COST action IS1404 “Evolution of reading in the age of digitisation (E-READ)” started in November



Posted for Elena Maceviciute and Kersti Nilsson

The kick-off meeting of the Management Committee for the E-READ project was held on November 28, 2014. Twenty-six countries sent their representatives and, as each country could have two representatives in the Management Committee, there were over forty people in the meeting. Some of them were old acquaintances and colleagues whom we knew quite well from previous collaboration. However, the interdisciplinary nature of the action brought together many different researchers from education, psychology, neurology, information technology, publishing studies, library and information science, literature and language research. The main purpose of the first meeting was to solve the initial issues related to the governance, organization, coordination, and planning. The meeting acknowledged the commitment of the initiators of the project by unanimous vote for Dr. Anne Mangen (Stavanger University, Norway) as a chair of the action and Prof. Adriaan van der Weel (University of Leiden, the Netherlands) as a vice-chair. Stavanger University became the Grant Holder. The budget and the plan for the first year have been approved by the Management Committee. The plan includes the first workshops in Ljubljana in April of 2015 and Szeged in October, a training school in Berlin on experiential and neuro-cognitive methods in September of 2015, and short-term scientific missions. The training school in Berlin attracted so much interest that the Management Committee has reallocated resources from the regular workshops to increase the number of attendees to Berlin.

Though the first meeting was mainly devoted to official and administrative matters, it is worth presenting here the main goals of this COST action, which make it interesting to our project. This part of the post is based on the text from the Memorandum of Understanding and the presentation made by Anne Mangen (thanks for sharing the slides, Anne). As we are investigating the impact of e-books on a small language market and culture, it is impossible to eliminate the reading issues from it. We are looking into the social aspects of reading through the SOM institute surveys, but also into the behaviour of different reader groups in relation to the adoption of e-books in Sweden. The COST action is mainly concerned with the impact of digitization on reading and seeks to develop an aggregate measure of reading in any environment (on paper or on screen) based on the integrative model of reading. The integrative model of reading includes ergonomic, perceptual, cognitive, phenomenological and socio-cultural dimensions. That is why it is expected that researchers from different disciplines collaborating within this project will help us to increase understanding of reading process and the changes brought about by the spread of digital technologies. Support for different people in different contexts for coping with the new demands on reading is seen as one of the pragmatic outcomes of research activities in E-READ. Our project fits into the research of socio-cultural dimensions of reading and to some extent to the experiential and perceptual dimension research. We also expect to develop other research projects related to E-READ.

COST actions support the networking activities, but not research; therefore, the E-READ will be used for coordination of existing reading research projects, building collaboration between social sciences, humanities and natural sciences, and creating new interdisciplinary projects, including those fitting the Horizon 2020 framework. The action also includes considerable publicity measures, especially, communication with the main interest groups, such as educators, publishers, hardware and software agencies, reading promoters, policy makers, and citizens of European countries.

A common Scandinavian Master’s course on e-books


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Posted for Elena Maceviciute

A meeting for developing a course on e-books on the Master’s level took place at the Department of Archives, Library and Information Science of the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Science on November 19-20. The idea of the course was under the development by a team from the Oslo University College, Royal School of Library and Information Science (University of Copenhagen), Swedish School of Library and Information Science at the University of Borås, and the Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger from the start of the year. It was born out of the actual developments brought about by the spread of e-books and their impact on publishing, library work, and reading, but also from the research driven at the participating universities. Among the team members are the researchers of reading and literature mediation Anne Mangen (Stavanger), and Gitte Balling (Copenhagen); experts of e-book production technologies Tor Arne Dahl (Oslo) and Mats Dahlstrom (Borås); literature sociologists Kersti Nilsson (Borås) and Tonje Vold (Oslo), library and information access researchers Haakon Lund (Copenhagen) and Elena Maceviciute (Borås).

The learning outcomes of the big ten full-time week course were formulated earlier. Because of the high level of expertise and rich knowledge brought to the meeting there was little problem in outlining the contents of the course. It was agreed that the course will consist of four parts: Introduction, e-book production, dissemination of e-books, and digital reading. The course should meet the general requirements of library and information science programmes in the three Library and Information Science Schools in which it will be given. The students from the University of Stavanger would also be able to take the course.

