Why don’t teachers use eBooks for professional development?

post by Mike Griffin on why Korean students don’t use apps for learning English made me think about some work I’ve been doing recently that involves teachers. Without going into too much detail, I’ve been looking at the potential for ELT professional development eBooks and trying to establish why there seems to be very limited demand for digital versions of existing print titles.

Now, given the title of this post, I guess it’s worth pointing out that I’m aware that there are language teachers out there already buying professional development eBooks. However, all the evidence suggests that most aren’t, despite the proliferation of laptops, tablets and eReaders, and the ease of purchasing eBooks online. The vast majority of language teachers and ex-language teachers I know, myself included, have at least a couple of ‘classic’ ELT methodology books on their (physical) bookshelves, and the more fortunate ones will have a well-stocked resource library where they teach, giving access to both practical guides and theoretical texts.

So at a time when Amazon and many others are telling us eBook sales are booming, why is the ELT industry still so wedded to print? Here are a few of the most common responses I’ve heard from teachers:

  1. eReaders are for fiction, tablets are for apps and social media. Reference texts and methodology books don’t really suit either device. Print is best because I can quickly find what I want, and I can bookmark and annotate pages.
  2. I don’t buy books for professional development. I rely on my library or school, where the only option is print.
  3. Publishers are not giving teachers the incentives to purchase digital. Digital needs to be cheaper, maybe up to 50% cheaper, and there needs to be extra features like audio, video and interactive exercises.
  4. There are so many free online resources, including blogs, journal articles and social media communities, with content more suited to reading on mobile devices, so there’s no need to buy methodology eBooks. Or print books for that matter.
  5. I do read eBooks, but I don’t pay. I only download free PDF versions, you know, the ones you kindly make available on those Russian websites.

This is of course all anecdotal and there are counter-arguments to every one of these points. You can bookmark and annotate eBooks, there is potential for excellent search functionality, the expectation of more content and features for a considerably lower price can be challenging but if approached sensibly can be addressed, and whilst there are some fantastic, thought-provoking bloggers around, this is content that should arguably complement rather than replace cutting-edge, high quality methodology and applied linguistics publishing. Finally, if you need convincing that downloading pirate PDFs is damaging and unacceptable, take the time to read this ELTjam post.

The potential is there for digital delivery to improve the reader’s experience when it comes to methodology and reference titles (in ELT beyond), and for publishers to deliver content in more flexible ways through subscriptions, disaggregated content and library services. However, if print is what most language teachers want (and what teacher trainers and lecturers insist on putting on reading lists) how much time should publishers really spend trying to convince them to switch to digital? And is it a case of switching, or would teachers appreciate redeemable codes for free or low-cost eBooks bundled with the print books, thereby putting a single purchase on both their virtual and physical bookshelves?

I don’t think there are definitive answers to any of these questions, and ELT publishers are either going to continue scratching their heads or, as we’re already seeing (mentioning no names), abandoning professional development publishing in order to focus more energy on the blockbuster courses where there’s greater profit to be made. Whilst I’m all too aware of the importance of keeping publishing profitable, I don’t believe that should be the only driver when it comes to methodology and applied linguistics. Quality publishing in this area is what stimulates debate, brings about change and essentially underpins the professionalism in ELT. What I hope digital content will allow, perhaps combined with print, is more – not less – professional development publishing, better accessibility to ‘classic’ titles, and the ability to reach a greater audience through more flexible content delivered at a lower price. This is simple and yet incredibly complicated, so do get in touch if you have a global solution, and in the meantime, please step away from those illegal downloads.

This post originally appeared on Ian Cook’s blog eltmarketing.wordpress.com on the 28th August, 2014.
Featured Photo Credit: Demonsub via Compfight cc. Text added by ELTjam.

39 thoughts on “Why don’t teachers use eBooks for professional development?”

  1. Ian,

    You could try talking to someone at The Round, to see what they think – they actually publish a collection of ebooks for PD, so could inform your anecdotal impressions with something more tangible.

    There are also self-publishing ventures brought to market by KickStarter campaigns and the like, though my impression there is that your sales are often defined by the fund raising campaign – basically, the campaign contributors are your market and once you’re funded, your sales are minimal.

