Sony 6″ Touchscreen eReader with Wi-Fi

Cost: $119

File Types Supported: ePub, PDF, Adobe DRM, JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, MP3, AAC, TXT

Screen: 6” E Ink Pearl™ with Clear Touch Infrared Technology, 16 level gray scale 600 x 800 pixels

Battery: Single charge lasts over a month with wireless off based upon a half-hour of daily reading time. Up to 14,000 continuous page turns

Reviews: Engadget

Kindle Keyboard

Cost: $139

File Types Supported: Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (AA, AAX), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP. NO ePUB SUPPORT

Screen: 6″ diagonal electronic paper display, 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi, 16-level gray scale.

Battery: A single charge lasts for up to two months with wireless off based upon a half-hour of daily reading time.

Reviews: Engadget

Purpose of the Report

Featured

The purpose of this White Paper is to inform school districts in British Columbia about the state of E-Books, E-Readers and the implementation issues surrounding the usage of these new technologies and formats.  While there is much excitement, engagement and interest in exploring the implementation of E-Books as part of a school district’s digital resources, there is also much confusion and frustration over lack of a clear direction on how best to implement and support these devices and formats.

The hope is that by exploring these devices, formats, distribution methods, licensing issues and content available, there will be some suggested solutions and ideas on how to best capture these new technologies for implementation within our schools in the near future.

Future Directions

The future of E-Books and E-Readers cannot be confidently predicted, but we can extrapolate some current patterns today for the directions of tomorrow and assume a few key considerations to keep in mind.

Convergence

Right now, it seems the E-Book and E-Reader industries are moving towards convergence.  Just like we used to carry around separate phones, cameras, MP3 players, GPS devices and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), we now have the option to carry only one smartphone.

The evolution of functions within E-Reader devices from standalone, single-use devices to multi-function and comprehensive tools will come and can already be seen in the new E-Reader models. The Kindle Fire, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Kobo Vox are all able to run and install apps, just like a tablet or smartphone.  Just as E-Readers are trying to offer more functionality and uses, the new tablets  are also ‘coming down’ with their functionality, trying to provide useful, free, and comfortable E-Reader apps that users would download and install in order to access and read E-Books.

Do consumers and patrons want to carry around multiple devices?  We would argue based on historical evidence that no, in time, patrons, students, educators and consumers will want their E-Books and other digital content on the devices they are already using and have access to and that their preference is one, multi-function device, instead of many, single-use items.

It also needs mentioning that almost all of the E-Books currently available through any of the different distribution systems can also be read on any computer/laptop browser, or tablet/smartphone with the required apps installed.  The limitations of sitting in front of your computer, or having a laptop in bed, or the small screen size of most smartphones, really limits these types of E-Reading devices for prolonged reading sessions.

Therefore, it seems more likely that in the future, tablets and other devices of that size and format, with larger screen size, but smaller form factor, will be the most preferred option for E-Readers of the future.

Digital Distribution

What is much more difficult to predict is the directions of the publishers and the distribution companies, and the copyright challenges that are still unaddressed.  Because the internet and digital landscape exist outside of geographical institutions and systems, there are no easy answers to the problems faced.

Publishers and authors, in general, do not seem very eager at this time to explore the new digital formats and distribution options.  Just like the music industry, they are wary to ‘release the keys’ and let their content slip out into the digital realm without safeguards and assurances that their intellectual property and copyright will be protected.

Harper Collins, one of the biggest publishers in the industry, changed its E-Book policy so that newly purchased E-Books can only be lent 26 times before the E-Book ‘expires’ and the library must purchase a new digital copy to continue lending out to patrons. It is worth mentioning that subsequent copies are then available at a cheaper price.

Another significant change recently was Penguin Group Publishers deciding to prevent all of their new E-Books from lending by Overdrive through public library circulation systems.  There is not much information as to why, nor are there any future directions expressed to help librarians and patrons understand this significant development.  This change in policy literally came overnight and shocked the library world.

With two of the major publishers pulling back, and still many others holding their content away from the digital world of E-Books, things are not looking very bright from the perspective of the large publishing houses.  This is reminiscent of the music industry, when the major labels were not keen on releasing their catalogues, and did not collaborate in order to provide consumers and patrons with access to their entire libraries.  That eventually changed through different pressures, industry development and legal frameworks that enabled the music industry to evolve.  The E-Book industry will most likely follow in these footsteps and will eventually find a way to progressively move forward in their model to embrace digital distribution.

