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What is an e-book? And what’s an e-audio book?
The word e-book means ‘electronic book’. An e-book is a book that is produced to be read in full text form on a computer or other portable electronic device such as an eReader, rather than being printed like a traditional book. Some e-book devices even simulate page turning!
Audio books are read aloud and recorded to be listened to on an audio player. In the past this may have been on a cassette tape or CD, but now as technology has advanced, you can download and listen to a digital audio e-book through a computer or a mobile listening device such as an MP3 player or iPod.
Formats of e-books
Ignoring Kindles – because Amazon creates its own file formats which don’t work on anything but a Kindle – there are two main file types for e-books (books that you read)
- .pdf has been around a long time and is used for many types of document, such as government reports. It is used for documents whose authors are happy for them to be in the public domain – in other words it is not normally used for books you would buy. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader software in order to open and read .pdf files. This software is free to download to any computer.
- .epub is a new file format used for e-books. You need Adobe Digital Editions software in order to open and read .epub files. The software is free to download, but you need to register the software to each device you use. This means publishers can ensure books are only read by people who have registered with Adobe – reducing the risk of piracy of books.
If you go to websites offering free e-books, such as Project Gutenberg, you’ll see a wide range of formats; but if you’re a beginner, we suggest you stick to books in the above formats.
In terms of e-audio books (books you listen to), there are two main file types:
- .mp3 files. If you have a digital music player, it is very likely to be an mp3 player. You shouldn’t need any special software to play mp3 files – most players will recognise them.
- .wma are Windows Media Audio files, and you will need Windows Media Player or something similar to play them. Windows Media Player is normally preloaded on any Microsoft PC or laptop that you buy.
What e-book suppliers are available to UK public libraries?
- Overdrive: An American company and one of the first lending platforms for popular e-books.They have been in UK libraries since 2008. If your library uses Overdrive then you have access to e-books and possibly e-audio books, depending on your subscription.
- Askews: have been supplying print books to UK libraries since 1932, and entered the e-book market in 2011. They are planning to start offering e-audio in 2012.
- Public Library Online: this is Bloomsbury’s offering to the e-book library market. Because the books have to be read online, they don’t have any Digital Rights Management restrictions, which makes them much more straightforward to read.This does mean however, that you need a stable internet connection to read a book.
- WF Howes have been supplying audio books on cassette and CD to the library market since 1999, and first produced the popular Playaway in 2006 – a single digital audiobook on a dedicated player. They entered the e-audio book market for libraries in 2009, with the Clipper downloadable service.
- Bolinda is an Australian company new to the UK library market, supplying e-audio books.
What e-readers and e-audio devices are available in the UK?
The first thing to say is that YOU CAN’T CURRENTLY BORROW LIBRARY BOOKS ON AMAZON’S KINDLE. If you want to borrow books, buy any other device listed in the websites below. The situation with the Kindle could change in 2012, so watch this space.
- The Kobo, available from WH Smith
- The Sony e-reader, which you can buy directly from Sony’s website.
- E-audio book readers: It’s harder to recommend particular models, because the majority of audio books are mp3 files, meaning they can be played on any mp3 player – and there are literally thousands of mp3 players on the market. However there’s not many with the following functionality:
- Mid-track resume, and bookmarking: mid-track resume means you can stop the player to answer the phone or go to the shops, and when you switch it back on it will go to the place where it stopped. Bookmarking is as it sounds: you can place a marker which will allow you easily to go back to your place.
- Play order: downloading can scramble the order of the chapters, and if your player doesn’t have ability to sort this then you’ll have a scrambled book.
- Plenty of memory: a high-quality audio book can take up 1gb of memory.
- Rewind: some players don’t have a rewind function, which will be annoying if you miss a bit – which you will do if you fall asleep!
It’s really difficult to find players that meet all these criteria. One librarian who knows more about it than most recommends Creative players. The following are worth investigating: The SanDisk Sansa Clip seems to have all the functions mentioned above. The iPod Nano has mid-track resume and rewind/fast forward functions, but not bookmarking The Samsung YP also has mid-track resume and rewind / fast forward, but not bookmarking.