    There have been a couple of those projects that have not even got the funding they required (pretty small amounts, at that) – this suggests that people who want to write a book often misjudge the market, appeal, or need for the product they want to write. In some ways that’s where the traditional model is superior – you can’t publish a vanity project without the market research, editing, etc., that forms part of old-style publishing. That’s why they sell more (though usually in dead tree versions).

    You could also talk to the good folk at DELTA Publishing, and ask them if they’d share some data about the sales of the electronic versions of their PD books, compared to paper versions…

    A couple of titles I’ve written with Nicky Hockly are (or will be – in the case of one of them) out in ebook format, and we’ll have some sales figures soon for one of them.

    I’d bet the bottom line, however, is that PD books are bought for centres running courses, for PD in language centres, etc. As such, ebooks just don’t work in that context…


    • Hi Gavin. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I’ve shared some anecdotal evidence in this post, but I actually have both quantitative and qualitative data coming out of my ears. The bigger challenges I seem to face these days – and I assume others do too – is assessing the quality of data (and how representative it is), conducting analysis and spotting trends, then deciding which solution(s) would work most effectively and where best to invest limited resources. I also, somewhat flippantly, mentioned global solutions, but I wonder whether these truly exist for the distribution of digital content. What is more likely required is bespoke solutions for different markets, according to regional needs and demands. And I agree in part with your final comment, it is likely that PD sales are not, in the main, to individuals. But could alternative (and cheaper) distribution models change this? And could schools perhaps be tempted by online subscription models, or similar, for their teachers?

  2. Funnily enough I almost *only* read e-books for professional development. And at a ratio of about 10:1 (10 ebooks for every print one I buy). Here’s why:

    – living in Spain it would take me ages to get some of the specialised titles I need for research or articles
    – I get an e-book instantly and can read what I need on the spot. No hanging around waiting for a print book to arrive.
    – When I realise I need a book, I search for it Amazon. If it’s not available for Kindle, I find a similar title that is, and buy that. ELT publishers that don’t have e-books lose my custom.
    – I am happy to pay the slightly lower price for an ebook
    – I save on postage
    – I can take notes on the ebooks in electronic format, a big plus.
    – I actually buy far more (e)books for professional development than I used to because they are so easy to access

    Perhaps I’m an anomaly. Hey ho.

  3. a… Teachers like passing PD books around/sharing/discussing – ebooks don’t do that. But they will pass around links/articles in their PLN virtual or real [staffroom].

    b… Make chapters downloadable as ‘in app’ purchases to meet the needs/interests of teachers. Most PD books are just collections anyway. I’d rather a collection of chapters from ELT luminaries on motivation from different publications if that’s the issue I’m facing or … I’ll turn to blogs/articles and get the stuff anyway.

    c… Natives vs. Migrants – I wonder which class of digital citizen most PD hungry teachers are? Give it time.

    • Hi John. All good points, especially the one about sharing, though I think eBook distributors are already starting to address that. Some of the best (non-ELT) books I’ve ever read have been handed to me by friends after they’ve finished with them.

  4. I think you might actually be surprised at how few teachers actually buy professional paperback books for their own use at all. Many rely on their school libraries and don’t own many personal copies. Some publishers still don’t make e-books available- not least because there is a feeling it makes pirated copies easier to supply. Paperback copies are often perceived as being more accessible in a rush e.g. if you have to cover a colleagues’s class. In many parts of the world where security is an issue, 1. teachers tend to avoid taking electronic devices with downloaded copies with them to work, 2. broadband connection to view on-line editions is often unreliable, 3. power is often unreliable and laptops/kindles/tablets can run out of battery with no easy recharge source, 4 there are probably lots of teachers using pirated copies- you see the links shared with no shame on all sorts of teacher groups.

    • Hi Frances, I agree, and none of that would surprise me. PD titles, in print at least, are more likely to be bought by a school as a shared resource, than by an individual, with the notable exceptions of popular titles that have found their way on to reading lists. I wonder whether or not digital distribution can make content more affordable and accessible to individuals. But perhaps this simply isn’t necessary?

