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Research on Electronic Books (E-Books) vs Printed Books

This paper examines the challenges to the information profession created by electronic books, frequently called e-books. Comparisons are made between the acceptance of e-books in the 21st century and the acceptance of printed media in the 15th century. The advantages and disadvantages of e-books relative to traditional printed text are examined. E-books appear to be especially useful as academic textbooks. The effects e-books are having on academic libraries are examined. Despite many people preferring to read text from a printed page, practical necessities are making e-books more popular in academic settings. Suggestions are made on how academic librarians can make library websites easier to use in regard to accessing e-books.

Oct 4, 2016 / EssayNews
Among the many technological advances of the recent century are electronic books, frequently called e-books. Warren has compared the societal acceptance of e-books to that of printed books in the 15th century. The first books were prepared by monks and handwritten. Many of these books took months, or even decades, to produce. Gutenberg's Bible was one of the earliest printed books in 1454. Our acceptance today of printed books might cause one to be surprised that the technological breakthrough which allowed more rapid printing of books in the 15th century was met with suspicion. Printed books were seen as inferior to the handwritten copies produced by the monks. The printed book represented a loss of control by the elite. It was no longer the case that only the wealthy could afford books and knowledge.

Like printed books in the 15th century, e-books have met with suspicion and are seen by many as inferior to printed books. Soon after e-books were introduced it was projected that traditionally printed books would be obsolete by 2001. By the turn-of-the-century it was obvious that printed books would not be obsolete by 2001. However, it was projected in 2001 that the United States would have a market of over $2 billion from some 28 million e-book readers. Most of Crawford's critics at the time believed his estimates were too low.

During 2005 the United States traditional book publishing market did over $25 billion in business. E-books produced a flurry of activity by entrepreneurs ready to take advantage of this new opportunity. However, E-book sales had only increased by 23% from 2004 and were now selling slightly less than $12 million worth of information annually. As of 2006, the total amount of book sales in the United States accounted for by e-books was less than 1/20 of 1%.

According to Crawford there are several reasons e-books have not been more popular. The first problem for e-books is that their alternative, printed books, are readily available and work well. This contrasts with the situation of printed books introduced in the 15th century when handwritten books were unavailable to most people. Many people who read books today have access to the books they want to read and do not find the printed word inconvenient or overly expensive.

Another reason e-books are probably not more popular is that they are not as user-friendly as traditional books. A great many advances have been made in screen technology to display digital information. However, nearly all electronic screens are more difficult to read than a well printed page. Anyone who has attempted to use a laptop computer out of doors on a sunny day is familiar with the problem.

Another problem is created by digital rights management. The legalities involved with digital rights management create compatibility problems between notebook computers, laptop computers, personal data devices, smart phones and other technological devices which readers may want to use to access electronic books. It is likely that many people would find the e-book experience more pleasant if they could simply purchase rights to an e-book and view it on any device available to them. This essentially makes the e-book less valuable than a paper book. When a person finishes reading a printed book they can give it to a friend or sell it. Neither of these options is available with most electronic books.

Crawford makes the point that e-books may have been marketed to the wrong population. Many e-books have been marketed to the general reading audience who purchases paperback books. Paperback books are already convenient, inexpensive and readily available. E-books offer no advantage to these books. However, textbooks are another matter. Textbooks are frequently quite large and expensive. They also require frequent updating (especially in an academic environment), which is much easier in the electronic form.


E-Books can present information in ways that are impossible with a traditional printed book. An example of the possibilities created by electronic books can be seen in the RAND Corporation's book titled, I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force. This e-book is over 800 pages long and is available for free on the Internet as a.pdf document. The book describes the history of the United States moving from a drafted military to the all volunteer force it is today. If the book is purchased in its printed form it is accompanied by a DVD with thousands of primary source documents. These documents include presidential staff papers, letters, memos, audio presentations and videos.

