Thursday, October 23, 2008
JSTOR for books
BoingBoing links to a Safari Books Online special offer: pick a free book for a month , plus 10% off a subscription to the full version of the service. Looks good. In the basic package, Safari gives you generous (not total, unless you pay more) access to a truly vast range of titles from “O’Reilly Media, John Wiley & Sons, Addison-Wesley, Peachpit Press, Adobe Press, lynda.com and many more top publishers.” It looks like you can have 10 books ‘checked out’ per month. You have ‘slots’. Plus there are extras and goodies of various sorts. Yearly rate: $252. Monthly rate: $22.99. For me it doesn’t quite make sense, but almost. I’m sure for a lot of people, and institutions, this makes total sense. Often when you are learning something new you would like to have not just one but five books (because you aren’t sure which Photoshop book will be best). And 18 months later there’s a new version and you would like new books. (How many thick, obsolete technical titles do you have on your shelf? I have: enough.) It might make sense to subscribe for a few months when I’m learning something new, then unsubscribe for a year and subscribe again when the next bout of learning hits.
But mostly I’m thinking how nice this would be for academic books in the humanities in particular (in the social sciences, too, but the humanities seems more monograph-driven - or ridden.) JSTOR for books. Your institution subscribes, or you subscribe individually. You get access to everything from all the major publishers. It would make a good deal more economic sense than what we’ve got, and would be a lot more functional. Also, it would be good for independent scholars and ordinary citizens who don’t have the privilege of institutional access, which I think is a real problem. It’s bad that the (often tax-subsidized) productions of academics get locked in university libraries. If you could buy a month-long library membership for $22 - maybe Joe the Plumber gets it in his head to read all the latest scholarly work on Plato - that would be reasonable. Free culture is best, but affordable culture is second best. Of course it won’t happen. JSTOR for scholarly books in the humanities. Damn, that would be nice.
This kind of thing seems to be on its way. Our library has just announced a subscription to ‘Oxford Scholarship Online’:
“ The complete text of over 1,100 carefully selected Oxford books available online for the first time. This is an electronic book collection comprising collections of Oxford University Press titles in four subject areas: Economics and Finance, Philosophy, Political Science, and Religion. Special features include: * keywords and abstracts at both book and chapter level, the vast majority written by the original author * reference linking from bibliographies and footnotes to available online content, such as journals from a wide range of publishers * printer-friendly format for easier printing
The website says that books in literature are also available--so maybe ours is some kind of partial acess deal.
I see we are also getting “The History E-Book Collection”: “an online, fully searchable collection of high-quality electronic books in history, recommended and reviewed by historians and featuring unlimited multi-user access.”
Combined with something like the Kindle, this could really be helpful. The Kindle, it seems to me, is ideal for academics who read lots of PDFs of journal articles, so the same access to books via PDFs would be awesome, too.
And of course the implications for improving the academic publishing industry would be huge.
A big downside to the Safari “bookshelf” model is that it ties you into reading in your browser. JSTOR papers I can download as pdf, print out and scribble all over. (Or put on an ebook reader, or just read from my laptop without needing wireless access.)
"A big downside to the Safari “bookshelf” model is that it ties you into reading in your browser.”
Yeah, but I gather you have some chapter PDF download privileges from Safari. (I’m not buying, so I didn’t actually look into it in detail.)
True, I’m comparing the “free” JSTOR access (which I get via payment by my institution) with the genuinely free Safari trial, which basically prevents all downloads (you have one download chip, iirc, which is good for about twenty pages).
So far as I could see though they restrict downloads quite carefully, which makes sense—if you can change your bookshelf whenever you want and download whatever’s in your bookshelf…
Somehow missed Tom Elrod’s comment above. I suspect things will be a bit different for books, since the authors (and publishers) have more invested in individual works and so are likely to be more worried about copying. (I’ve got an iLiad, like the Kindle only you can write on it, and it is fantastic for wrangling papers.)
@Tikitu - i don’t see this as being a downside. a printed book would be at a double price .. so think of this as an upside to read the books online as you get them for cheaper price.