Riding the Second Wave of E-Book Publishing: A Q&A with Springer Science President of eProduct Management and Innovation Olaf Ernst
As an early adopter of e-book technology, Springer Science+Business Media has distinguished itself as a digital leader in the science, technical and medical (STM) market and the book publishing industry as a whole. As more and more publishers are now adopting digital distribution strategies, the Germany-based Springer Science—which offers the largest STM e-book and journal collection—continues to move forward and expand the possibilities of e-commerce.
Olaf Ernst, Springer’s president of eProduct management and innovation, spoke with Book Business Extra about Springer’s experiences in the e-book market, and what he refers to as the “second e-book wave.”
Book Business Extra: E-books have been talked about as “the next big thing” for quite a while now. What do you think it will take for this medium to really take off?
Olaf Ernst: The time for e-books is now. E-books really have taken off, as evidenced by high penetration rates and usage statistics that prove [that] e-books currently play an essential role in the scientific book market. For Springer, e-books already account for a substantial portion of book sales.
Extra: What approach has Springer taken with digital rights management (DRM)?
Ernst: From the very beginning, Springer decided to take an extremely liberal approach to DRM with its e-books. That’s why Springer can be considered a pioneer among e-book publishers. Once a university purchases an e-book from Springer, multiple students and researchers can simultaneously access the e-book. This unlimited, simultaneous access differs from some publishers who have adopted a “one user per e-book” policy, similar to checking out a physical book.
What we can observe now is that the market in general is going in this direction. … For instance, Random House Audio [recently] announced the opening up of its DRM policy. We, at Springer, believe that this liberal approach to the e-book business model will lead to increased use of e-books. And we have not had any major issues with fraud.
Extra: How has the introduction of the Amazon Kindle late last year impacted e-book business for Springer?
Ernst: Springer’s content is not focused on consumers or leisurely reading, but more toward scientific research and development. We see the Amazon Kindle as an additional mechanism for class use, which will definitely help to develop the e-book market. I expect it will take some more time before it is used as a research tool.
Extra: How do you see e-book consumption among North American readers differing from those in overseas markets?
Ernst: There is no significant difference in e-book usage across countries. But what we can see is that the Asian market is taking the lead slightly in consumption of e-books. Usage numbers indicate that readers in Asia are more open to this new technology than readers in the rest of the world.
Extra: What has been the biggest difference in marketing e-book titles versus print titles?
Ernst: … We publish about 5,000 new books a year, so it’s not possible to put a marketing push behind each book. Thanks to the integrated electronic platform SpringerLink, e-books [and] journal articles are visible and easily accessible. Additionally, electronic initiatives such as Google Book Search [and] Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book” [feature] make every book, even older ones, easy to find. Books that were formerly out of stock or out of print can be found electronically and purchased. The electronic availability offers publishers a new pull marketing tool.
Extra: How much training and/or hiring did Springer invest in to keep up with these changes in technological distribution?
Ernst: Springer made a big investment in building up the new e-book technologies, which of course is an ongoing initiative. In general, the new technologies require a joint effort on the part of the publisher as well as the bookseller. We continuously train our own employees, as well as our sales partners in the book trade, libraries and agencies, to familiarize them with our new technologies.
Extra: What do you see as being the next big innovation in the e-book segment of the industry?
Ernst: The second e-book wave really seems to have taken off. Electronic books are available and frequently used on a large scale within the scientific research environment. Nowadays, e-books are state-of-the-art. The next step would be to conquer the individual market offerings of handheld devices such as the Kindle or the Sony e-book reader.