Electronic books, or e-books can be very convenient in theory. However, in practice the experience with using e-books can range from awesome to awful. This is because e-book publishers and providers currently offer e-books in many, many different ways.
Like most electronic materials, e-books are subject to licensing---which serves to protect the financial interests of the authors and publishers who had spent much effort and resources to create and produce a book.
Some types of licenses include:
License for personal use
Some publishers decide that a particular e-book be licensed only for personal use. They do not allow for libraries to purchase the e-book. This is a business decision that they make.
Different user, different price
Publishers may also charge different prices for different types of use cases. For example, for a copy of the same e-book, they may charge $10 for personal use, $50 for commercial use, and $100 for library use. Again, these are business decisions that publishers make.
Publishers of reference works such as bibliographies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks have moved these products online. Some of these titles are priced beyond $1,000, and they may be sold individually, or as a package of titles. Even when we only need one article/chapter in such works, we may not be able to get it separately---we would have to purchase or subscribe to the whole title or package.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Publishers also decide how to control and manage the digital rights of an e-book file. They can choose to apply different types of digital rights management (DRM) technologies to the e-book file to create restrictions on what users can or cannot do with an e-book. Some of these restrictions include:
Bigger academic publishers will typically create and maintain their own content platforms to sell and provide access to their e-books. Such platforms often include various types of publications such as journal articles, conference proceedings and datasets. Some of the biggest academic publishers include:
Smaller-scale scholarly publishers, such as societies who publish their own titles, may choose to use a third-party distributor or e-book provider, who will supply the DRM or non-DRM technology platforms and websites to host the e-books and to allow discovery and access to authorized users. They may also outsource the distribution and use the services and platforms belonging to major publishers or resource providers.
For non-academic publishers, such as publishers of fiction, biographies or other non-fiction titles targeted at general consumers, one of the biggest distributor selling e-books is Kindle Store by Amazon.com. Kindle e-books are sold on a personal-use basis, i.e. a library or an organization cannot purchase Kindle titles for shared use.
A wide variety of e-book IT platforms
For NTU Library, we deal mainly with academic publishers. We have over 60 e-book providers/platforms that provide access to e-books in various subject areas.
One way to think about e-book providers and their platforms is to consider how easy they are to use::
Very easy to use
Fairly easy to use
Not quite easy to use
NOTE: Sometimes it is not that the e-book provider is unable to make their content and platform easier for users. It is because ease-of-use or convenience is being priced in by the publisher or provider. This creates a trade-off scenario for the Library. If we spend more on convenience, we will have less to spend on getting access to other titles. Depending on the use-case (e.g. for teaching or for research), we have to decide on how much we can afford for convenience.