continued to rise in popularity since their appearance on the mid-term horizon in the 2010 Horizon Report and that popularity has won them a place on the near term horizon for 2011. The variety of content available — and the range of readers that cater to individual preferences — has grown over that time to the point that electronic books are a viable and easy alternative to printed ones. In addition to dedicated electronic readers, multifunction devices like the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy represent a new class of tools that merges the utility of electronic book readers with web browsing, a wide variety of applications, and an expanding set of entertainment options. The ready availability of both reading devices and digital content makes it very easy to integrate electronic books into everyday portable computing.
The most interesting aspect of electronic books, however, is not the devices they are accessed with; it is not even the texts themselves. What makes electronic books a potentially transformative technology is the new kinds of reading experiences that they make possible. Publishers are beginning to explore richly visual interfaces that include multimedia and collaborative elements. The social magazine format used by Flipboard, for example, turns the browsing of RSS-enabled web content into a serendipitous experience, a dynamic journey that changes every time it is opened. Magazines like Time, Wired, and others include interactive graphs, links that extend the reader’s experience, video, and more. Epicurious for the iPad is a rich media cookbook complete with reviews, tips, recommendations, and the ability to add recipes.
As the electronic book moves further from a digital reproduction of a printed piece, some writers are seeing it become something far richer, allowing journeys through worlds real and imagined, undertaken not alone but in company with other readers. The gestural interfaces of new electronic devices enhance the intellectual experience of reading with tactile interactions. Electronic books have the potential to transform the way we interact with reading material of all kinds, from popular titles to scholarly works. For three compelling visions of the future promised by the electronic book, see the five-minute video The Future of the Book produced by design firm IDEO (http://vimeo.com/15142335).
Standards for the creation of electronic publications are still in development, and those that exist often focus on the text and do not include guidelines for the kinds of interactivity that is possible in electronic books. As more of its media morphs into digital forms, the publishing industry is undergoing a shift very similar to the one that took place in the music industry in the last decade. New business models and methods of distribution are appearing as older ones begin to falter. While there is no clear winner among the many available and emerging formats, the acceptance and widespread use of electronic books has enabled the industry to see a potential path through the times ahead.
Relevance for Teaching, Learning,Research, or Creative Inquiry
Despite their obvious advantages of size and weight, electronic books are not as established among scholarly readers as they are among the general public. Several obstacles have stood in the way of general adoption among academic institutions: scarcity of academic titles, lack of necessary features in electronic readers to support scholarly work, a restrictive publishing model, and digital rights management (DRM) issues. Most of these constraints are now vanishing. Still to be solved are accessibility issues, as a number of institutions found with 2010 Kindle textbook programs. Many academic titles are now available alongside the broad selection of consumer titles; reader technology has developed to the point that graphs, illustrations, videos, and interactive elements can easily be included, and many enable bookmarking, annotation, commentary, dictionary lookup, and other useful functions.
Publishers have at last begun to uncouple print and electronic sales of textbooks, making it easier to choose one or the other as desired. In some parts of the world, DRM restrictions still impede the adoption of electronic textbooks; titles that are released in one country may be unobtainable in another, or available only on certain platforms. Until electronic textbooks are divorced from reader-dependent formats, broad adoption will continue to be problematic for universities. Nonetheless, the promise offered by the technology is such that electronic books are being explored in virtually every discipline. Clear advantages for students (e.g., price and portability) are other factors that make this technology worth pursuing.
For those with smart phones, iPads, and similar devices, subscription-based services are available that allow students to receive textbooks and ancillary materials on the devices they already own. Some models offer free membership with a payper- book feature; others charge on a per-course basis. Business models are emerging that may lower costs for students, including textbook rentals and bulk purchases by the institution. For-profit universities such as the University of Phoenix have begun requiring faculty to assign electronic texts, and in 2010, the California State University system piloted a similar program. While this reduces student choice, it also provides a way for the university to secure cheaper buying options for students. Course management systems (CMS) are another point of entry to electronic texts; Blackboard has partnered with McGraw-Hill and two booksellers to enable faculty to assign, and students to buy, electronic texts within the Blackboard system. CourseSmart, a consortium of five publishers, has also developed CMS integration for assigning and purchasing electronic texts.
Scholarly journals are beginning to appear in electronic form as well. The European-based Directory of Open Access Journals lists some 5,500 titles — nearly half of which are searchable online at the article level — and a typical university research library will have access to many more. Scholarly journals are not yet common in the mobile space, although electronic versions of many consumer periodicals are already available as custom apps. Pricing models for mobile periodicals vary widely; paper subscribers can sometimes receive mobile versions free, but others must pay separately per issue — sometimes at a higher rate than for a paper subscription.
