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Release: March 23, 2000

Online book-selling, reading still dependent upon libraries

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Conversation has been renewed about the importance of libraries, heretofore a main distribution point for newly released books prior to the Internet launch of Stephen King's "Riding the Bullet," the first e-novella released exclusively online.

Last week a wide number of would-be King book buyers wound up reading error messages instead of the 66-page thriller just after server problems halted online distribution and purchase of the title. An estimated 400,000 orders were placed in the first 24 hours after the book was made available via online bookstores.

"The logistics of bits and bytes online are different to those of paperback distribution. Publishers now are trying to make online books comfortable to human eyes and hands and that will take longer than engineers initially thought," says Carol Hughes, head of Information, Research and Instructional Services, University of Iowa Libraries.

Hughes, who supports electronic book distribution, thinks e-publishing will promote reading. She cautions, however, that even with the Net's pervasiveness and adaptability, readers will continue to rely on the brick and mortar structures as places to read new and old titles, conduct research and gather.

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG), a not-for-profit research organization in New York, said in a 1999 report that consumer spending on all books is expected to reach more than $38 billion by 2003, up from an estimated $22.6 billion in 1993. BISG also found that during 1999, sales of books by online retailers rose 300 percent to an estimated $650 million from $150 million in 1997. The report further said online book sales were "the fastest channel of distribution for books during the year."

Libraries are becoming publishers, according to Hughes, and in the process, have introduced a new word in the electronic lexicon: born digital, a term that describes creating new works in electronic form that have no paper version.

The Scholarly Resources Digital Center (SDRC), a Libraries' staff conceived Web-based information site, helps foster the creation and use of digitized collections and resources of interest to the UI community. Ongoing SDRC initiatives includes the Arts & Humanities Digital Resources Center, the Center for Electronic Resources in African Studies, and Virtual Exhibits, which contains a link to "Keeping Our Word: Preserving Information Across the Ages," among others. The virtual exhibits add longevity to art, humanities and other exhibits frequently displayed in various locations of the Main Libraries, Hughes says.

The electronic availability of scientific, academic and other publications areas have extended UI students' access to titles in multiple areas, thanks to advances in electronic technology and imaginative services programming by Libraries staff. The UI Libraries is providing students independent, self-directed learning skills through Library Explorer, a Libraries Web-based program that gives students online access to academic and scientific publications.

Glitches like the one effecting King's e-novella, perhaps one day will revolutionize book selling, but such distribution could be limited to the extent that it eases access. Libraries will continue to be the primary source for obtaining high quality information, new and old, according to Hughes.

Hughes notes that Libraries' staff at the Main and 11-branch UI libraries want to ensure access and use of bound and digitized Libraries' resources. She adds that a larger concern about e-publishing and online book selling is the publishers' concern to maintain the publishing rights to electronically and paper produced works. Publishers, she says, especially academic and scientific ones, "want to make money and will want to figure out how they can be profitable without giving away the store."

Access to those Libraries sites mentioned can be gained at

Access to various reference resources offered on the Web by the Libraries can be found at

For more information about the role of libraries in the information age, contact Carol Hughes, head of Information, Research and Instructional Services, at (319) 335-5489, Edward Shreeves, director, Collections and Information Resources at (319) 335-5871 or Barbara Dewey, Interim University Librarian, (319) 335-5867.