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Posted by Tom Wilson on behalf of Arūnas Gudinavičius

Both publishers and researchers, exploring digital books, are facing a problem: how can one determine the quality of the digital book, what features determine the users’ opinions of  quality? Are these qualities of equal value and should they all be implemented? Are some more important than others that we should be taken into account first? These were the topics of my dissertation.

The practical significance of the problem is noteworthy as well as being an input to improving the quality of digital books, to meet customers’ expectations.

I studied this problem from the user’s perspective with regard to users’ expectations and assessments. By differentiating the criteria according to their importance to the users, I wanted to  build a quality assessment instrument for digital books that would reveal the specifics and expressive characteristics of the digital book. I adapted quality criteria from the MINERVA and Zhang and Dran toolboxes to digital books, trying to focus them on users’ needs. I used Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory (Herzberg, F. 1966. Work and the nature of man. New York.)for division of the digital book quality criteria into two groups – “motivating” and “hygienic”.

Every criterion of the instrument is given a certain weight to show its importance, and character, identifying which group it belongs to: “hygienic” or absolutely necessary for the convenience of a user or “motivating” or adding to the pleasure and comfort of a reader. Each criterion was evaluated according to its significance for the user of the digital book.  How the number of books one read (experience), personal qualities and a reading device determine the extent of influence on the user opinion and certain criteria being classified as motivating or “hygienic” factors were also determined.

The analysis of both individual quality criteria and generalised (in categories) showed the same trend in the results: in the case of the non-fiction book, experts discerned more “hygienic” criteria than in the case of the fiction book. This suggests that, by taking a non-fiction book into their hands, digital book users expect to find more quality criteria implemented in it than in a fiction book, and are dissatisfied should they not find them.

In turn, more motivating factors (whose absence does not cause dissatisfaction) were attributed to the fiction book. The findings show that the quality elements of the digital book, motivating to use the book and generating user satisfaction (but not causing dissatisfaction in case of their absence) are more desirable in the fiction book rather than in non-fiction.

The “hygienic” criteria most strongly expressed for fiction are related to the visual appearance and navigation of the digital book, while the most strongly expressed motivating criteria are associated with pleasure of usage and the possibilities the user is offered. Here, a desire to reach one’s goals with the least possible effort seems to show up (lazy user theory). In comparison, the “hygienic” criteria prevail in the case of non-fiction and are chiefly related to possibilities and navigation aids offered to users. These findings suggest that, unlike the case of fictionk, the user does not expect to find quality criteria of the motivating character in the non-fiction book.

The research confirmed that the digital book quality criteria are of different significance to the digital book user. The quality criteria most important to the user in the case of fiction relate to its visual appearance, easy and convenient reading, format compatibility on different reading devices and universally established usage of navigation principles. The qualitative aspects that appeared to have been of low importance were those related to copyright agreements between the text author and publishers and also interactive possibilities offered. Meanwhile, in the case of non-fiction the users’ least possible effort principle was revealed: the most significant qualitative aspects are related to implementation of many convenient and universally accepted information management and navigation possibilities, easy and convenient reading as well as format compatibility for different reading devices.

[Arūnas Gudinavičius recently defended a dissertation on the topic of e-books at Vilnius University. He is a lecturer at the Faculty of Communication at Vilnius University teaching courses in Basics of Digital Publishing, Media science and Digital Publishing. He was involved in the production of the first e-book in Lithuania and has had extensive training internationally, including at the Interactive Systems Research Center (University of Maryland, USA), Leipzig University of Applied Sciences (Germany) and Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand (University of Canterbury, New Zealand).  His dissertation is Digital book quality from the user’s perspective (in Lithuanian). A summary in English is available.]