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A fascinating couple of articles over the last few days around what is happening with ebook sales (from the US). A couple of articles from the Stratechery site (via @lorcanD and @aarontay) Disconfirming ebooks and Are ebooks declining, or just the publishers. Firstly referring to an article in the NY Times reporting on ebook sales plateau’ing, but then a more detailed piece of work from Author Earnings analysing more data. The latter draws the conclusion that it was less a case of ebook sales plateauing but more a case that the market share from the big publishers was declining (and postulating that price increases might play a part). Overall the research seems to show growth in independent and self-publishing but what looks like fairly low levels of growth overall. The figures mostly seem to be about market share rather than hard and fast sales per se. But interesting nonetheless to see how market share is moving away from ‘traditional’ print publishers.
The Stratechery articles are particularly interesting around the way that ebooks fit with the disruptive model of new digital innovation challenging traditional industries, what is termed here ‘Aggregation theory‘ [As an aside it’s interesting from the Author Earnings article to note that many of the new ebooks from independent or self-publishers don’t have ISBNs. What does that imply for the longer term tracking of this type of material? Already I suspect that they are hard to acquire for libraries and just don’t get surfaced in the library acquisitions sphere. Does it mean that these titles are likely to become much more ephemeral?]
The conclusion in the second Stratechery article I find particularly interesting, that essentially ebooks aren’t revolutionising the publishing industry in terms of the form they take. They are simply a digital form of the printed item. Often they add little extra by being in digital form, maybe they are easier to acquire and store, but often in price terms they aren’t much cheaper than the printed version. Amazon Kindle does offer some extra features but I’ve never been sure how much they are taken up by readers. Unlike music you aren’t seeing books being disaggregated into component parts or chapters (although it’s a bit ironic considering that some of Charles Dickens’ early works, such as The Pickwick Papers, were published in installments, as part works). But I’d contend that the album in music isn’t quite the same as a novel for example. Music albums seem like convenient packaging/price? of a collection of music tracks (possibly with the exception of ‘concept’ albums?) for a physical format, whereas most readers wouldn’t want to buy their novels in parts. There’s probably more of a correlation between albums/tracks and journals/articles – in that tracks/articles lend themselves in a digital world to being the lowest level and a consumable package of material.
But I can’t help but wonder why audiobooks don’t seem to have disrupted the industry either. Audible are offering audiobooks in a similar way to Netflix but aren’t changing the book industry in the way the TV and movie industry are being changed. So that implies to me that there’s something beyond the current ‘book’ offering (or that the ‘book’ actually is a much more consumable, durable package of content than other media). Does a digital ‘book’ have to be something quite different that draws on the advantage of being digital – linking to or incoporating maps, images, videos or sound, or some other form of social interaction that could never be incorporated in a physical form? Or are disaggregated books essentially what a blog is (modularization as suggested on stratechery)? Is the hybrid digital book the game-changer? [there are already examples of extra material being published online to support novels – see Mark Watson’s Hotel Alpha stories building on his novel Hotel Alpha, for example.] You could liken online retailers as disrupting the book sales industry as a first step but we’re perhaps only in the early stages of seeing how Amazon will ultimately disrupt the publishing industry. Perhaps the data from Author Earnings report points to the signs of the changes in ebook publishers.
One of the pieces of work we’re just starting off in the team this year is to do some in-depth work on library data. In the past we’ve looked at activity data and how it can be used for personalised services (e.g. to build recommendations in the RISE project or more recently to support the OpenTree system), but in the last year we’ve been turning our attention to what the data can start to tell us about library use.
There have been a couple of activities that we’ve undertaken so far. We’ve provided some data to an institutional Learning Analytics project on the breakdown of library use of online resources for a dozen or so target modules. We’ve been able to take data from the EZproxy logfiles, and show the breakdown by student ID, by week and by resource over the nine-month life of the different modules. That has put library data alongside other data such as use of the Virtual Learning Environment and allowed module teams to look at how library use might relate to the other data.
A colleague has also been able to make use of some data combining library use and satisfaction survey data for a small number of modules, to shed a little light on whether satisfied students were making more use of the library than unsatisfied ones (obviously not a causal relationship – but initial indications seem to be that for some modules there does seem to be a pattern there).
Library Analytics roadmap
But these have been really early exploratory steps, so during last year we started to plan out a Library Analytics Roadmap to scope out the range of work we need to do. This covers not just data analysis, but also some infrastructural developments to help with improving access to data and some effort to build skills in the library. It is backed up with engagement with our institutional learning analytics projects and some work to articulate a strategy around library analytics. The idea being that the roadmap activities will help us change how we approach data, so we have the necessary skills and processes to be able to provide evidence of how library use relates to vital aspects such as student retention and achievement.
Library data project
We’re working on a definition of Library analytics as being about:
Using data about student engagement with library services and content to help institutions and students understand and improve library services to learners
Part of the roadmap activity this year is to start to carry out a more systematic investigation into library data, to match it against student achievement and retention data. The aim is to build an evidence base of case studies, based on quantitative data and some qualitative work we hope to do. Ideally we’d like to be able to follow the paths mapped out by the likes of Minnesota, Wollongong and Huddersfield in their various projects and demonstrate that there is a correlation between library use, student success and retention.