As is usual with international cooperation in higher education, the most difficult and fascinating part is meeting organizational and bureaucratic requirements. After a long life in academia I know this quite well, but still always get amazed at the barriers one can run into in doing what actually is the normal everyday work of a university lecturer. Just consider the start of a term: it was different in all three universities. The difference was as large as a month and a half. One of the universities runs only a distance Master’s programme, one teaches on campus only. One has only elective courses on its Master’s programme, the others only obligatory courses. The requirements of writing a course plan, examinations, study forms, role of learning outcomes, approving of the course plans vary across the schools. The team managed to solve most of the problems by being flexible and accepting the realities. Thus, the common course will be run in each separate location, but using common course material, course literature and teachers.

Next, people responsible for the separate parts of the course worked in groups developing further the contents and the organization of the first classroom meetings with the students. It was interesting to find how similar and how different the situations in Nordic and Scandinavian countries are by discussing how much the course will address the local contexts and situations in each country. We hope very much that the students attending the course in the spring of 2016 will find it interesting and useful.

And yes, this is not a mistake – the course is planned for the spring of 2016. We need to approve the changes in the educational plans, pass the course plan through a number of quality control bodies, advertise the course for prospective students. All this will take no less than a year. It is obvious that much might change on the market and in the production of e-books. But we keep doing our research and monitoring the situation, so our future students will study the most recent situation when they arrive.

Settlement of Amazon/Hachette dispute


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The big news of the week is that Amazon and Hachette have finally reached agreement on the pricing of Hachette e-books, when sold from Amazon. Amazon has been trying to drive the price of e-books down, presumably on the assumption that cheaper sells more and increases the company’s profits; Hachette has been resisting, ostensibly because it claims that authors will suffer as a result of lower prices, since royalty payments are based on the price of the item sold. In fact, it too, is probably more concerned about profit – it is, after all, a commercial company with shareholders who want to see higher dividents.

The details of the agreement have not been revealed, but the Library Journal speculates that it will be similar to the agreement reached earlier with Simon and Schuster, “essentially a return to the agency model of 2010 wherein publishers control retail pricing and retailers—in this case Amazon—serve as agents through which customers make their purchases”. Ironically, this is the model that got Apple and the publishers into trouble with the US legal system. Curious that when a group of publishers and a retailer (in this case Apple iBooks) get together to sort out pricing arrangement, it is called collusion, but when Amazon does it one at a time with the same publishers, it’s OK.

Digital Reader blog draws attention to another factor that may have influenced Hachette’s decision to resolve the dispute, quoting Publishers’ Weekly:

Third quarter sales at Hachette Book Group USA fell 18.5% in the period ended September 30, 2014 compared to the third quarter of 2013, parent company Lagardere reported. The decline was attributed to difficult comparisons with last year when the company had an “unusually high” number of bestsellers led by The Longest Ride, Lagardere said. The “difficult situation” with Amazon also impacted sales and HBG also postponed some titles, Lagardere said.
For all of Lagardere Publishing, revenue in the quarter fell 2.9%, to 564 million euros. In addition to softness in the U.S., sales were down in France and the U.K., but rose in Spain/Latin America.

E-book subscription services


The number of e-book subscription lending services appears to be growing pretty well continually. The best known in the English-speaking world are probably Scribd and Oyster, both with about half-a-million books available and with Scribd recently having announced the availability of audio books for, at present, the same monthly subscription charge. More recently, Amazon has entered the market with its Kindle Unlimited service, with more than 700,000 books available

These are not the only two services, however: other services have been established to serve other languages. In Scandinavia, there is Mofibo, based in Denmark but also serving the Swedish market and, in Sweden, Readly, which also operates an e-magazine subscription service in the UK. Also operating in Sweden is StoryTel, which has both e-books and audio books

Skoobe, established in Germany, has books in German, but also in English and in Portuguese and recently announced expansion into Spain. Scribd also operates in Spain, where there is competition with 24Symbols and Nubico (owned by Bertelsmann). Not surprisingly, given the non-physical nature of the operations, these companies are looking to expand in all kinds of directions. For example, the Russian service, Bookmate, plans expansion into Scandinavia, while the Spanish service, 24Symbols is in partnership with a Russian telecom, Beline, and may launch in Columbia (it already operates in Guatemala) and subsequently in France and Germany.

In other words, the subscription model is the focus of a good deal of experimentation around the world, with everyone in search of the holy grail of subscription service, that is, to become the “Netflix for books”. How many of these companies will fail against the competition and how many will get sufficient subscribers to survive is unknown and how many subscribers each service has seems to be a closely guarded commercial secret.

