Planning a Locally Published Academic E-Book
By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University
Electronic books (e-books) are commonly used by learners in higher education. They are common in libraries, both physical and digital. They are sold in online bookstores and physical ones. Instructors in higher education are encouraged to publish their own research in electronic format, through university-hosted publishers.
And, occasionally, several instructional design projects may come to the fore that may include the publishing of academic e-books. What does this work entail?
Figure 1. Electronic Book (by FiveFlowersForFamilyFirst on Pixabay)
The Electronic Book Publishing Space
First, it may help to lay down some context. The idea for e-books was first patented back in 1949 (“E-book,” Nov. 19, 2019). The first e-book was created when Michael S. Hart typed the U.S. Declaration of Independence into a computer and shared it on the Internet and also launched Project Gutenberg in 1971.
In the ensuing years, such books emerged first as digitized versions of text-based print books. Then, more imagery and multimedia and interactivity were designed into the texts. E-readers of various types emerged, with advances to their e-ink displays, annotation features, learning support features, and others. The text-to-speech software applied to e-books extended accessibility and supported readers who struggled with reading (Balajthy, 2005). Research suggested that students are more willing to use “reading resources when engaged with digital text” than paper text (Wright, Fugett, & Caputa, 2013, p. 367).
There were hesitancies about e-books. Some research suggested that the challenges of eye fatigue in reading e-books resulted in lower levels of reading performance as compared to a conventional paper book (Kang, Wang, & Lin, 2009). Other research suggested that people’s reading styles changed, with reluctance to spend much time with digital books except to read selectively and then printing out what people wanted to read in depth (Levine-Clark, 2010, p. 294, as cited in Hoseth & McLure, Spring 2012, p. 280); the prior research suggested that only 1,100 respondents would read e-books cover-to-cover. How effective are copyright protections with electronic books? (Hillesund, Oct. 2001) Others described challenges to encouraging usage of digital texts (Doiron, 2011). There were fears of their impacts on reading (the human processing of print text for meaning) and learning, with questions of their actual value in terms of length of time for rental access.
Their mobility has been a major selling point. People have noted the convenience of carrying any number of books on an electronic device (smart phone, tablet PC, laptop, or other), forgoing the need for physical print books. The added functionalities such as “underlining, writing in the margins, tabbing pages” (Simon, Winter 2001, p. 2) and “glossary lookup, bookmarking, highlighting, (and) annotation” (p. 3) are also strengths. Even over a decade ago, people were asking whether it was time to forgo print textbooks altogether or if it was premature (Shepperd, Grace, & Koch, 2008).
The multimedia aspects of electronic books have been found to improve understandings of word pronunciations and speech sounds among kindergarteners (Shamir & Schlafer, 2011). In another study, “Children who read the e-book exhibited progress in the meaning and reading of the words supported directly by the computer compared to the control group” (Korat & Shamir, 2012, p. 135). Some researchers worried that “sounds, animations, videos, and narrations” and “multimedia text” may change how elementary school learners interact with text and read (Schugar, Smith, & Schugar, 2013, pp. 615 - 616) and asked whether that might draw attention away from reading text (p. 620). Another study found that e-books brought “reluctant readers” from middle school on board to reading (Miranda, Williams-Rossi, Johnson, & McKenzie, Nov. 2011). For pleasure reading, third graders were found to prefer “the amenities associated with e-book reading such as pop-up definitions and pronunciations of words, automatic page turning, and the option of read-aloud narration” (Jones & Brown, 2011, p. 5). That said, the “e-book format did not significantly increase comprehension, enjoyment, or engagement” (Jones & Brown, 2011, p. 19) and that more important than format was the “choice of reading material” (p. 19). E-books integrated into “tertiary level EFL students’ English reading” was found to significantly improve “reading attitude, reading comprehension and vocabulary” learning (Chen, Chen, Chen, & Wey, 2013, p. 303). Other studies have explored how e-books may be used in shared reading contexts, given the importance of social reading for learning.