  5. Thanks for addressing this issue, Ian. As the editor of a series of methodology books for teachers (no names!), I’m well aware of how pathetically small the sales of ebooks are, compared to print titles, and I suspect that all the reasons you adduce have some bearing on the issue. Piracy – while it no doubt affects the sales of ‘blockbuster’ titles – may have less an effect on methodology books, though, simply because there aren’t that many methodology titles being pirated (as far as I can tell). Perhaps it’s not worth anyone’s while to scan and upload a book that, even in the best of times, never sells more than two or three hundred copies a year.

    The convenience, portability, and sheer physicality of print books is what does it for me, though. Unlike Nicky, I don’t own a single e-book (except one I wrote myself)and yet I acquire methodology and applied linguistics books at the rate of one or two a week. Those two or three days waiting for the Amazon man to buzz are what gives my otherwise sad life a degree of purpose — unmitigated joy, even!

  6. Hi Ian,

    The great thing about PD ebooks is that if you carry your kindle / tablet around with you all the time (most people do), you always have them with you. We live in a world where we expect to have information at our finger tips and ebooks provide us with this feature. There is nothing more frustrating than remembering reading something in a paper book somewhere and having to wait until you can get your hands on it to reference it or read it again.
    I think (maybe delusionally) it is just a question of time, culture and price. Teachers have got used to thinking that PD books are prohibitively expensive, so most don’t even contemplate buying them (it’s part of EFL teacher culture). So, I’d bring down the prices significantly, market the lower prices big time and see what happens.

    • Hi Fiona. Price can be an influencing factor, but the conversations I’ve had (and the responses to this post) suggest that even if the price of eBooks came down significantly, many people – like Scott – would still choose print, or in fact, continue to choose neither. Aside from rethinking how we deliver digital content, perhaps offering chapters at super-low prices, another option is to actually increase the price of print and include a ‘free’ digital download with every print book. There is sometimes the assumption that people are either ‘print’ or ‘digital’ but actually most of us consume both, according to what suits us at the time of reading. So rather than trying to sell more, we could go down the route of making methodology and applied linguistics ‘premium’ print and digital, all-in-one products. Thoughts?

  7. I asked several publishers and organisations about TD ebooks and didn’t get far so I bit the bullet and started making my own. It isn’t hard and doesn’t take long. I have about another 10 planned.

    Personally, I like reading short TD articles, posts and books on my phone and tablet at break, lunch and on the bus. I don’t think I’m alone. Ebooks are cheaper, more fun to read and you can store and access lots on your device.

    Perhaps this is just a juncture where publishers want to hang on to the shrinking traditional book market while self-publishers and smaller companies drive the new ebook one.

    • Hi Phil. I think (hope!) there will be space for both publishers and self-publishers in the digital future. The bigger publishers may not move nearly as quickly as smaller companies and individuals, but they’ve all got digital at the top of their agendas.

      • Thanks, Ian. I am perhaps the least qualified person here to comment but from my brief experience of working on creating digital ‘versions’ of existing materials and of working on original digital content, I really think they are a different beast and need different people and approaches. The writing style, format and opportunities are not the same. Yes, some are still ‘transferring’ books to digital formats as they have been since I started out in 2007 but others are embracing the format and writing for it i.e. The Round. Re: Style. I see a lot more informality in writing nowadays due to FB, emails, blogs etc so it seems natural that TD ebooks follow that. After all, I don’t think we use phones/tablets like books. They are very portable, constantly have messages and notices popping up and are designed for multitasking. This should be taken into consideration, in my opinion.

  8. As someone who has written both print and e-version methodology books I think the question is probably more “why don’t teachers buy professional development books?”, period. I can’t speak for other authors in the round (the epublishing venture I’m involved in) but in my experience, barring a few classic titles of PD, most professional development books sell relatively few in print and perhaps fewer in ebook form. As a reader, I find I am more recently using ebooks for professional development for many of the reasons that Nicky mentions above. Of the last five books I’ve bought for PD, four of them were in ebook format. Maybe still too early to say?

    • I agree Lindsay. There are not many titles in this area of publishing that shift big numbers, and most authors and publishers have come to accept this. As others have mentioned in response to this post, books are often bought by schools and libraries, rather than by invidivudals, and the good ones are shared. I still believe, however, that there may be opportunities for better distributing/selling digital content and reaching a wider audience.

