Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Are e-books a threat or an alternative?

E-books are in the news these days with Amazon's Kindle reader attracting lots of attention (not yet available here in Sweden sadly). Many fear that attractive e-readers will lead to a collapse of the publishing industry in the same way as the growth of the iPod and suchlike has caused havoc in the music industry.

A UK project called JISC National E-books Observatory has been investigating these fears and the preliminary findings are surprising. They have given all UK students access to e-book versions of 36 standard university textbooks in medicine, technology and science and monitored usage patterns. Interestingly they have not found any signs that e-book access has influenced book sales at all. Those who would normally have bought the books have done so and the others have probably used the e-books as an alternative to borrowing or copying the hard copies (as they did in the past). Another surprising finding was that there was no indictaion that the younger generation was more interested in e-books than the older generation; thereby denting the net generation myth.

The project is the largest ever survey of e-book reading habits and has involved nearly 50,000 responses. Read more in an article in Publishers' Weekly.

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