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Recently I attended a meeting about e-books with various interested stakeholders from the University, where we discussed what we were doing (or planned to do) in this area.

The meeting was an exciting one and generated quite a buzz. Several areas are working on their plans for e-books and what follows is a brief overview of some of these plans.

  • ICT are planning to build and implement an engine that can take text documents and turn them into e-books on request. ICT will adopt certain standard formats and users will be able to download documents in their selected format. In this way, ICT will act as a distributor for any areas of the University that want to make use of the service.
  • Sydney University Press and eScholarship are already working on an innovative project to build your own anthology of poetry (see april.edu.au). They are working with the Copyright Agency Limited to ensure that authors will receive appropriate royalties.
  • Sydney University Press and eScholarship are working on a huge project to digitise their existing back catalogue to enable out of print books to be available as e-books and as print on demand.
  • The University Publishing Service is looking at ways they can produce student notes as e-books that are beyond the PDF standard so that students can more easily interact with the content.
  • Given the huge volume of documentation that the Archives and Records management service has to catalogue, store and maintain, digitisation is a must. Currently they are using PDFs as the standard for these documents, but are keeping a watchful eye on developing new standards.
  • The Faculty of Arts is keen to make their faculty a paper-free world as quickly as possible, and are therefore interested in moving more of their documents into a digital format.

Different areas also had different concerns. For us in Marketing and Communications, our concern is to disseminate our publications as widely as possible, using whatever media and channels that are available and that we can resource.

Other areas need to look at issues like copyright, digital rights management, distribution channels and e-stores. Once information is available in a digital form it becomes much easier to distribute, which has both advantages and disadvantages – especially when authors want to make a living from selling their books.

It’s exciting being involved at the early stages of publishing e-books but it certainly has its challenges. One of these is the lack of standards – many e-books have their own formats (see Wikipedia for a full run down of the different formats available). The open source format epub is currently the leader of the pack and it will be interesting to see if it becomes the standard. Regardless, as most e-books are formatted using HTML, XHTML or XML to mark up the structure, it’s not too onerous to move from one standard to another.

Here in Marketing and Communications we will shortly be producing the White Paper in e-book format, as well as in the more traditional electronic HTML and PDF formats – it will be our pilot e-book, so look out for it and be sure to send us your feedback.