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E-books at the Crossroads and Thoughts on the Plague

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Presented at
Charleston Library Conference 2020

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In 2012, as e-books were full of promise and beginning to make significant inroads into the academic library market, I undertook a study to examine the extent of their market penetration by investigating what proportion of heavily circulated print books at my library were also available in an e-book format.* Now, eight years later, I wanted to revisit this study to see what changes had occurred as a result of new distribution models and increased acceptance of e-books. This time, instead of using local circulation data as a baseline, I wanted a broader perspective and was able to obtain sales data from our academic supplier on their bestselling print titles for the years 2016 through 2019, correlating print and e-edition data. The results show where publishers have prioritized their shift to e and suggest where gaps in coverage might exist. While my original goal was to document the progress of e-book equivalents, the arrival of Covid-19 has offered a new reason for this study. The widespread closure of libraries and the simultaneous move to distance learning has highlighted one of the key benefits of e-books—their broad accessibility. As a result academic library book purchasing (where there is purchasing) is shifting dramatically toward e-books. Thus, I would argue, future scholars can view the results of this survey as a benchmark in what may be a time of fundamental transition. * Link, Forrest E., “Are We There Yet? An Analysis of E-Book Equivalent Coverage in Highly-Circulated Titles at The College of New Jersey Library,” Collection Building, vol.3, issue 4, 2012.

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