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Xerox’s John Conley On eBooks

John Conley, Xerox’s vice president of publishing, chatted with eBookNewser about how eBooks are changing the publishing industry and what affect this is having on students.

EBN: How are eBooks changing the publishing industry?

JC: The most important impact for book publishers is that eBooks are providing a new and sustainable revenue stream, which has a different economic model than printed books. eBooks are not dependent on bricks-and-mortar stores or physical warehouses for availability or delivery. They represent a virtual inventory management model with no waste, excess inventory risk or returns. Today the overall mix of eBooks and traditional physical books is yielding a more profitable result than physical books alone.

The strong growth of eBooks is having a significant impact on the physical book manufacturing supply chain and inventory management practices of trade book publishers. The increase in eBooks sales does have an impact on the total number of physical books sold and printed.

EBN: How is digital influencing print-on-demand?

JC: While the eReader platforms have grown and become more efficient, the digital print platforms, which are helping publishers manage the physical inventory issue more effectively, have also improved. Now there is the ability to distribute and print through print-on-demand facilities around the world, right down to the use of “print at retail” solutions like the Espresso Book Machine, a Xerox solution.

This change in physical demand volumes and the associated inventory risk management issues – exacerbated by the spectacular growth of eBooks in four short years – has had the side effect of creating a more efficient print model through new digital print technologies and print on demand distributed solutions.

EBN: What effect is the growth of eReader adoption having on reading?

JC: The easy answer would be that there are more book units being sold in the trade business today because of the addition of eBooks to the overall product mix. We know the number of physical units sold is going down, but we also know from anecdotal conversations with trade book publishers, and their very public financial results, that their business is growing.

The question around comprehension and effectiveness is going to take time to study and understand. Since the bulk of eBooks have been on the trade or entertainment side of the publishing genre, comprehension is not as critical as it is with education. We know from the number of attempts to get eReaders adopted at major universities that students do not like eBooks for education. This has much to do with how students learn, consume and retain educational material today. I believe this will change when educational material moves from physical books to educational applications on tablets.

EBN: How will Apple’s recent iBooks 2 announcement change the way books are read in universities?

JC: Apple’s announcement signals to content developers that they are committed to creating the physical platforms, distribution channels and development tools which may enable a change in the way educational materials are developed and presented in both the K-12 and higher education space.

Apple and major educational publishers like Pearson, McGraw Hill and Cengage have been focused on developing change to the text book for a number of years. Over time the learning paradigm we know as the text book will disappear and be replaced by a more dynamic learning paradigm that will interactive, timely and interesting to the student and the instructor.

This is a change that will take time to execute and we will see this in the higher education space first. Higher education students have been asking for an alternative for years due to costs and utility of the book. Due to the large portion of the overall book revenue stream that higher education publishers do not participate in today, used books and sharing this market makes more sense to convert. The K-12 space will take much longer to change because it is encumbered with state and federal funding and content standards regulation.

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