  9. As someone who works ‘in the field’ as a teacher trainer, mostly on online Delta courses, and can confidently say that there most certainly is the demand for ebook versions of methodology books. In fact, working on an online Delta course with a huge reading list and trainees located in far-flung places all over the world (many in countries where Amazon don’t actually deliver to), I’m constantly being asked why there aren’t more ebook versions of methodology books, especially some of the bigger, more relevant titles. In fact, I have even known of trainees who have used pirated versions of these books in pdf format, simply because they couldn’t get hold of the print (or legally available digital) versions. The problem as I see it, is one of lack of supply, not lack of demand.

    As someone who’s published an ebook of Delta tips through The Round (ok, not really a methodology book as such but certainly useful for professional development), I can also say the demand is there. My title sees ongoing regular sales, mainly because it’s an ebook (and so readily available) and not that expensive.

    • Hi Damian. That’s really interesting – I heard something very similar from a customer in the Netherlands recently who said his students were perfectly prepared to buy eBooks for their courses (across all subjects) but were equally happy to download illegal pdfs if the book they needed wasn’t yet available in the digital format they wanted.

  10. When we set up ELT Teacher 2 Writer to provide materials-writing training, we considered various formats: print, video and eBook. We chose the eBook format partly for economic reasons, but mainly because the format was ideal for the kind of modular training course we wanted to produce. The format allows us to break the skills of writing down into smaller chunks (ie the modules) and allows people to only buy the modules they’re interested in rather than having to shell out on a comprehensive reference book. We have a consistent level of sales of eBook modules per month, which suggests that people are buying eBooks for professional development. Or it may be that this is the only ELT writing training course on the market, and only available in eBook format. When we do print a version, sales my go through the roof! We can only dream.

    • No harm in dreaming Sue 🙂 As others have pointed out though, the issue may well be that individual teachers are tending not to buy PD titles in large numbers in any format.

  11. I think it’s still early days. I know that those of us living in the tech-savvy bubble assume everyone has a device but the reality of my 1st word staffroom today is that the majority (or maybe 50/50) don’t have smartphones, tablets or kindles. Honestly, until really recently my kindle had other life-functions, than reading PD books – hello, that’s my relax time – so I wouldn’t have considered downloading something like that even though I’ve looked at some of the Round’s stuff… but that was until I really needed a C# book which wasn’t available in print and had come highly recommended…and I found out that I didn’t actually mind using my kindle for PD. 😀

    • Hi Karenne, you’re right, mass demand (and need) for PD eBooks simply doesn’t seem to be there yet, in any market that I’m aware of. And just because you have the necessary device doesn’t mean you’re always going to want to consume work-related eBooks on it. But surely you’re not suggesting that curling up with a good Scrivener or Thornbury isn’t relaxing? 😉

  12. I gather that there still seems to be a need for ebooks for trainees. However, trainees aside, my own experience with trying to sell ebooks suggests that there is declining demand among experienced teachers. A few short years ago, I was making between $2000 and $3000 a year from my ebooks. Now, I’d be lucky to hit those numbers in hundreds – even at half the price ($5). I’ve got to the point where I am just giving some of them away.

    There is just too much out there already. I think teachers are overwhelmed and many of them just retreat into their classrooms and stay with what they already have. Remember when Grammar Practice Activities (Penny Ur) came out? Everyone had to have a copy. Now there is so much available and, since anyone can publish, so much of varying quality. Why would I sort through all the material online, in print and in ebooks for a good grammar practice activity when I can just rely on the ones I’ve always used?

    • Very true Ken. Sifting through the huge amount of print and digital material available to find the much smaller amount of quality content is something most people simply don’t have the time for. Interestingly, and I don’t think this is giving away any great secrets, Penny Ur’s Grammar Practice Activities (now in its second edition) remains a best seller today. Perhaps due to reputation and word of mouth? Or the clear, no nonsense title? A quick look on Amazon reviews inform me that ‘Penny Ur is a legend’, and that the book is ‘a revelation’ and a ‘bible’ of ELT. So I can see very clearly why teachers would stick with the classics that tend to be found on most library and resource shelves.

  13. Perhaps I’m an anomaly.

    I think you might actually be surprised at how few teachers actually buy professional paperback books for their own use at all.

