May 5, 2010
From staff reports
More than five hundred years ago, Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized publishing with a printing press that allowed for the mass production of books.
Today, in an era when hundreds of thousands of books are published every year, the publishing world is undergoing another revolution, this one caused by another tool: the Internet.
Recently, news headlines were filled with the announcement of Apple’s iPad, an eReader that is but one example -- the Kindle, Nook, and Reader are others -- of a practical, reader-friendly device that threatens (or promises) to leave the printed page in the dust.
But how is this revolution playing out in academia? And how does electronic publishing affect institutions like the Ohio University Press?
In 2009, eBooks accounted for $313 million in sales among U.S. publishers – up by 176.6 percent from the previous year – according to an annual report by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). Meanwhile, total book sales dipped 1.8 percent.
Brick and mortar bookstores -- especially independents -- have struggled to adapt to this new environment, with Amazon being a powerful new competitor.
And while publishers tout the trend as tech-savvy and environmentally friendly, it ultimately comes down to the bottom line: It is more cost-effective to produce and distribute eBooks.
But there are distinct differences between academic presses and trade publishers, notes Kristi Goldsberry, assistant business manager at the Ohio University Press.
"There just isn't enough data out there to predict how much revenue we could possibly budget for electronic books," she said, noting that eBook revenue currently represents less than 1 percent of total sales for even the largest university presses. "What we can do is keep forging ahead and be the most prepared we can possibly be."
At Ohio University Press, which publishes more than 40 books each year, about 75 percent of the books are printed digitally.
"This allows us to print shorter runs of the hard copy editions," said Production Manager Beth Pratt. "We can then print on-demand runs when the warehouse stock gets low."
This process, which has been happening for years, saves on warehouse costs and on production costs.
In the past two years, Ohio University Press has enabled select titles to be sold as eBooks for the Kindle and Nook (the Barnes & Noble eReader). The press is currently in negotiations to distribute books with Google Editions, which aims to launch this summer.
Electronic books are also available through the Ohio University Press Web site.
"Currently, we have 58 books available for sale on our website as PDFs," said Goldsberry. "And we are in the process of adding 77 new books as Adobe Digital Editions, a format that will allow us to sell books in time variables."
These time sensitive eBooks will be priced according to how many days a buyer wants them for: 180 days, 30 days or forever.
Though eBooks have not yet been a significant factor in terms of overall sales among university presses, the sense in the industry is that this may be changing, according to Ohio University Press Director David Sanders.
"The market for eBooks, while still small, is growing steadily," Sanders said. "The nature of its impact on scholarly publishing remains to be seen, but it will be great. We want to be sure Ohio University Press can meet the needs and demands of its customers, now and in the future."