Challenges to address
We know that we’re going to need more data analysis skills, and some expertise from a statistician. We also have some challenges because of the nature of our institution. We won’t have library management system book loans, or details of visits to the library, we will mainly have to concentrate on use of online resources. So in some ways that simplifies things. But our model of study also throws up some challenges. With a traditional campus institution students study a degree over three or four years. There is a cohort of students that follow through year 1, 2, 3 etc and at the end of that period they do their exams and get their degree classification. So it is relatively straight-forward to see retention as being about students that return in year 2 and year 3, or don’t drop-out during the year, and to see success measured as their final degree classification. But with part-time distance learning, where although students sign up to a qualification, they still follow a pattern of modules and many will take longer than six years to complete, often with one of more ‘breaks’ in study, following a cohort across modules might be difficult. So we might have to concentrate on analysis at the ‘module’ level… but then that raises another question for us. Our students could be studying more than one module at a time so how do you easily know whether their library use relates to module A or module B? Lots of things to think about as we get into the detail.
The digital archive site that we’ve been working away on for a while now is finally public. It is being given a very low-key soft launch to give time for more testing and checking to make sure that the features work OK for users, but as it has now been tweeted about, is linked from our main library website and findable on Google, then I can finally write a short piece about it.
The site has gone live with a mix of images, some videos about the university and a small collection of video clips from the first science module in the 1970s. Accompanying the images and videos are a couple of sub-sites we’ve called Exhbitions. To start with there are two, one covering the teaching of Shakespeare and the other giving a potted history of the university. The exhibitions are designed to give a bit more context around some of the material in the collection.
The small collection of 160 historical images from the history of the university include people involved in the development of the university or significant events such as the first graduation ceremony, as well as a selection of images about the construction of the campus. The latter is slightly odd maybe for a distance learning institution, with a campus that most students may never see, but maybe that makes the changes to the physical enviroment of interest to students and the general viewer nonetheless.
The selection of videos include a collection of thirty programmes about the university mostly from the 1970s and 1980s and mainly from a magazine-style series called Open Forum, giving students a bit of an insight into the life of the university. It includes sections from various University officials, but also student experiences, Summer schools and the like. Some of the videos cover events such as royal visits and material about the history of the university.
Less obvious to the casual browser is the inclusion of a large collection of metadata about university courses. This metadata profile forms a skeleton or scaffolding that is used to hang the bits of digitised course materials together and relate them to their parent course/module. So it gives a way of displaying the different types of material included in a module together as well as giving information about the module, its subjects and when it ran. At the moment there are only a few digitised samples hanging on the underlying bare bones.
To find the metadata go to the View All tab, make sure the ‘Available online’ button isn’t selected and choose ‘Module overview’ from Content Type, and it’s possible to browse through some details of the university’s old modules, seeing some information about the module, when they were run. You can also follow through to the linked data repository at data.open.ac.uk e.g. http://data.open.ac.uk/page/course/e242 Underpinning this aspect of the site is a semantic web RDF triplestore.
Public and staff sites
One of the challenges for the digital archive is that it is essentially two different sites under the skin. A staff version of the site has been available internally for over a year and lets staff login to see a broader range of material, particularly from old university course materials. So staff can access some sound recordings as well as a small number of digitised books, and access a larger collection of videos, although at this stage it’s still a fairly small proportion of the overall archive. But more will be added over time as well as hopefully some of the several hundred module websites that have been archived over the past three years.
Unlike many digital archives all of the content is relatively recent, i.e. less than fifty years old. And that gives a different set of challenges as there is a lot of content that would need to have Intellectual Property rights cleared before it could be made openly available. So there are a small number of clips but at the moment limited amounts of course materials that have been able to be made open. So one of the challenges will be to find ways to fund making more material open, both in terms of the effort needed to digitise and check material and the cost of payments to any rights holders.
The digital archive can be found at www.open.ac.uk/library/digital-archive
We’ve been running Primo as our new Library Search discovery system since the end of April so it’s been ‘live’ for just over four months. Although it’s been a quieter time of year over the summer I thought it would be interesting to start to see what the analytics are saying about how Library Search is being used.
Some analytics are provided by the supplier in the form of click-through statistics and there are some interesting figures that come out of those. The majority of searches are ‘Basic searches’, some 85%. Only about 11% of searches use Advanced search. Advanced search isn’t offered against the Library Search box embedded into the home page of the library website but is offered next to the search box on the results page and on any subsequent search. It’s probably slightly less than I might have expected as it seemed to be fairly frequently mentioned as being used regularly on our previous search tool.
About 17% of searches lead to users refining their search using the facets. Refining the search using facets is something we are encouraging users to do, so that’s a figure we might want to see going up. Interestingly only 13% navigated to the next page in a set of search results using the forward arrow, suggesting that users overwhelmingly expect to see what they want on the first page of results. (I’ve a slight suspicion about this figure as the interface presents links to pages 2-5 as well as the arrow – which goes to pages 6 onwards – and I wonder if pages 2-5 are taken into account in the click-through figure).
Very few searches (0.5% of searches) led users to use the bX recommendations, despite this being in a prominent place on the page. The ‘Did you mean’ prompt also seemed to have been used in 1% of searches. The bookshelf feature ‘add to e-shelf’is used in about 2% of searches.
75% of traffic comes from Windows computers with 15% from Macintoshes. There’s a similar amount of traffic from tablets to what we see on our main library website, with tablet traffic running at about 6.6% but mobile traffic is a bit lower at just under 4%.
Devices using library search seem pretty much in line with traffic to other library websites. There’s less mobile phone use but possibly that is because Primo isn’t particularly well-optimised for mobile devices and also maybe something to test with users whether they are all that interested in searching library discovery systems through mobile phones.
I’m not so surprised that basic search is used much more than advanced search. It matches the expectations from the student research of a ‘google-like’ simple search box. The data seems to suggest that users expect to find results that are relevant on page one and not go much further, something again to test with users ‘Are they getting what they want’. Perhaps I’m not too surprised that the ‘recommender’ suggestions are not being used but it implies that having them at the top of the page might be taking up important space that could be used for something more useful to users. Some interesting pointers about things to follow up in research and testing with users.