Rostker spent more than four years researching primary source documents in presidential libraries to write I Want You! Rostker is the former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness of the United States Military. Due to his connections in government, he could have a great deal of information declassified specifically for his book. More than 2300 documents were scanned for the book into electronic files. The e-book contains over 1700 links to this material. The book is entirely self-contained with the printed version and the DVD, or the e-book and an Internet connection.

The wealth of information contained in I Want You! would not be possible in a traditional printed book. For example, the book has a footnote to the Gates Commission Report. This report is a 250 page document which is available in.pdf form. There are also links to documents, which are letters from President Nixon with handwritten comments signed by Henry Kissinger. There is a link to a video showing President Jimmy Carter's State of the Union address when he announced the selective service would be created. The book I Want You! is truly an amazing work containing a library's worth of information.

Penguin Classics recently released several enhanced e-books such as Pride and Prejudice. This enhanced e-book is available at the same price as the printed version. However, the e-book also contains information, which is unavailable in the printed book such as black and white period illustration from magazines, book reviews, recipes, and a filmography.

According to Warren e-books are especially useful when the author has extra material such as journals, photos, and early drafts. It is also easy to incorporate extra materials which are available in the public domain or are controlled by the publisher. In this way, e-books can present special challenges to the publisher who is concerned about copyright and access to protected materials.

Some view the possibilities of e-books as a revolution in scholarly communication and learning. Electronic media allow for interactive learning in ways, which were never possible before. Emerging technology requires that scholars and teachers rethink the way in which books are used for learning.


Egan recently gave a lecture to a group of academicians in which he described how he felt about academia's use of e-books. He points out that the desks of many university professors are still filled with paper. He sees this as the lack of using the full potential of the computer and other electronic devices. He called for his audience to rethink the computer as a way of providing infinitely available information, which can be easily searched. He goes on to praise Google for their efforts at digitizing millions of books despite their not having permission from the authors or publishers.

Egan believed that the printed monograph fails in many ways and many academic authors would do better by delivering their findings verbally to those interested. He believes that many times this verbal delivery would reach more people than the printed document. As an example of why he believes this, he describes visiting a public library in the United Kingdom and looking through the introduction of a 1st volume in Arden Shakespeare's play-text, which was published between 1899 and 1905. He was shocked when he had to borrow a book-knife from the librarian in order to open pages which had apparently never been read in over 100 years.

Egan goes on to explain that the printed research monograph is economically inefficient as well. He points out that universities freely give their research findings to publishers who then proceed to sell the journals and books back to the University. He makes a good point by asking why knowledge, which is generated in a university is then disseminated by publishers who control its use. These publishers are essentially legally controlling the spread of knowledge which they were given freely by the University.

Egan concludes his discussion by encouraging all academicians to digitize as many resources as possible without regard for copyright or permission. It is his contention that the new forms of media alter the nature of property and that previously held ideas of ownership are no longer applicable. He also points out that no members of academia have been prosecuted for breaking copyright laws with new forms of media. In fact, he believes that the ephemeral nature of online resources mandates academics to make as many copies of electronic documents as possible.


Buzetto-More, Sweat-Guy and Elobaid investigated how useful e-books are as learning object for students. These researchers point out that a learning object is an item, which is useful in learning, and is self-contained. E-books are one of many electronic options now available for learning to occur on a computer screen rather than on paper. These researchers point out that data density, search ability, availability of hyperlinking and nonlinearity of e-books allow for a multimedia presentation of information, which is unavailable with traditional printed material.

E-books offer a way to introduce information to young children before they are able to read. There are now a variety of children's toys and DVDs which offer read along features for young children. Many of these toys are likely to help young children learn to read. Organizations such as the Children's Digital Library encourage e-books to be distributed to children throughout the world.