Pricing and DRM issues aside, electronic books have the potential to truly transform educational practice. Currently, most electronic books and journals are essentially copies of printed versions that can be read on a computer or mobile device. Exciting new examples hint at the possibilities offered by more advanced forms of electronic books — selfdirected, interactive experiences; easy exploration; collaborative work; multi-modal, immersive activities; and other deeply engaging approaches to learning. Mobile applications add easy social interaction around electronic books that could be marshaled in support of group study and focused teacher-student interaction at any point in the text. Electronic texts can be linked to a myriad of supporting materials that can extend and enrich them.
A sampling of applications of electronic books across disciplines includes the following:
- Biology. Raven Biology, an electronic text from publisher Inkling, brings the study of this science to life with detailed illustrations and animations, in-line keyword definitions, and interactive quizzes embedded in each chapter.
- Business. Students in Business Computing at RMIT University participated in an electronic book pilot using custom course material developed from the traditional textbook. Students using the electronic books were able to delve more deeply into the material, access related information beyond what the instructor provided, and use the device’s highlighting and annotation tools to take notes in the digital text.
- Education. At Ball State University, a grantfunded project provided Kindles to students in Studies in Educational Technology. While using the readers for their own study, the future teachers also experienced firsthand how electronic books can be used in teaching and learning.
Electronic Books in Practice
The following links provide examples of how electronic books are being used in higher education settings.
Amazon to Launch “Kindle Singles”
In the fall of 2010, Amazon announced the launch of “Kindle Singles,” short texts of between 10,000 and 50,000 words. The service is designed to provide a market for pieces longer than a magazine article but shorter than a novel, such as academic articles, thought pieces, and research papers.
Created and maintained by Ashford University, Constellation is an electronic textbook series developed expressly for Ashford courses by faculty and special editorial boards. Students may use textbooks on their computers or mobile devices, print them, or store them locally, as they wish.
Cooliris Releases a Wikipedia Magazine Experience for iPad
The Cooliris Wikipedia application draws in content from the online encyclopedia, transforming it into a visually rich, magazine-like display that invites browsing and exploration.
Rochester Institute of Technology’s Open Publishing Lab has developed a system for collecting different types of digital content that can then be published to the open epub format for use on a variety of different electronic readers.
The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross
This interactive, immersive retelling of a classic story with animation, audio, and rich graphics is designed for the iPad.
Stanford University Medical School Issues iPads to Students, Potentially Replacing Textbooks
The Stanford University School of Medicine provides students with iPads containing course materials and interactive study aids. Students find that the iPad reduces the number of textbooks they must carry between classes and appreciate having content in a variety of forms, including video and interactive graphics.
For Further Reading
The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about electronic books.
2009 Librarian eBook Survey
(Michael Newman, HighWire-Stanford University, 26 March 2010.) This comprehensive report analyzes how electronic books are being used in libraries in 13 countries.
Delicious: Electronic Books http://delicious.com/tag/hz11+ebooks
Follow this link to find additional resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report, including the ones listed here. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hz11” and “ebooks” when you save them to Delicious.
Handheld E-Book Readers and Scholarship: Report and Reader Survey
(Nina Gielen, American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Humanities E-Book, 18 August 2010.) This report describes an experiment and reader survey conducted by the ACLS Humanities E-Book in 2009-10 to assess the effectiveness of electronic scholarly monographs.
A Magazine Meant for Mobile
(Tanzina Vega, The New York Times, 10 August 2010.) This article discusses a new online publication for mobile devices. Nomad Editions, written by freelance journalists, will appear on a subscriber’s mobile device as a monthly minimagazine tailored to his or her interests.
Making Disposable Dynamic Displays With Electronic Ink on Real Paper
(Tim Carmody, Wired Gadget Lab, 23 November 2010.) Electrowetting allows electronic ink to be embedded in real paper, merging analog and digital media to create inexpensive displays. This article describes a prototype project that is exploring the possibilities.
What Publishers Can and Should Learn from “The Elements”
(Mac Slocum, O’Reilly Radar, 12 August 2010.) This article interviews Theodore Gray, author of The Elements, and discusses how the digital version pushes the envelope of electronic book publishing.
Yes, People Still Read, But Now It’s Social
(Steven Johnson, The New York Times, 18 June 2010.) Writer Steven Johnson argues that electronic books will transform reading into a more social experience.