Challenges

The future of E-Books and E-Readers has some very significant hurdles to overcome in order to transition to a predictable and stable environment that consumer and patrons will embrace.  There are a few key significant challenges that will need to addressed, especially in Canada and BC.

1.       Industry Standards

One of the most popular E-Readers today is the Amazon Kindle and its different models.  These are by far the most purchased and used E-Readers, but they have some difficult restrictions that prevent its overall recommendation.  One of which is the lack of ePub support, an industry standard format for E-Books.  This is problematic as Amazon is creating a second, separate ecosystem for their E-Readers and E-Books, keeping Kindle users from accessing E-Books from other vendors. All Amazon E-Readers use a special, proprietary format called .AZW and download E-Books through the “WhisperNet” with built in 3G modems.

2.       Distribution Systems

Also challenging for British Columbian library patrons is that the distribution system that all public libraries in BC use, Overdrive, does not support Amazon Kindle E-Readers for E-Book borrowing. All other E-Readers from the other major manufacturers are supported by Overdrive and can download Library books from BC public libraries.  Also worth noting is that all major smartphones and tablets are also supported by the Overdrive system.

3.      E-Reader Maintenance

Some school and public libraries have begun exploring lending programs for both E-Books and E-Readers.  They are servicing the demand of patrons by taking on the management, control and purchasing of E-Readers and also the content (E-Books) downloaded onto these devices.

Many are finding significant cost and maintenance issues with this strategy, having devices returned in non-working condition, and increased time in managing the transfer of content to the devices prior to circulation.

There are significant challenges to providing and maintaining a large collection of E-Readers to lend to patrons and this avenue is not preferable in the long run.  The evolution of E-Readers, systems and devices is changing rapidly, and it is best to try and remain agnostic of specific devices and systems, providing only the content at this time to as many patrons and devices as possible.

4.      Restricted Access

Another significant challenge ahead is that the most popular and most functional distribution system, Overdrive, is not able to provide contracts that guarantee continued and ongoing access to a Publishing house’s catalogue.  As previously mentioned, Penguin Books pulled all their new E-Book content from the Overdrive distribution system with very little notice to Libraries who already contracted Overdrive to provide distribution services to their patrons.

Overdrive has also been forced by publishers to restrict access to the E-Book library catalogue with Library circulation policies that maintain strict limits for patrons who can only be from their local geographic region.

5.      Lifespan

Also contrary to the capabilities of digital E-Books, which can be infinitely copied, easily distributed, and do not require physical resources, publishers are trying to maintain existing economic models of sale and distribution.

Publishers are denying libraries the ability to dynamically manage the number of copies of an E-Book in circulation, and in the case of Harper Collins, limiting the “lifespan” of an E-Book to only 26 circulations before destruction.

  • Libraries are forced to maintain long wait-lists of patrons for the few copies of an E-Book they have the rights to circulate.
  • Also, libraries are no longer granted “ownership” over the E-Book and are only granted a license to distribute, based on terms and conditions of the publisher.
  • Libraries must purchase multiple copies of popular E-Books multiple times in order to maintain their existing E-Book collections.

6.      Cost

Another drawback to the current economic model of E-Books is the higher cost and restricted release schedule that publishers currently employ.  Most new books are not released as E-Books until well after the first-run, hard-cover editions are sold.

They are also usually sold at the same price as the hard-cover edition, a premium price for a digital artefact. This does not reflect the increased savings from not having to physically print, ship, and distribute these new digital versions.

7.       Copyright

There will also be new and significant challenges for public and school libraries in the near future as Canada is expected to adopt a new Copyright law, Bill C-11, the Copyright Modernization Act, which has some significant changes for Inter-Library Loans, as well as rules regarding Distance Learning materials.

The Canadian Library Association as prepared a comprehensive statement regarding the implications this new copyright bill will have on Libraries and their abilities to serve patrons in a digital realm.

Report on current E-Reader options in Canada

There are three mainstream options for E-Readers currently available in Canada.

