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SpringerLink Expanding Ebook Collection to Cover All Titles Dating From 1846
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Posted On October 13, 2011


In 1842, Julius Springer opened a bookshop in Berlin. Four years later, he published a book. The company he founded, Springer, is now one of the world’s largest sci-tech publishers. Since the 1980s, book production has accelerated, now averaging about 7,000 books a year. The SpringerLink service to libraries now carries more than 48,000 ebooks. Since 2005, all new Springer books have been available as ebooks. After completion of the just announced Springer Book Archives (SBA) digitization project, that number should grow to more than 100,000. Digitizing all the books ever published by Springer or its imprints is the goal. As Derk Haank, CEO of Springer Science+Business Media, said, “At Springer, a book will never die, but ‘out of print’ will.”

The digitization project will affect an estimated 65,000 books. Some 70% of them are in English with only 30% in German and a few in Dutch. The collection will include business and professional titles as well as sci-tech with more than 20% medical. It also covers 17 imprints, including U.S. publishers such as Apress and Copernicus. According to Wouter van der Velde, eproduct manager for ebooks and databases at Springer, the archives will definitely include “all the native imprints,” though some of the imprints will only have print distribution. The digitization effort is expected to last throughout 2012.

Springer has some of the world’s leading scientists as its authors, names such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Sir John Eccles, Lise Meitner, Werner Siemens, and Rudolf Diesel. None of these legendary scientists may pose a problem for the project, but other authors might. Springer is contacting all the authors and/or copyright holders to clear the rights for publishing the ebooks and to “clarify” the matter of royalties. According to van der Velde, the company expects fully half the project’s time and resources will be spent in finding and dealing with authors and copyright holders.

What rights authors may have to affect the digitization of their works can get very complicated. Standard contracts in the past have said that an author can, more or less, recover copyright after a publisher lets a work go out of print. But what if the publisher brings the book back in print, even if only with digital ink such as an ebook archive? And, copyright laws that allow material to age into public domain, such as Google Books pre-1923 content, vary from country to country. Van der Velde pointed out that “there is no global policy. Some set it at 70 years after the death of the author; some at 50. German copyright law is slightly different. Everything after the early 1960s, even if it’s out of print, the publishers still have copyright.” In any case, he added that “only a couple hundred books [in the SBA] would be in public domain.”

Springer is “trying to move into parallel production of print and electronic,” said van der Velde. He added that, due to the distribution procedures with print books, the ebook versions at Springer are the first versions out. According to Nancy Herther, sociology/anthropology Librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries and frequent contributor to Searcher Magazine and NewsBreaks on ebooks, this is certainly not true of all publishers. She often finds months of delay as publishers take their time transforming “a p-book into an ebook.”

SpringerLink serves institutions only, namely libraries, with subscriptions to sets of subject collections. But van der Velde points out that individuals interested in a Springer ebook as well as libraries interested in individual titles can shop at Springer outlets, such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Bookstore, or through aggregators such as ebrary or MyiLibrary.

Prices and arrangements for the Springer Book Archives are still not set. Currently pricing for SpringerLink depends, according to van der Velde, on measures such as the size of the library and the institution’s research output. “We have five tiers from the very large to the very small. In the U.S., we have even smaller tiers for the small schools. Prices can vary from a couple of hundred dollars to $40-$50,000 for a subject collection in the contemporary collection. With the older material, pricing is complicated. We have decided to follow the same pricing as for the journal archives. It will not be an overpriced product.” Until the project is more mature, they will not know how the archived books will fit into the different subject collections. Currently, according to van der Velde, they are selling “twelve subject collections, the smallest with some 55 books a year and the largest (computer science) 800.”

In Springer’s case, the digitization project may actually support print sales. Van der Velde pointed out that the quality of their digitization was so good that they planned to offer print-on-demand (POD) services for ebooks in the Archive. He had already tried it out with a 30-year old book sent him by the University of Liverpool. The sad relic of a busy past had pages falling out, pencil markings, and even food stains. Van der Velde sent it to the digitizers and, when it came back, the ebook image was so clean and crisp, it made a POD printing look good. By the way, van der Velde had nothing but good remarks for Google Books, which must have captured a lot of Springer titles by now in its own digitization, but he tactfully stated that Springer could not have used Google Books’ versions due to “our different digitization standards.”

Controversies continue to bubble around the relationships between libraries and ebooks. Who owns what? The December issue of Searcher Magazine will feature an article by Charles Hamaker (“Ebooks on Fire”), which itemizes and discusses the issues from a librarian’s view. It will also be available on www.infotoday.com/searcher.


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

Email Barbara Quint

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