Ignoring this functionality, Overdrive very helpfully provides a list of devices that play mp3 and wma files with links to product pages. Unfortunately the list is American so items may not be available in the UK, but it’s useful to browse through the product pages and see what functionality each item has.
Mobile Devices – E-audio and e-book apps
Many people now have smartphones (a phone which can access the internet) in their pocket. Most of these have the ability to play mp3 files or read .epub books. You can load little pieces of software onto smartphones, called apps, and there are many apps available for e-books and e-audiobooks. There are also apps for tablet computers such as iPads. Overdrive have an app called Overdrive Media Console which allows you to borrow e-books from your library and read them on your phone or other mobile device.
- In terms of e-audiobooks, they are more or less the same as music files: in other words, you download the audio book directly to your smartphone, using 3G or a WiFi connection. For some e-book platforms, you may need to download to your PC first, then synchronise to your phone. You may not have all the functionality of a dedicated e-book reader or MP3 player, but you can read on the go, using one device, which is appealing for lots of people.
There are apps you can get which separate your audio books from your music files on your smartphone, making the process of playing them easier. However, the apps tend to be linked to particular suppliers – Apple has Audible, for example, and Overdrive has Media Console. It’s not always possible or easy to transfer audio books between your apps, or to collate all your books, borrowed or bought, into one app. You may find you need an app for each service.
Current challenges public libraries are facing
There is a lack of content for public libraries to buy. The market is relatively new and some publishers and booksellers are justifiably worried about their business. There are some key misconceptions about public libraries that are holding back progress:
- Some publishers think libraries lend indiscriminately, to any member of the public – sometimes even to people overseas.
- Some publishers think that library books are not securely protected, meaning they can be easily pirated.
- Some publishers believe that the remote access to loaning e-books means that people who would have bought a book, will only ever loan it instead.
As a result, few big publishers are currently selling to library e-book suppliers. For example, Macmillan and Simon and Schuster don’t make their books available. At the time of writing, the Society of Chief Librarians is in discussion with a number of organisations, including the Publishers’ Association, to try and establish a baseline offer for public libraries which would address publishers’ concerns.
- Many people have bought Kindles – but can’t borrow library books on them. The Kindle e-reader was a huge success for Amazon in 2011. They won’t reveal how many were sold but this article about Bloomsbury estimates 1.3 million units, and this seems to be borne out by e-book sales, as reported in the Bookseller. However, the problem is that you can’t borrow library e-books using a Kindle, which makes the sales somewhat threatening to us. Amazon and Overdrive have stated that they would like Overdrive books to be borrowed on Kindles in the UK, as happens in the US now, but there is no date scheduled. Worse, the deal in the US has been seen as threatening copyright holders, and Penguin withdrew its books from Overdrive UK in November 2011. Public libraries are caught in the middle of the argument between publishers, Amazon and Overdrive; so many people now have Kindles that it’s important that they can borrow books on them – but if this happens, the publishers and authors may see it as a threat and withhold their titles.
There is clearly some tension between Amazon, booksellers and publishers. One interesting recent development (January 2012) is that Barnes and Noble, the biggest bookshop chain in the USA, have stopped stocking books published by Amazon’s publishing arm, in protest against Amazon signing exclusive deals with authors and agents which make e-books unavailable to B&N customers. It’s a token gesture as Amazon don’t publish many physical books, but it’s giving authors cause to think.
New commercial subscription models are also coming – lending platforms which could present us with competition. These new sites have not yet launched, and will be charging a download fee or monthly subscription, but it is too soon to see what impact they will have on public library lending.
How to download an e-book and read or listen to it
These generic guidelines should help you to give advice to library customers about e-books. Customers need to be quite confident with computers and computer software because they will normally be downloading at home.
It is worth noting that there are a number of e-book suppliers so the procedure will vary slightly for each one. Currently the main suppliers to UK public libraries are: OverDrive, Askews, Public Library Online and W F Howes.
In order to get started with e-books, a library customer will generally require:
- A valid library card number (and possibly PIN)
- Internet access
- A computer (or device) that meets the system requirements of whatever format the customer wants to download
- The customer will need to download and install the free software
- The customer may need to activate the free software.
So what does this mean in principle? Let’s look at each requirement in more detail:
A valid library card number – Customers will need to join their local library if they are not already a member. The library card number will be used when downloading e-books.
