E-books have been provided through libraries for some time, primarily as texts to read online, through your computer's browser or using a dedicated program. With the advent of electronic ink, e-readers (especially the Kindle), tablet computers and other mobile devices with crisp, clear screens, there has been a shift to users expecting to be able to download e-books from libraries to their own devices. For example, the proportion of US adults who own an e-book reader doubled in six months from November 2010 to May 2011 (Purcell, 2011). This trend continued during the year, with the Kindle, Amazon's flagship e-book reader, selling over a million units a week during December 2011 and becoming Amazon's biggest-selling product in 2011.
Libraries have struggled to meet the demand for downloadable, mobilefriendly e-books because they face many problems in providing e-books in mobile-friendly formats and the whole area is changing fast. Most of the problems can be placed into one or other of two categories: format and licensing. In this chapter we will discuss some of the issues and give examples of the successful provision of e-books for mobile devices.
There are many dedicated e-book readers on the market, some of which have associated applications that can be downloaded to mobile phones and to tablets such as the iPad and that enable you to buy and read books from the supplier of the app, even if you do not own its dedicated device. Some online e-book services are usable on a range of mobile devices. Although dedicated e-book readers such as the Kindle have recently been selling extremely well and some retailers are claiming that e-books are now outselling hardbacks, this chapter will not concentrate on specific handheld readers. Rather than being too specific about devices, formats and platforms, we will focus mostly on generic issues rather than on specific current solutions.
There are a host of competing formats for e-books, some of which are dedicated to certain devices, others of which are generic and will work across many different technologies (Table 8.1). From a library's point of view, it can be risky to commit to a proprietary format that will work with only one manufacturer's product. However, it can also have benefits, allowing a service to be introduced initially in a focused way, rather than try (and probably fail) to introduce a perfect service that pleases everyone.