One of the most heard objectives against eBooks (let alone against Open Access eBooks) is that nobody is going to read a whole book from a screen. Especially in the Humanities, where long stretched arguments are laid out over hundreds of pages, scholars and students will prefer a solid hard copy over reading from the screen.
Reading attitudes are changing however. In Europe some interesting initiatives are taking place concerning eBooks and their usage. JISC, the UK based Joint Information Systems Committee, recently launched the JISC National eBooks Observatory Survey for which they placed e-textbooks into 120 UK universities. With over 20.000 responses to their survey, this makes it one of the largest eBook surveys ever undertaken. At a presentation about this project at the London Book Fair of this year, David Nicolas, a member of the eBooks Observatory research team, said that eBooks have reached the tipping point. The reading behavior of students is changing as they are much less reading the whole book online as they are viewing the book. This means that the whole book is no longer the unit of consumption in an online environment but rather chapters or even paragraphs.
As the preliminary research results of the eBook Observatory project show, people are reading books on their computers. For it shows that more than 53 per cent of eBook users only read from the screen, regardless of age group! Although, as Nicolas points out, much of the reading has a high ‘dipping in and out’ character, the question remains if this is such a big change from reading a print book. Are we still reading a whole (academic) book from cover to cover?
In order to find out if scholars and students in the Humanities will increasingly read monographs online, a lot more eBook content is needed in this field. This is one of the targets of the OAPEN project. OAPEN is a European project in Open Access publishing for Humanities monographs, led by a consortium of University-based academic publishers from all over Europe. Next to creating a sustainable Open Access model for monograph publishing, the project wants to collect a critical mass of Open Access content. This content will be presented for everyone to use in an online Open Access library. The OAPEN project might not only create critical mass for the advance of Open Access (business models) in the Humanities, but also for research about changing user needs, as the JISC survey has done. And as these two innovative projects show or will show, people are reading books from a screen and probably will do so increasingly. And with this one of the main objectives against Open Access eBooks is being more and more contested.