    I think the question is probably more “why don’t teachers buy professional development books?”, period.


    To add to the comments above (from Nicky, Frances and Lindsay, respectively), I’d also like to add another – which is basically that publishers have been far too slow in converting these kinds of titles to eVersions; when they have, it seems often to have been done quite carelessly – this is especially true when it comes to the representation of tables and graphics, some of which come out very poorly indeed – and that is when they have bothered to do so at all.

    OUP seems to have been the worst offender here – and yes, I am naming names – with not one of the following titles having been made available on Kindle / in eVersions yet:

    From their Language Teaching: A Scheme for Teacher Education series which did – and presumably still does – provide solid background reading for DELTA candidates (of which admittedly there aren’t all that many) and TESOL MA’s (of which I think there are probably rather more), all of the following are print titles only:

    Guy Cook’s Discourse
    Rob Batstone’s Grammar
    Michael McCarthy’s Vocabulary
    David Nunan’s Syllabus Design

    OK, so perhaps it’s just that these are now considered out of date – but that seems shortsighted (I’d still consider both Cook and Batstone’s books solid background). But date doesn’t seem to be much of a factor though – the following titles have all come out relatively recently and again, none are in eBook versions:

    Guy Cook’s Applied Linguistics (2003) or his Translation in Language Teaching (2010)
    Rod Ellis’s Task-based Language Learning and Teaching (2003) or his 2nd edition The Study of Second Language Acquisition (2008)
    Zoltan Dornyei’s Research Methods in Applied Linguistics: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Methodologies (2007)
    Diane Larsen-Freeman’s Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics (2008)

    These are exactly the kind of titles that I would find ideal as eBooks – and have several of a similar kind (which come from other publishers). At IATEFL in Harrogate this year, I basically put this point to a person at the OUP stand, asking when they were going to get around to putting their methodology list online – I was given an airy ‘Oh yes, we have plans for that’ but not even a vague date such as ‘early next year’ was coming when I pressed for it.
    Yes, it is true that other publishers have not been so cavalier about this, but they are not a great deal better. Yes it’s true that CUP has e.g. John Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom and Jack C. Richards’s Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching as a Kindle version but then it doesn’t have Grellet’s Developing Reading Skills: A Practical Guide to Reading Comprehension Exercises, which I would say is still a classic however long ago it was actually written (1981 if you are curious).

    Also, material that I would have thought still had a lot of cache today is Michael Lewis’s Lexical Approach series of books, i.e. i>The Lexical Approach: The State of ELT and a Way Forward or Implementing the Lexical Approach: Putting Theory Into Practice and so on – but they aren’t.

    Most surprising to me of all though, is that the most obvious kind of book to go into a Kindle version would be a grammar reference – not Swan’s Practical English Usage 3rd Edition nor Carter & McCarthy’s Cambridge Grammar of English: A Comprehensive Guide nor the latter’s English Grammar Today are available as eVersions – at least they don’t seem to be on Kindle.

    At any rate, that’s one other reason why I’m mostly using Leech and Svartvik’s 3rd Edition A Communicative Grammar of English – and incidentally this is the book that I’ve recommended to all 35 of the students I’m currently working with. If anything was suitable for quick and easy reference of small details, it’s an eReader, surely?

    A couple of requests for any publisher type people who might be reading this:

    1) Please don’t charge almost as much, or even exactly the same price (!), for the digital version as for the print version of the same title. At the very least, if you are going to do that, do make sure that it’s proper conversion into a digital format and that it is actually usable. Tables and graphs are common in such books and some of them are next to unreadable, even with the zoom function. Others get disrupted in the formatting and evidently haven’t been checked before release – if you’re charging £1.99, I’ll give this a pass. If, however, you are charging on average £18 and up for this kind of title then I really isn’t reasonable.

    2) Also make sure you have someone digitize the right version – when I recently tried to buy Peter Stockwell’s edited, expanded and updated 2nd edition of the late R.L. Trask’s Language and Linguistics:The Key Concepts from Routledge, I discovered that the book you actually receive on your Kindle is completely hyperlinkless version of the outdated first edition. At first, I thought it was me who’d made the mistake, but no – if you pay for the 2nd edition you get given the 1st edition instead – perhaps someone at Routledge thought that no one would notice the difference? In any event, I know have the print version of the 2nd edition of this, as no other is available.