  • low-end, single use devices that only support E-Books and reading
  • mid-range devices that are multi-functional, in that they can install basic applications, like tablets, and can display some multimedia, but are much lower cost and have reduced abilities when compared with full tablets
  • high-end full range multi-functional tablets, that have high-quality screens and multiple E-Reader applications available to install

Within each level, there are options from most of the major manufacturers.  The dominant E-Reader manufacturers in Canada are Kobo, Amazon, Sony and Apple.  This table compares the most likely and recommended options available for purchase and support among the different grades of features available in Canada during December 2011.

Low-End Single Use E-Readers

These devices are all very inexpensive, offer long battery life, and work simply and easily.  They offer only one single use, to read E-Books, and only support a few formats of E-Book types.  They are a limited option as these devices will likely be obsolete soon, and may not carry ongoing support.

What they lack for in functionality, they make up for in simplicity and ease of use and support.  One important note is that the Amazon Kindle devices do not currently work with Overdrive, the public library circulation system. The Kobo and Sony E-Readers are enabled for library borrowing.

Kindle

Kindle Keyboard

Kobo

Kobo Touch

Sony 6″ Touchscreen eReader with Wi-Fi

Mid-Range Devices

This class of device is going to grow over the next few years as many different manufacturers are looking at bringing down the cost of the tablet devices to become more affordable and more useful than the single use E-Readers explored in the previous table.

At the time of writing, the Kindle Fire is not available in Canada and was not included in this comparison table. Also not available in Canada is the Barnes and Noble Nook E-reader tablet.

Kobo Vox

Licensing options

There are few options right now for school districts and libraries who want to offer E-Books via digital distributions systems online that are robust, easy to use and to implement, and offer a wide range of collections.

There are several good options for non-fiction resources, in the form of Digital libraries from EBSCO or Gale Cengage Virtual Reference Library.  While these collections are easy to use, integrate well with existing union catalogues, and contain many E-Books, they are heavily focused on non-fiction resources, and carry only basic, public domain fiction titles.

There are individual publishing houses starting to offer their collections online through mostly browser based access to the digital versions of their titles.  One good example of this is Orca Publishers, who not only offer their E-Books through the usual digital distributors (Amazon, Kobo, Overdrive and Tablet Apps), but also offer browser based access to class sets of their books through their own website.

The difference is that using the distribution systems of the E-Reader manufacturer (Kobo, Amazon) or distribution company (Overdrive), allows patrons to download an E-Book directly onto any E-Reader device, while using a “browser based” download limits patrons to reading the E-Book or digital resource on a full computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet, but not a single-use low-end E-Reader.

Today, the most utilized and contracted digital distribution system used by public and school libraries across North America is called Overdrive. This digital distribution system takes care of managing your digital collections, lending, and maintaining access for your students and patrons 24/7.  As described on the Overdrive.com website:

“Give your students access to digital books and more — anytime — with School Download Library. Students can check out titles online, and read or listen offline on PC or Mac®, smartphones, MP3 players, and eBook readers including Sony® Reader and Kindle® (US only). You build this digital collection based on grade level or school curriculum with digital titles available in virtually every subject.” (http://www.overdrive.com/Solutions/Schools/)

As the description implies, Amazon Kindle E-Readers are not supported in Canada, which is a significant drawback for any of the Kindle E-Readers, as they cannot borrow books from any OverDrive distribution system. Every other device, from all levels, basic to tablet, including all smartphones are supported, but no Amazon Kindle products are at this time.

All of the public municipal libraries across British Columbia already use the Overdrive system, and have implemented an easy to use check-out system that allows patrons, using their library card barcode and password, to check out any of their E-Books currently available.

The Overdrive collection within the BC Public Library System is currently at 13,120 titles and growing.  Many of the more popular and newer fiction titles have extensive waitlists, despite multiple copies of each title.

A couple of challenges already mentioned regarding the Overdrive distribution system warrant reminding here, that Penguin Publishing has pulled all new E-Book releases from the Overdrive system, and that Overdrive does subtly restrict Library and patron access to collections based on geographic limitations.  Individual libraries also lose control and ownership of their digital collections when signing up with Overdrive.  They no longer own any of the E-Books they lend, and they no longer control how long they are in circulation, as is the case of Harper Collin’s E-Books and their 26 times lending limit.