Hypermedia educational electronic books feature various capabilities for pedagogical purposes (Diaz, 2003). One work describes how developers may “apply a well-defined evaluation procedure as well as a set of clear, concrete and measurable quality criteria” to assess e-book fitness for learning (Diaz, 2003, p. 1). What didactic methods were used? What instructional materials were employed? What about the interactivity? (p. 1) Are there sufficient navigational paths to explore? Is there a diversity of presentation styles and modes for interaction? (p. 2) What exercises are included? (p. 3) Can instructors and book users modify the system for learning value? (p. 3) How much is covered in the text in terms of learning objectives? In the exercises, is there quality feedback based on performance? (p. 3) Does the book offer user autonomy in terms of interaction and help mechanisms? (p. 4) Is the user interface appropriate and usable? (p. 5) And so on.
To summarize, e-books started to popularize with exposure and usage over time. One data point comes from 2011, when e-books started outselling print ones on Amazon.com (Miller & Bosman, May 19, 2011). Total sales of e-books in 2003 are said to be approximately $10 million.
While books are seen as a medium for serious thought and for legacies, in a romanticized sense, the book industry itself is a fairly brutal one. For example, “…as much as 70 percent of the books published will make little or no money at all for the publisher once costs are paid” (Rich, Feb. 28, 2010, p. 2). The “power law” distribution prevails: A few “star” authors achieve a majority of the major sales, and most other authors are in the “long tail” of a few sales of their respective books. These are books that may be long-term dreams and may have been the culmination of years of effort.
As a subset of book publishing, academic publishing generally results in a net loss, not any profit for the editors and authors (unless they can parlay the publication into a promotion or grant funding or other professional opportunity). In most cases, academic print publishing does not include any advances. Royalties are very small, around 5 – 10% of profits (after all costs are paid out). Print runs are not large, given enablements of new technologies that enable small press runs on an as-needed basis. For traditional print publishers, ebooks “are saving (them) vast amounts by (their) not having to print or distribute paper books” (Rich, Feb. 28, 2010, p. 1).
At universities, instructors and other subject matter experts (SMEs) are encouraged to publish such books through university publishers in order to share their research and knowledge, enable low-cost or free access by learners, and burnish their academic credentials. Some presses are highly formal and have various imprints for particular book types; some presses apply for commercial international standard book numbers (ISBNs) for their respective books from the commercial or other particular organizations for international ISBNs. Some offer full production, with professional editing, professional typography, professional book covers, and other services. Others offer .pdf forms of books without much oversight or the requisite formalities.
Standards for local publication are not the same as for peer-reviewed publishing, and lower standards mean that people will create e-books that are cobbled compilations of copyrighted and open-shared resources online. Many works are only .pdf-ed renditions of text manuscripts, without original visuals, without multimedia, and without any reader interactivity. Many do not have pedagogical elements to aid with the learning.
Such university-published electronic books—often shared in an open-access way—is seen by many as a challenge to the current academic publishing system and a way to disintermediate from mainstream publishers. Mainstream content creation companies publish prestige journals with low acceptance rates, expensive open-access publications (with fees in the four figures for one work), expensive subscriptions to publisher databases (in the six figures annually for many of the mainstream ones), and other challenges.
Publishing e-books does not have to relate to any contesting of publishers or their disintermediation. For many editors and authors, it is just more convenient and less editorially fraught.
Some Early Steps
For the respective instructional design (ID) projects, the e-book publishing is part of multi-year endeavors but are not the main focus. They are deliverables and byproducts of the work.
Early on, it makes sense to ask:
1. What are the likely academic uses of the electronic book?
2. How will the e-book be used for learning (common use cases)? In what assignments? In individual work? In group work? What sorts of cognitive scaffolding will be built into the e-book? What sorts of assignments? Activities?
a. What are potential uses of the book in the following types of learning: formal, informal, and nonformal learning?
