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Online Platforms Begin to Test the Market for University-Press E-Books

Librarians have been saying they want and need to buy more scholarly monographs in electronic format. That perceived demand is about to be tested, as several long-planned e-book platforms for university-press books go live over the next few months.

Oxford University Press announced today that its consortial e-book contender, University Press Scholarship Online, is now up and running. It includes monographs from the American University in Cairo Press, Fordham University Press, Hong Kong University Press, University Press of Florida, and the University Press of Kentucky, with Edinburgh University Press and Policy Press scheduled to join the project in March 2012. Oxford promises to make “disparately published monographs easily accessible, highly discoverable and fully cross-searchable via one online platform.”

Meanwhile, Project MUSE made public today more details about Project MUSE Book Collections, its collaboration with a group of midsize publishers working together as the University Press Content Consortium, or UPCC. Project MUSE books will include more than 14,000 titles from 66 university and scholarly presses, the announcement said. That puts the MUSE platform well ahead of Oxford’s product in terms of the range of material it will be able to offer libraries.

“Project MUSE books will be offered in PDF format, searchable and retrievable down to the chapter level, with unlimited simultaneous usage, no digital-rights management, and no restrictions on printing or downloading,” the announcement said. Project MUSE books has a launch date of January 1, 2012. Dean Smith, Project MUSE’s director, told The Chronicle in an e-mail that the plan has been to “begin selling to libraries at least 90 days before the new platform launch.”

The other large-scale e-book offering in the works is Books at JSTOR, which isn’t set to debut until June 2012. Frank Smith, the project’s director, said that more than 20 publishers have signed up to participate so far, and he expects that number to climb to at least 30. “We’re in the earnest building phase right now,” he said. “We’re having lots of interesting conversations with libraries.”

Mr. Smith said that the ability to cross-search and link to JSTOR’s database of journal articles would be a big selling point of Books at JSTOR. “We’re going to have rich linking out of books into journal articles” and book reviews, he said. “It will be a new kind of experience once it’s launched. We really do think that discovery is going to be a big deal.”

Until recently, Mr. Smith was in charge of a fourth project: University Publishing Online, Cambridge University Press’s attempt to build its own online e-book platform for content from several publishers. It will be up and running on October 31, according to Erin Igoe, Cambridge’s library-sales and marketing manager, who stepped in to manage the project after Mr. Smith left. Like Oxford’s platform, University Publishing Online has a small group of publishers on board so far. They include Foundation Books India, Liverpool University Press, and the Mathematical Association of America, as well as Cambridge University Press.

So far, these e-book ventures aren’t requiring publishers to sign exclusive agreements with them. Judging by how many publishers have signed on, Project MUSE Book Collections and Books at JSTOR look best positioned to test just how serious librarians are about buying collections of e-books from university presses.

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