WLU Press, library examine e-books

Wilfrid Laurier University Press (WLU Press) is now offering its complete catalogue to readers on the web through the digital book retailer Kobo. The publishing house inked a deal with the popular online service earlier this year and has slowly been converting its back catalogue to be available to readers of e-books.

WLU Press director Brian Henderson said the company likes to stay ahead of the curve and believes e-reading and the XML or electronic publishing format will become the way of the future for publishing.

“We’re explorers basically,” he said. “We want to be able to have that format in case the market moves in that direction.”

Kobo, the e-reading arm of book giant Chapters-Indigo, is rolling out the entire back catalogue of over 220 published works from WLU Press, as well as all future publications from the university’s publishing arm. The titles are also available directly on the Sony e-book reader. Henderson said WLU Press may also be considering a future deal with Apple for the iPad.

Although the titles can be purchased in these formats now, Henderson said their core market still primarily reads in other formats. “With scholarly publications PDFs are still the way to go, but we want to be able to do different things,” he said.

The PDF versions of scholarly materials are already available to students free of charge via online library databases. As well, some public libraries may subscribe to scholarly databases, allowing users in-library access to articles for free.

Other free books from WLU Press include all publications co-authored with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). According to WLU Press publicist Clare Hitchens, the idea for this availability came from CIGI. “This is really more their focus than ours at this point,” she said. All the open access titles are available to the public on both the WLU Press web site and CIGI’s web site.

WLU Press titles could be discounted as much as 40 per cent on Kobo, but if students are looking to pick up cheap, portable textbooks, they will have to wait. Most of the WLU Press titles are not textbooks and Henderson isn’t expecting to see texts in the popular electronic formats very soon.

“There are going to be some very interesting textbook platforms, but our understanding of the market right now is that students still prefer print books,” he said.

Manager of academic materials for the WLU bookstore, Mike Zybala, said many students will already notice a difference in the texts they buy this year. Many texts now come with access cards, giving students the ability to read the text online as well as in print. The cards allow professors to incorporate their own notes online, though access to online material expires after six months and students cannot download the material.

Despite the lack of electronic textbook content, the WLU bookstore is not immune to the effects of the growing electronic market according to Zybala. With the increased pressure, the bookstore has implemented positive changes in its general interest section.

“We’ve put more focus and staff in that area to beef up sales and offer more to students,” he said.

The additions to the department seem to be paying off. The general interest section doubled its sales during the 2009-2010 school year over the previous year. The tech section of the store is also varying its offerings, selling Apple iPads and Sony e-readers, but the store isn’t selling large volumes of the products.

Even with positive print sales, Zybala said the store is looking towards the future of publishing.

“We have a platform on the e-commerce site providing public domain books in e-pub format and they can be transferred to any device a student has,” he said. “We’ll continue to add to that.”