3. How will the e-book be used for research (common use cases)? In what types of disciplines and domains?
4. Who are its main readers, and why? What are their main needs? How can their needs be (optimally) met?
5. If this e-book has competitor texts, which are they, and why? What does this e-book offer that these competitor texts do not?
6. What will be the main contents of the e-book? Who will create the contents?
7. What standards will be used for the creation of the e-book?
8. If the e-book will be updated, how often will it be updated? With what contents?
9. What will the e-book’s aesthetics look like? Its cover? Its typography? Its interactivity? Its look and feel?
10. What technologies will be used for the authoring tools? The image editing? The audio editing? The video editing? The creation of digital learning objects? The creation of the e-book? The e-book versioning? The publishing? The platforms?
11. How will accessibility (Section 508) be ensured, for the widest possible usage of the e-books?
12. How will potential readers be notified of the book’s publication? What are some ways to showcase the strengths of the book (in ways that are appealing to learners)?
Logistically, if the e-book looks to be a good bet, it may be helpful to start the process to put a hold on the title and to apply for an ISBN. Or if not, then maybe a worksite may be set up to start work on evolving the manuscript.
A Draft Table of Contents
Beyond the initial questions, it may help to draft out an idealized Table of Contents (TOC), with different sections, and closer coverage of the topic. A TOC offers a sense of structure to the work even though the structure only serves as a basic outline. (Readers may only select particular sections to read, and most will not start from Page 1 and read to the end. Many learners read selectively, based on what they are assigned and sometimes on what they think will be on the test.)
From there, it may be possible to pencil in who some projected contributors might be. Where the content of the book is likely to come from matters. An edited text requires that there be sufficient numbers of contributors to round out a text on a particular topic. The contributors need to have the requisite interest but the capabilities to actually deliver. (Just having the interest but not the capability or the capability but not the interest renders the potential contributor a likely non-contributor.) An authored text requires that the target author have the sufficient capability to bring together relevant information into a coherent text.
This work offers some early thoughts on how to begin work on an e-book, at least from an ID point-of-view.
All the basic rules of publishing apply...and then there's more. The “electronic” part requires more consideration for multimedia and multimodal design and development. It adds the work of publishing the work through various e-book software and platforms. The local aspects of e-book publishing require attentiveness to some of the more formal aspects of publishing that may not be handled by a local online book publisher at the university.
A few small caveats: Asking others to contribute to an e-book is a socially costly ask and results in diminished social capital. The work itself can be challenging, involving the chasing down of intellectual property and ensuring publishing standards. It is one thing to post invites on electronic mailing lists, research sharing sites, work-based networking sites, book publishing pages, and others, but even if one has the attention of the whole world, only a small percentage of people will have the sufficient interest and skills to deliver. If people are coming off a research project and the issue is top-of-mind, they may consider; otherwise, most will not. An online does not have to attain a particular length to "make," but professionally speaking, it helps to have a more complete work.
Balajthy, E. (2005). Text-to-speech software for helping struggling readers. Reading Online, 8(4), 1-9.
Chen, C. N., Chen, S. C., Chen, S. H. E., & Wey, S. C. (2013). The Effects of Extensive Reading via E-Books on Tertiary Level EFL Students' Reading Attitude, Reading Comprehension, and Vocabulary. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology-TOJET, 12(2), 303-312.
Diaz, P. (2003). Usability of hypermedia educational e-books. D-Lib Magazine, 9(3), 1-10.
Doiron, R. (2011). Using e-books and e-readers to promote reading in school libraries: Lessons from the field. In the proceedings of the 77th IFLA General Conference and Assembly. Aug. 13 – 18, 2011. San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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Shepperd, J.A., Grace, J.L., & Koch, E.J. (2008). Evaluating the electronic textbook: Is it time to dispense with the paper text? Teaching of Psychology: 35, 2 – 5.
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About the Author
Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University. Her email is email@example.com.
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