Internet access – The need for access to the internet is obvious to us as library workers, but less confident customers may not grasp this. Therefore you may need to explain that internet access is required for the actual download of an e-book. Once the book has been downloaded to the customer’s PC or device then they can read it offline.
Computer or compatible device – Customers need access to their own computer or device because software must be downloaded before they can use the service. Emphasize that Amazon’s Kindle is not compatible at the moment. This means it is not possible to borrow UK public library e-books on a Kindle. You can point your customer to your supplier’s compatibility page for devices that will work with your service.
Download/install free software – This can be more technical but in each case the supplier provides step-by-step online instructions. It can take a little time to download this software, depending on internet connection, broadband speed and other variables; advise customers of this. It is quick and easy to download the OverDrive app to a Smartphone, iPhone or tablet. These mobile apps are becoming more and popular.
Activate free software – Some of the software may have to be activated by the customer. One example is Adobe Digital Editions. This can be activated with an anonymous ID or by using an Adobe ID. Anonymous activation allows you to download and read DRM-protected e-books on a single computer only. Activating using an Adobe ID allows you to download and read DRM-protected e-books on multiple computers and transfer them to supported e-book devices.
OK now the customer is all set up, how does the process work? Let’s look at one of the main suppliers, OverDrive:
- Browse – Browse the e-book catalogue through the supplier’s website.
- Check Out – When the customer finds a title of interest, they add it to their basket and check it out.
- Download – Once the customer has checked out a title, a download page is displayed. They click the “download” link to start the download. When the download is complete, the customer can open and enjoy the title
Customers occasionally experience problems with downloading. To help with trouble shooting include these details when you contact your third party suppliers:
- Library card number
- Title(s) of the problem download(s)
- Steps to reproduce the problem
- Exact text of any error messages
- Urls of any error pages
- Applicable software
- Operating system
- Internet browser
- If applicable, device e.g. iPhone
Other free sources of e-books
It may seem strange to encourage customers to use other services than our own, but some libraries do include links to sites for free e-books on their digital library page. It increases the number of books the library can offer its customers and reinforces the traditional role of librarians advising the public on good sources of information. With each passing year there are more and more sites offering free e-books, both audio and written. As these are restricted by copyright they can offer the same range of titles, though of differing quality and in different formats. Some of the well-known sites are listed below:
- Not only does this site provide access to a wide range of classic texts, these are accompanied by study guides, reference material and more.
- The E-Book Directory gives an insight to the range of books, documents and lecture notes that can be found across the internet. These can either be read online or downloaded in a range of formats.
- International Children’s Digital Library A site dedicated to free children’s literature in many languages. The ICDL Research Team aim to increase access to literature for children between 3 to 13 years through use of technology.
- One of the best known sources of free e-books. This offers over 38,000 books in both ePub and mobi (Kindle) formats and is the work of many volunteers.
Librivox audio books
- Like Project Gutenberg, this site aims to record every book in the public domain. It contains some 6000 books, so has a bit of a way to go! Because the reader is so important in e-audio books, and because Librivox is run by volunteers, it has a “hand-knitted feel” which is not to everybody’s taste.
For more free sources of eBooks try this site: 100 Useful Links for eBook Lovers
How to publish your own e-book
It’s surprisingly easy to publish an e-book. Newcastle, South Ayrshire and Edinburgh library authorities have uploaded locally-produced e-books to their Overdrive platform, and Birmingham has experimented with publishing Kindle books.
- Jen Bakewell of the Library of Birmingham has written out her experiences in a document called “My Epublishing Experiment”, which you will find as an attachment right at the foot of this page.
If you work in a public library you can join the E-books Group at https://knowledgehub.local.gov.uk/. Run by the Society of Chief Librarians, it offers a place where people can learn what’s going on nationally, and discuss issues with peers. At the time of writing it had a membership of 106. You will need to register on the Knowledgehub, then find and join the e-books group.
The Bookseller’s website offers a very good way of keeping up to date with trade developments: http://www.thebookseller.com/
- Here’s an article from Futurebook that helps upderstand about movements within e-book standards.
- Here’s a report from Price Waterhouse Cooper, published in 2010, about the future of e-books.