The study by Buzetto-More, Sweat-Guy and Elobaid surveyed 261students at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 203 of these students were African-Americans, 29 were native Africans, 11 were Caucasian Americans, 4 were Hispanic, 4 were of Caribbean descent and 2 were Asian Americans. 60% of the respondents were female. 74% of the respondents were between 17 and 19 years old, while 22% were between the ages of 20 and 25 years old. Students older than 26 years old comprised less than 3% of the respondents. 37% of the respondents were business, management, or accounting majors. Less than 1% of the students were computer science majors.

The study found that 86.9% of the students who responded to the questionnaire owned computers. Approximately, 40.3 % of the respondents said they had some experience with computers, while 47.8 % said they were intermediate in their skills with computers. 6.3 % reported themselves as experts with computers. Only 5.5% said they were novices with computers. 92.7% of the respondents had Internet access at their residence. High-speed Internet access was available to 69% of the respondents. More than 87% of the respondents said they accessed the Internet daily.

The study conducted by Buzetto-More, Sweat-Guy and Elobaid found that 98% of the respondents indicated they were comfortable reading text off of a computer screen. 22% of the respondents said that they had read an e-book and 44% indicated they would purchase one rather than a traditional book. 58.6% of the respondents indicated they would print a copy of text if there was a long passage which they were required to read. 54.8% indicated that they would rather have a printed copy of a book rather than a digital one. Only 25% of the respondents indicated that they thought e-books were more economical than traditional text.

The research by Buzetto-More, Sweat-Guy and Elobaid in general indicated that even young students who are familiar with computers still prefer printed text. Only a small number of these indicated they would purchase an e-book as a text for a class rather than a traditional book. Only a small number of the participants regularly read online magazines or newspapers. These finding are similar to those of other researchers investigating students' use of e-books.

A study by Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington investigated the attitude toward e-books of both students and faculty in the United Kingdom. It should be remembered that it is not only the students who are trying to learn how to efficiently use e-books, but staff as well. Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington conducted a large-scale survey and collected 1818 responses from staff and students of University College London. The study is interesting in that it used modern technology as part of its methodology. An e-mail invitation was sent to approximately 27,000 staff and students of the University College London. 1818 responses were obtained, which is a response rate of approximately 6.7%. This rate is approximate since there is no way of knowing how many of the invitations were received as spam and left unread.

It should be noted that the study by Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington is likely to have data, which is skewed due to the self selected response rate of those who are already interested in e-books. However, 1818 responses is a sufficient number for acceptable reliability and validity. A complex routing structure was used so that people who had not used e-books were not asked for their opinion.

The study by Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington found that approximately 44% of the University College London staff and students used e-books. The respondents who used e-books were more likely to depend on web based search engines, report bad experiences with university library services, depend upon searching other library catalogs, be male, be graduate students, and were less likely to be staff members. Age was found to be a significant factor in the use of e-books. The highest proportion of e-book users were in the 17 to the 21-year-old range comprising 29% of the total e-book users. Interestingly, the 22 to 25-year-old age range comprised 20.6% of e-book users while the 26 to 35-year-old age range made up 27.9% of the e-book users. The 36 to 45-year-old age range consisted of 12.9% of e-book users. E-book users who were 46 years old or more consisted of less than 10% of the total e-book users.

Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington discovered information about the sourcing used for e-books. The e-book users who responded to the survey at the University College London were relatively independent of the library provision with 61% finding their own sources for e-books. Men displayed a higher degree of autonomy from the library than women. Approximately 65% of the doctoral students indicated that they obtain e-books for themselves rather than use the university library as a resource.

Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington found that the e-book users at University College London preferred reading from computer screens rather than paper and this was generally independent of their age. Other findings were that men were more likely to prefer reading from a screen. Also, undergraduates were more likely to prefer reading from a screen. The statistical analysis of the population after the age of 65 may not be accurate due to the small number of respondents.

Most librarians are concerned with the use for which books are accessed. A study by Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington answered some of these usage questions. Most of the respondents to the survey who regularly used e-books preferred them for work and study rather than leisure. No significant differences were found in this regard according to gender or age. The library was used more often for e-books, which were related to studying or work. Outside sources were more frequently used for e-books related to leisure reading.

