I don't think it's a coincidence that a number of recent news items seemed to center on a similar theme. In a single day this week, I received two announcements of new online book-publishing initiatives. Pearson Education said it will launch a new textbook project this summer with O'Reilly Media, and Elsevier announced that its Book Series titles are now available on the ScienceDirect platform. Just a few days earlier, Elsevier Engineering Information announced it was integrating books into Engineering Village 2. And then there's Amazon's recent introduction of its A9 search engine, which merges results from the service's Search Inside the Book feature with Web searches. Yes, it sure looks like a trend. Books have been moving online at an ever accelerating pace and becoming increasingly accessible within familiar venues, both from commercial services and consumer sites.
Pearson's Textbook Program
This fall, Pearson Education is teaming up with Safari Books Online (a Pearson Education and O'Reilly Media joint venture) to launch SafariX Textbooks Online, a digital textbook program for college students. SafariX Textbooks Online will offer subscriptions to WebBooks as a new alternative to purchasing the print textbook. Pricing will be 50-percent off the suggested list price of the print-equivalent edition.
Students will be able to either buy a print-edition textbook or access the same content by subscribing to one or more of over 300 SafariX WebBooks available this year at http://www.safarix.com. The WebBooks will allow users to print pages, make annotations, take notes, search the full text, and add bookmarks to organize their study anywhere they have browser access. While users won't own or retain the text past the semester, the service will offer definite cost savings for cash-strapped students. Pearson cited a recent student survey in which half of those questioned said they're likely to purchase a low-cost online text, assuming a savings of $25. Of those students surveyed, 31 percent said they don't buy all of their required texts.
SafariX Textbooks Online will be a significant new addition to PearsonChoices, which offers learning programs and a wide selection of media, formats, and price points. The SafariX textbook program joins other initiatives that have been around for a while, including ProQuest's XanEdu, which has partnered for several years with Pearson Education. Pearson has also teamed up with BlackBoard to produce CourseCompass, an interactive online learning environment that combines educational content from Pearson Education textbooks and delivers it through a customized version of the Blackboard Learning System. In addition, Pearson has been active in the K-12 textbook space. Pearson Prentice Hall, a division of Pearson Education, has hosted PHSuccessNet's Teacher Center, a portal that offers interactive online textbooks.
Elsevier Book Series
ScienceDirect, which claims to be "the world's largest electronic collection of science, technology, and medical full-text and bibliographic information," announced that Elsevier Book Series titles are now available on the platform. Packages available early this year include Business, Management and Economics, Chemistry, Life Sciences, and Methods in Enzymology. Previously available only through print subscriptions, the titles will be offered for simultaneous, multiuser digital access.
ScienceDirect has been gradually supplementing its journal and database collections with a growing file of online reference works (with many more to be added in 2004 and 2005). Users can greatly benefit from both integrated searching of the various materials and seamless linking among texts.
Elsevier Engineering Information announced the launch of Referex Engineering, a specialized electronic reference product hosted on the Engineering Village 2 discovery platform (http://www.engineeringvillage2.org). Referex Engineering draws on more than 300 of Elsevier's book titles to provide engineering professionals with a fully searchable reference database.
According to the company, Referex Engineering is designed around a concept of layering content to create both breadth and focus. By layering broad-based handbooks, professional reference works, and how-to guides with specialized monographs and scholarly texts, Referex Engineering creates a foundation of information that helps searchers quickly find solutions.
Amazon has offered its Search Inside the Book feature since last fall (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16587). Now, the company's technical research subsidiary, A9, has released a new search engine (http://www.a9.com) that combines Google searching of the Web with searches of Amazon's own full-text collection of books and site information from Amazon's Alexa service (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16464). When a search retrieves an excerpt from book results, a user can click on the page number to see the actual (scanned image) page from that book. (Users must be registered at Amazon.com.)
Searchers get targeted book content, right there, available in a general Web search engine. Not all content from every book is searchable, but the tool should connect a lot more people to content that was formerly locked up in books, especially now that it's also readily findable and accessible at A9. Amazon's goal, of course, is to sell more books. Amazon says it now has 120,000 books scanned, and more are being added every day.
Google has also been testing a book search service called Google Print, but with just small excerpts and a limited number of participating publishers (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16555).
The May issue of Information Today features an update on Project Gutenberg, the 33-year-long project to digitize classic texts. These texts are available as collections on CD and DVD, and users will soon be able to download them as customizable collections in Adobe PDF or ASCII. Project Gutenberg is one of the invisible Web sources that's now being reached by Yahoo! Search's new Content Acquisition Program.
As if for final emphasis, while I was finishing this article, a news item reported on a Texas school that's providing every 5th and 6th grader with an IBM ThinkPad loaded with digital versions of state-approved textbooks and 2,000 works of literature. For this project, IBM is working with software partner Vital Source Technologies, Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., which in turn is working with key publishers, such as McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons, and Oxford University Press.
So with these new services, plus existing services like ebrary, netLibrary, xrefer, and Knovel for scientific texts, book content is gradually becoming revealed and accessible.