Another example of a digital distribution system for British Columbia school districts and libraries is Follet Shelf, a system that offers similar functionality as Overdrive and a significant catalogue of available fiction and non-fiction titles.  Follet Shelf also has unlimited access in a browser based environment, allowing entire classes to explore these digital E-Books simultaneously with unlimited checkouts available on select non-fiction titles.  There are a few examples of school libraries, mainly secondary school libraries that have implemented this distribution system on a trial basis and are currently evaluating their experiences.

One last distribution system available to British Columbia libraries to enable basic E-Book lending functionality is the Canadian Electronic Library:

 “as of December 2010, the Canadian Electronic Library has released over 30,000 Canadian monographs to libraries (of which over 12,000 are current in-copyright titles from 65 Canadian publishers,) making the service Canada’s largest collection of online books for libraries. The service is in use in every university in Canada.” (http://canadianelectroniclibrary.ca/celhome.html)

There is a lot of Canadian content available through this distribution system and they do offer competitive pricing, which can allow smaller library collections to more easily embed this digital distribution system into their catalogue, using MARC record integration with their online union catalogue. The Canadian Electronic Library only offers browser based access to their collection. At this time they do not support any of the low end single-use E-Readers.  Also worth mentioning is that this Electronic Library is heavily focused on Post-Secondary resources and will not be as functional and useful as other options for K-12 environments.

Guidelines for districts to assist in conducting their own needs assessment

When looking at offering new digital resources to your students, staff and patrons, it is important to move forward in a sustainable, manageable and valuable direction.  Many of your patrons already have their own devices with which to read E-Books.  Utilizing this as a first step is an easier way to start providing this digital content.  As you provide more digital content, and can see which devices and services are working best and are most popular, this feedback can best guide the future steps of perhaps integrating E-Readers to lend to patrons and students that do not have their own devices.

Encouraging students and patrons to explore the “browser based” access to try and test out resources first, before committing to supporting E-Books on specific E-Readers, is an efficient way to move forward with very little risk.  Districts should ‘test the waters’ to gauge how much demand is out there, by asking which devices interested patrons have, and which type of content is most desired.  Teachers and Teacher-Librarians will be interested in both non-fiction and fiction, while most patrons and consumers will be primarily interested in fiction E-Books.

Critical Questions to ask before implementing new E-Books and E-Readers in your district

  • Will my patrons be accessing the digital content through a browser, or download onto their E-Reader?
  • What types of devices do most of my patrons already have, or are looking at purchasing?
  • What collections would you most like to focus on?  Fiction or Non-Fiction?
  • Do you plan on purchasing E-Readers to lend out to patrons? How much time and resources can you allocate to managing these devices?

Library usage examples & recommendations

Some BC school libraries are already trying out some of the digital resources through EBSCO and Gale Cengage’s Virtual Reference Library, through mostly browser based access at school and at home.  There are many benefits to this model, including unlimited access for entire classes to explore the same resource simultaneously.

As students are looking for E-Books to check out on their own devices, they will start looking towards school districts and libraries.  Follet Shelf and Overdrive offer fairly simple fiction collection distribution systems that can be contracted by a school district to handle this digital distribution demand.

The Canadian Electronic Library system can also allow your district to embed specific Canadian content directly into your library circulation system, through browser based access inside your union catalogue web interface.

While there are significant challenges ahead regarding instability in access and makeup of these digital collections, the directions and trends are definitely headed towards increased, expanded, and better supported, access in general to E-Books, digital content and inexpensive devices.

Summary

While there are many challenges ahead in the transition from traditional paper books to digital E-Books, we are slowly building the infrastructure that will enable generations of future readers.  By exploring and experimenting with a few E-Readers and E-Book circulation systems progressively and by sharing the experiences widely, we can all move forward with confidence and knowledge that will enable service to as many students, teachers, patrons and visitors as possible.

We can strive to provide digital services to those who already have E-Reader devices or Apps, and we can work towards providing access to E-Books and digital resources to those that don’t through alternatives such as browser based access and lending physical E-Readers to patrons who need them.  The future of E-Readers and E-Books is slowly pulling into the station, we must prepare to board.