More than half of the respondents, 59.9%, who used e-books at University College London had textbooks, which were in the electronic form. 52.4% of these respondents had reference books, which were in electronic form and 46% had research monographs, which were electronic. 30% of the group had popular nonfiction works in electronic form and 28.3% had fiction in the form of e-books. Popular electronic nonfiction was possessed by 16.5% of the respondents and 6.5% of these individuals had e-books which did not fall into any of these categories. These results indicate that there is a preference for e-books which are textbooks, reference books, or research monographs.

The study by Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington found that there are perceived advantages and disadvantages of e-books by their users. The majority of e-book readers like e-books due to their ease of making copies, being more up to date relative to print material, taking up less space, being available when the library is closed, convenience, and ease of navigation. A frequent complaint by the respondents was that electronic material can often be more difficult to read than printed text.

Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington found that 41% of Masters' level students, 34% of undergraduate students, 24% of academic staff and only 21% of research staff were aware that University College London Library Services offered e-books. The faculty and students who were most aware of the e-books were the social and historical sciences at 38% and the engineering sciences at 41%. The least knowledgeable of the e-book option were the mathematical and physical sciences at 20% and the life sciences at 22%. No significant differences were found between part-time and full-time members at University College London.

Rowlands, Nicholas, Jamali and Huntington also found that men were more likely to discover the option of e-books through the library catalog or website. Women were more likely to find the option of the e-book during staff briefings or from course tutors. Course tutors accounted for 60% of the undergraduate students who were aware of e-books. The respondents indicated that they felt the most effective marketing tool for e-books would be the library website and e-mail user guides. The university staff indicated they would benefit from a user guide on the library website. The undergraduates indicated they would benefit most from e-books, which are mentioned on their reading lists. The graduate students preferred a printed information guide in the library.


Despite the slow adoption of electronic books by the academic community, there can still be problems with acquisitions of a sufficient level of e-books. An article by Taylor-Roe describes the difficulty libraries now have with maintaining sufficient electronic book collections. She even compares the quest of the modern librarian for an appropriate level of electronic books to that of ancient knights who were seeking the Holy Grail. These librarians know what electronic books they require, but often have great difficulties in obtaining them.

While many students may still prefer to study from a traditional textbook rather than e-books, changes in society are requiring that electronic books be used more frequently. One of the societal changes is the increasing number of students. It is less expensive to reproduce copies of electronic text than a printed one. E-books can also be reproduced much faster than printed books. Many universities now have international students through alternative learning programs. Many of these alternative programs require Internet-based materials, which are available in an electronic form. The way in which subjects are taught has also changed. For example, medicine now focuses on evidence-based learning in which students must use their deductive and investigative skills, often through electronic means. A popular module in a medical course may be studied by hundreds of students for a short period of time and then be used infrequently when the course ends. This type of usage lends itself better to electronic sources.

Another factor driving the increased use of electronic books is increased continuing professional development requirements. Professionals in a variety of fields are now required to have a minimal degree of continuing education in order to remain licensed. Universities are in a position to provide this continuing education, but often find it difficult to adapt to the schedule of busy professionals. Many of these professionals not only study the materials at times in which the university is not operating, but may also want to access the information from a remote location. The scheduling and geographic challenges are more easily met by electronic media.

An increasing number of students who need to access resources applies to seminars and lectures as well. It is often nearly impossible for lectures to be held in a normal sized lecture theater. The lecture theaters connected to libraries frequently wreak logistical havoc due to the number of students present, all of whom need the same key information from the library within the same timeframe. Again, the situation is more amenable to correction by electronic resources than traditional printed text.