    3) In partial answer to Ian’s question “Why don’t teachers use eBooks for professional development?” a significant part of the answer is because they don’t exist or that they only exist as illegally scanned PDF versions if they do. And as Kindle versions are so few and far between, if someone (e.g. CUP) has actually bothered to convert titles to eVersions, then you need to let people know – for example, I assumed CUP didn’t because OUP don’t.

    Wow … OK, so that’s a long reply! Hey ho.

  14. Hi. Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed response. Like you, I’d also feel aggrieved if I spent £18 on an eBook and came across sloppy formatting, it’s definitely unacceptable. However, you’ve highlighted one of the issues that makes conversion of print to digital so expensive and time consuming. Just because an eBook looks lovely on one device does not mean that it’s going to look good on another. There is an ever-growing number of device types and screen sizes that eBooks (and apps) need to be tested on, so unless a publisher decides they’re only going to publish for one specific device – which would upset many customers – then this is going to continue to be a challenge. Not that I’m making excuses for releasing poor quality materials!

    Another big challenge is permissions. Methodology and applied linguistics books often quote from other sources, bring in examples from other texts, include illustrations and images, all of which would have been cleared for the original print publication. These need to be revisited for the digital version. Another time consuming process, and in some cases, if permissions can’t be cleared or are deemed too expensive, the book either needs to be re-edited or forever remain print only.

    Then, in some cases, there’s the contract with the author. Again, originally agreed with reference to a print product. This often needs to be revisited for digital. Sometimes it’s quick and easy, sometimes it’s not.

    I’m not directly involved in the print to digital conversion process so there are probably many other issues that I’m not even aware of. What I do know is that it demands huge resource, expense and committment from publishers, for products that are expected to be available for a lower cost than print. Things can often take longer than planned, which is why there tends to be a reluctance to give any definite dates for digital products. And to expect a sales representative on a stand to have an overview of a global publisher’s plans for specific digital products is a little harsh. As many sales people will I’m sure agree, they’re often the last to know!

    Finally, you mention that publishers need to let people know when eBooks are available. Nicky Hockley mentioned that she looks for books on Amazon, then buys the eBook if it’s available. Genuine question – what’s your preferred method of being kept informed?

    • Hi Ian,

      Thanks for the reply and apologies (on rereading) that you had to wade through so many typos (e.g. know instead now!) – part of the consequence of bashing out a long response I’m afraid.

      In short, I do appreciate there are numerous challenges (contracts, permissions, formats) and so on that the publishers face when making conversions – but then my main point was to try to give an answer to your question “Why don’t teachers use eBooks for professional development?”. At least part of the answer, from my point of view at least, is that it is because the publishers are doing too little at too slow a pace to meet any potential demand.

      I dare say there are many good reasons for this, but at the end of the day, that’s not really my concern as a potential book buyer – I just want to know if it’s available or not.

      I’m slightly bemused by your comment to expect a sales representative on a stand to have an overview of a global publisher’s plans for specific digital products is a little harsh. For one thing, I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all for a potential customer to want to know when an entire series of books (not a single title) – the Oxford Applied Linguistics series – will be available in an electronic form. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to be told, truthfully, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know’ or ‘I’m sorry but as far as I’m aware, there are no immediate plans to do this.’ – this would have been the honest answer after all from what you are saying. Besides, it seems to me a completely normal state of affairs for a potential buyer to ask a seller if or when he/she will be able to supply the thing demanded – surely that’s a completely normal interaction with a salesperson?

      Anyway, the long and short of my answer is – people will most likely start paying for digital eBooks when publishers provide a much wider range of them.

      Genuine question – what’s your preferred method of being kept informed?

      Word-of-mouth, including asking someone – e.g. a representative of the publisher – whether or not such and such a book is available in such and such a format – unless that too is considered ‘harsh’?