The only one of these services I have any direct knowledge of is Scribd, since I was given a free subscription following the purchase, I think, of some photo software. The first thing one learns about Scribd is that not many publishers have signed up to it, in fact, it consists, almost entirely, of the back lists of Simon and Schuster and Harper Collins. Still, these are two of the major publishers in the English speaking market and the availability of 500,000 books is not to be sneezed at. Additionally, Scribd has lots of voluntarily uploaded documents of various kinds, since it had its origins in providing just such a service, and stepped neatly into the e-book subscription business at just the right time. I haven’t used any of the ‘informal’ stuff on the site, so I can’t comment on its value.

The second thing one learns is that “back list” means just that: you won’t find the latest best sellers from these two publishers on Scribd. However, if you are prepared to wait a year or so, they will probably turn up. In the meantime, Scribd is excellent for a) discovering authors you haven’t read before, and b) re-reading favourites from the beginning of the author’s writing life. I hadn’t read much of P.D. James before, for example, but now I’ve been through the adventures of detective Adam Dalgliesh from the first book onwards.

Scribd presents its top page with a line of book-jackets for books that you are currently reading or have just read and, underneath that, various recommendations based upon the authors you have read, others in the same genre, New York Times best-seller list, and so on. True, you won’t find the latest Man Booker Prize winner, but you will find former winners if they have been published by either of these two publishers.

How many more publishers will sign up to these subscription services is unknown right now. I assume that they are waiting to see how it works out for those that have signed up and what they are betting on is that the income from the ‘long tail’ of books that are now available readily, when they may have been out of print for years, will justify their involvement.

Does this kind of service portend the death knell of public libraries? Mmm – a difficult question. We know that the majority of public library borrowers are solidly middle class and reasonably affluent and, if a significant number of such library users decide that they can afford $9.99 or thereabouts a month for access to more books than their local library is ever likely to have available, there may be traffic from the physical to the virtual world.

Will I renew the subscription that came to me for nothing? Probably, although I shall probably look around and see what is on offer from other services.

E-books vs. printed books


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Questions and news stories continue to rumble around the Internet on the virtues of printed books over e-books, and vice-versa, for learning. The most recent piece of research I’ve come across is from Anne Mangan of the University of Stavanger in Norway, whose work was reported in the Guardian back in August, but which seems to have reached the Daily Mail only a couple of days ago.

What Mangan’s work appears to show (I haven’t seen the full paper yet) is that, when presented with a short story, those who read the print version were better at reconstructing the timing of the plot than those who read the electronic version. Now, I don’t know about you, but when reading any fiction in print or on the iPad, I don’t spend a lot of time trying to reconstruct the plot and making the leap from this finding to the proposition, made by some, that learning will be adversely affected seems to me a jump too far. Our motivations for reading vary and we bring different degrees of concentration to the task, depending upon what we need to do.

When reading fiction, our concentration is affected, I think, by the extent to which the story grips our imagination. If the grip is tight we find it difficult to let go and will read all night to finish the story – whether in print or as an e-book. I recall, when I got the Sony e-Reader some years ago, trying to turn the page with my finger because I’d forgotten I was reading on the device. Similarly, when we read to revise for an examination most of us will also be making notes, comparing a text with our notes and engaging with the issue we are trying to master – the stronger the motivation in these circumstances, the stronger our attention will be.

There is also the question of learning styles to be taken into account – and I have yet to see any research on this issue that considers this factor. Some people learn best when text is complemented by audio or images, some learn best of all by listening rather than reading (dyslexics, for example), others may learn best of all when the material is presented in many different ways. Until the learning styles of the experiment participants are included I think one can say very little about the generality of the results.

Certainly, there are features (affordances in the jargon) of the printed text that are difficult to replicate in the electronic version, but there are also affordances possible with the e-version that are unattainable with the printed version. It would be interesting, I think, to test these propositions with the print version of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and Touch Press’s app of the same poem. The printed version gives us the text, the app gives us the text, Eliot’s original manuscript with its notes and emendations, the poem read by the author, and commentary by scholars. I don’t know what the outcome would be if these two versions were given to two groups of English Literature students reading for their final examinations, in which the poem was known to be featuring, but I know which I would prefer.

Swedish authors’ opinions on e-book publishing – a brief report



(Posted for Skans Kersti Nilsson)

Interviews have now been held with seventeen authors, including both those involved in e-book publishing and those not involved. The results contribute a wide range of experiences, attitudes and thoughts on e-book writing and publishing and, on the whole, attitudes toward the e-book phenomenon were mainly positive.