Another problem with traditional textbooks is wear. Increasing use of materials at the library has caused increasing wear on books. Books begin to fall apart after they have been handled by a large number of people. Also, traditional book pages can be cut or torn out. Books may also be stolen or lost in obscure corners of the library. These situations cause a great deal of problems for both library patrons and staff. Obviously, e-books are a solution to nearly all of these problems. They cannot be lost, stolen, worn out, or torn.

According to Taylor-Roe the most popular e-books at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom are the clinical textbooks which can be purchased by or Taylor and Frances. Another very popular e-book is Elsevier's Kumar and Clark, Clinical Medicine. This particular textbook is used by students in all 5 years of the medical program. This textbook is an interesting example of how e-books are in their infancy regarding both their use and the business practices applied to them. The initial license for this e-book was granted to the institution which worked well. However, the publisher announced that it would no longer grant institutional licenses and was interested in only selling licenses to individual students. The entire library community was outraged by the change and succeeded in changing the publisher's policy so that they again granted institutional licenses.


The article by Taylor-Roe indicates that despite many user's preferences for traditional printed text, electronic books will become more widely used in many academic libraries out of necessity. A study by Dinkelman and Stacy-Bates investigated how patrons of academic libraries use the library website to access electronic books. All the libraries within the study were members of the Association of Research Libraries. Unlike many of the previous studies and papers, these authors consider it a given that electronic books will continue to grow in academic libraries.

In many academic libraries e-book collections are organized by titles, which are Web-accessible. The online e-books are interfacing with the library and patron computers as well as software and hardware, which are already present on these machines. It is important that the e-book be compatible with all of these different devices and be easily accessed. Dinkelman and Stacy-Bates point out that electronic books have been in many academic libraries for a sufficient amount of time to allow circulation studies. These studies have established that usage rates are significant enough to warrant attention by academic librarians.

The study by Dinkelman and Stacy-Bates involved 111 academic library websites. They found that most academic libraries put e-books in a separate heading on the library website. 56% of the websites had a separate page devoted to e-books and the other 44% had pages, which linked to e-books or in which e-books were part of a package of electronic resources. All the libraries had some way of obtaining e-books on their website. There were wide variations in how the libraries presented e-books on their websites and in how easily accessible these e-books were.

Many librarians are becoming increasingly aware of the need to master their craft in the virtual realm. Dinkelman and Stacy-Bates have several suggestions on how academic libraries can use their website to better serve the needs of patrons wishing to use e-books: A definition of e-books on the website is helpful since e-books are a relatively new form of media. Using examples of titles in thematic e-book packages will allow patrons to better choose which theme, they are interested in. Websites with large numbers of e-books will benefit from a search function specifically focused on the e-books. E-books which are sorted by subject are easier for patrons to quickly scroll through. Many patrons are not familiar with e-books and will benefit from the library's promotion of websites, which offer free e-books.


Despite their critics, it appears that e-books are destined to become more common in libraries (Johnson, Nicholson, LeBoeuf, Barrell and Price). This is especially true for academic libraries. The advantages of e-books lend them naturally to increased academic use. Copies can be quickly made of an electronic textbook which is temporarily in greater demand due to a specific class. Also, more than one person can access the same electronic resource at the same time. Textbooks are frequently updated and this is done more easily in the electronic format than in print. Electronic textbooks are also excellent learning tools due to their flexibility of presentation. The electronic textbook can provide links to thousands of pages of additional and related text. Electronic textbooks can also have links to a variety of multimedia such as audio and video files, which would be unavailable in print form.

Some of the problems associated with e-books may be resolved over time. Part of the problem academic librarians have with obtaining sufficient e-books is that many textbooks have not yet been transferred to electronic form. With increasing demand, this situation is likely to correct itself. The primary disadvantage of electronic books is that the screen version of text is not as easy to read as the printed page. It seems likely that this situation will also correct itself given enough demand and time. There are numerous innovations occurring to help make e-books more useful for academic applications. One need only do a patent search to find examples of the ingenuity now being applied to electronic books.


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