Authors, who had published e-books as part of their contract with a publisher, state that it was not a particular wish or request that their writing should be electronically published, but rather just a part of the contract with the publisher. A part they seemed to pay hardly any attention at all. It does not seem that the e-book publishing has affected these authors to any large extent. “The book sure has (made me more famous), but not the e-book per se.” They talk about it as a residual product, coming with the main product, the printed book. They explicitly claim that publishing their book in an e-book format has meant very little or nothing to them and that it has not affected them as writers.

Authors, who have not yet published an e-book, were of two categories. The first category consists of authors who, although having a high reputation among the critics and the intellectual establishment, were not offered a contract that included e-publishing their books even if they wanted to, because their books are not very profitable for the publisher. The other category simply do not express any advantages in reaching to get a bigger readership. Some of these authors produce non-fiction picture-books and lyrics to music, genres which are not easily transferable into e-formats.

Two authors had self-published e-books. They claim that they have seen e-book publishing as an opportunity to spread their word through tools that can reach many at a low cost. They have chosen to transform their printed books into e-book format and made available and promoted the digital books themselves. The driving force among these authors is definitely the possibility of spreading their word. A wish to spread their writing is quite clear, although the books might not be of any great interest to publishers. None of the self-publishers is interested in selling their e-book.

Concerning the translation of e-books into other languages, this appears to be reserved for popular fiction genres, mainly the so called “Swedish noir”. Self-publishing authors or authors with a Swedish focus in context would never think of translating their e-books to step into the global e-book market. Swedish authors available on are mainly available on the Kindle format. These authors’ productions are also managed by literary agents, working in the global market.

A fact that might affect both publishers and authors is the unpaid use of digital literature. On the one hand, there is piracy and illegal downloading; on the other hand, there are authors who deliberately make their books available for free. When talking about piracy, it is evident that the authors have not thought so much about it. Some say it is bad, some not, but they all agree on that it is difficult to do anything about it. Those who are strongly against, raise argument about authors and publishers depending on their income: “It is important that authors earn their living, and that goes for publishers too.”

Skans Kersti Nilsson

They’re watching you!


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Because all devices for reading e-books are computers and, in order to download, all are capable of connection to the Internet, the information you have on the device and the information you generate by using the device can, with the appropriate (and usually hidden) software, be sent back to the provider of the books. There was a considerable fuss some time ago when it was realised that Amazon could, remotely, remove all the books you had “bought” from your Kindle. Of course you hadn’t bought them, you had only licensed them – a crazy situation which is perpetuated because governments these days don’t like to tangle with big business. I imagine that Amazon uses this power only very occasionally and perhaps when someone fails to pay their bills – but the fact remains that the power is there.

Now we learn that if your device uses Adobe Digital Editions 4, information on how you are using the individual book is being sent back to Adobe. The amazing thing is that it was doing this “in clear”, i.e., as ordinary, readable text and numbers. This means that, not only is Adobe collecting information on the e-books you have bought, it is also collecting information on the e-books you have borrowed from the library, if your reader uses Adobe’s software.

The American Library Association is, naturally, up in arms about this, since the practice clearly negates the libraries’ promise of anonymity for its readers and, so the ALA reports, it also suggests that the practice infringes the privacy laws of a number of states in the USA.

In today’s “surveillance society” what we find out about infringements of privacy often turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg: how many more e-book providers are surreptitiously monitoring what we read and how we read – and why does Adobe or anyone else need to know?

Update: the debate continues and MIT recommends using an earlier version of ADE.

Survey of Lithuanian publishers


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[Posted by Tom Wilson for Elena Maceviciute]

A team of Lithuanian researchers led by Dr. Arūnas Gudinavičius has conducted a survey of Lithuanian publishers using a questionnaire similar to that employed in Sweden and Croatia. This will enable us to produce a comparative analysis of publishers‘ opinions from all three countries.
This survey was financed by the Lithuanian Council for Culture. Its main goal was to increase understanding of the situation of e-books production in Lithuania by answering questions on the following topics:

What is the size of e-book production in Lithuania?
What are the factors that affect publishing of e-books in Lithuania at present and in the near future as understood by Lithuanian publishers?
What are the perceptions of Lithuanian publishers about the influence of traditional publishing cycle actors (authors, bookshops, libraries) on e-book publishing?

Almost half of active Lithuanian publishers took part in the survey and 73 questionnaires (out of 143) were returned. Thirty percent of those who responded publish e-books, but only six publishers have published a significant number of titles (from 200 to 500 e-book titles a year).
Publishers do not expect rapid and significant growth of e-book market in Lithuania in the near future. The biggest hindrance to the growth is a small size of the market and the lack of an export market for Lithuanian e-books. The demand of users for a portable and convenient format and the use of new technologies in the educational system are the two biggest drivers in the development of e-book production. On the other hand, the user preference for traditional printed books is seen as one of the barriers to further development.

The analysis of the relationship to the roles and influence of other actors also shows some confusion and controversy in the opinions of the publishers. Self-publishing by authors is not seen as a big threat to publishers in general, but 62 percent of the respondents think that there is a need to develop their own self-publishing channel.

The websites of publishers and other vendors are perceived as the most important distribution channel. Most of the respondents agree that the role of bookshops will diminish with the increase of e-book publishing. On the other hand 62 percent of them think that bookshops will sell both e-books and paper books and half of the respondents agree that Internet sales will not be the only alternative in e-book distribution. The role of academic and public libraries is not seen as important in the development of e-book production, but 20 percent of respondents think that libraries should not provide access to e-books. However, most of the respondents (80 percent) acknowledge that libraries are important disseminators of e-books and the majority (65 percent) supports the idea that e-books should be sold to libraries for the same price as for other users, though limitations on loans should be introduced (56 percent).

The team of researchers is working on the report of the survey that will be published in a digital format and introduced to the publishers and wider public in a seminar on December 16, 2014.

Prof. Elena Maceviciute

E-textbooks and reading

While e-books continue to take up between 20 and 25 percent of the market in countries such as the USA, the UK, Australia and India, in other countries the proportions are much lower, for example, in France they accounted for only 4.1% of the market in 2013; so, globally, the average is rather meaningless. The sectoral differences are also significant: in countries where the proportion is around the 25% level, the focus is on what we might call the ‘consumer’ market, i.e., sales of the novels and popular non-fiction such as biographies; but around the world the e-textbook market seems to be the growing part of the business, with national and regional governments and school districts implementing policies on the introduction of e-textbooks.

It is, perhaps, this development that makes studies of e-book reading somewhat premature. Various investigations have found that students prefer print books to e-books and that learning from print books is more effective. However, if e-textbooks are widely introduced into the school systems, world wide, the probability is that learning from such tools will become the norm, without the competition from the printed word. When 5- to 8-year olds are ‘digital natives’ in this respect, is it not likely that they will happily learn from e-textbooks when they enter secondary and, later, higher education? At present, we have no way to check this hypothesis: the study can only be done when present 5- to 8-year olds who have used e-books throughout their school career are aged 15 or 16. And, as the number of primary school children using only e-textbooks is not known, we have no idea when that might be.

However, an article in the Australian Daily Telegraph noted, regarding the introduction of e-books at St Pius X College in Chatswood, near Sydney:

e-learning co-ordinator Justin Hodges said the vast majority of older students from Years 9 to 12 preferred paper versions while younger students in Years 7 and 8 preferred digital formats.

We know that the human mind is an incredibly flexible thing, capable of adapting to almost any situation, and the probability that it will remain resolutely opposed to learning from e-books seems to me to be extraordinarily unlikely.

Survey on e-book reading in the field


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Posted for Annika Bergström

Within the next few days, 3,400 people in Sweden will receive the national SOM survey including questions about e-book reading and a comparison between e-book and print book functions.

The SOM survey (Society, Opinion and Media) is an annual, representative survey to people in Sweden between the ages of 16 and 85 years conducted since 1986. Since 2012, the E-book project has posed questions about e-book reading, fiction and non-fiction, and attitudes towards e-books. In the 2014 survey, put in the field on September 24th, this question is accompanied by a question about functions of e-books and printed books. The aim has been to replicate a question from the Pew Internet surveys presented in the report The rise of e-reading:

Which is better for these purposes, a printed book or an e-book? Reading with a child, Sharing books with other people, Reading books in bed, Having a wide selection of books to choose from, Reading books while traveling or commuting, Being able to get a book quickly.

The results will be made available to the E-book Research Group by the end of February and presented in the annual SOM publication in June 2015.

In the 2013 survey, attitudes were measured by the following issues:
Screen Shot 09-29-14 at 04.23 PM

An initial analysis written by Annika Bergström and Lars Höglund is available in Swedish on the SOM Institute Web page.


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