  15. I don’t mean to publicize a rival academic publisher, Ian, but the timing of this advance notice of an initiative by Routledge (I got the email yesterday) is serendipitous – and, I think, contributes to the discussion. In brief, Routledge are offering access to all their Handbook chapters online. The downside is they don’t seem to have been (re-)formatted for e-book access (they’re only in HTML or pdf format), nor do they say how much a subscription will cost. It seems to be targeted at university libraries, hence will be prohibitively expensive for the individual scholar, I imagine. Nevertheless, the idea of re-packaging books in modular form, so that single chapters are purchasable is, I think, one that academic publishers need to be looking at.


  16. I hate to come off as a Luddite, but I have several reasons why I don’t like to read anything serious in an ebook form. Frankly, my instinct is that it’s harder to deeply engage with text in an ebooks, and recent studies seem to agree (although other studies do say the opposite so who knows?). I just find my brain naturally slipping down the endless page. I also get distracted by every text and email message. Yes, I can turn everything off, but it’s much easier to simply leave my computer and iPhone in one room and go read outside. Not to mention that Facebook and Twitter are right there.

    But in the end, it’s simply that an ebook doesn’t do all of the things a regular book does. Or if they do, they don’t do it as well, and they require extra steps that take me out of engaging with the text.

    For example, with a regular book, I can have the book open and the Internet open at the same time and right in front of me. On my iPhone I have to flip back and forth. Even with Wndows 7, the screen is often so small that I need to keep zooming around or flip back and forth. While you can annotate ebooks, you can star, highlight, underline, and draw pictures in a regular book. And highlighting is a horrible process on my iPhone. it always highlights the wrong thing and God forbid I want to highlight on two different pages or part of a word. Or highlight one thing and circle something else. It takes too much fiddling and the technology is unforgiving–if I circle a word quickly and it’s sloppy, I still know what word I circled, but my ebook thinks I circled a different word so I have to delete my annotation and do it again. While there is search functionality, it’s purely textual. Browsing or flipping through a book relies on visual memory as much as textual, I believe. When I flip through a book looking for something, I am looking for a note I made, or a picture, or I remember the shape of the paragraph or where on the page I am looking. With an e-book you can’t flip through looking for any of those things. Nor can you bookmark diffrerent pages in different ways. With a book, I can dog-ear pages that contain difficult theory, put a blue stick on pages that have good activities, and a purple one on the reflection questions that I want to come back to later. With an ebook, you also can’t just browse to a random page, or keep your fingers between two pages, or fold two pages so that you can read both at the same time or even have two or three books open at the same time to compare them. You can’t keep things in ebooks like brochures for conferences or slips of paper with references to other books or lesson plans or folded up copies of other books. Frankly, the regular book is an extremely functional, interactive device whereas an ebook is really quite primitive. It’s cheaper and arguably more portable, but then a calculator is cheaper and more portable than a computer but most people prefer to do their taxes on Excel.

  17. Price is probably the most significant barrier to the purchase of TD e-books. Printed copies do offer practical advantages, as other people have mentioned, including a satisfying feeling of physical ownership. However, I think many of us would be willing to give up those benefits if e-books were more reasonably priced. Purchase risk is also a key factor. There are some great TD books out there, but also quite a few lemons and ‘nothing-new-here’ titles being churned out on a regular basis. For that reason, there’s really no substitute for a thorough skimming of the print version, as opposed to only seeing a few carefully-selected sample pages of an e-book. For the most part, I try to borrow new TD books, and then only purchase ones that merit a second or third reading, or will make good additions to my home reference collection. That said, if TD e-books were cheaper, I’d probably indulge in more impulse buying, so perhaps I should be glad they’re expensive!

    • That’s interesting. The reason I do buy e-books is that they generally are cheaper than print books. And I have impulse bought precisely because they are often cheaper and so easy to acquire. Click and read. This goes for both pleasure reading and PD texts. I do agree with the browsing. Perhaps if e-books allowed you a time limit instead of a page limit when browsing. Or if the Table of Contents were accessible and you got to look at X number of pages for free.

    • Hi there, Templeton.

      You may be interested in the round, an independent collective of ELT authors producing TD e-books which are very reasonably priced (about a third to a quarter of the normal price of traditional, printed TD books).


  18. Another interesting discussion here, and perhaps one reason for the majority of people (seemingly) preferring print PD books is:
    1. we’re more used to print books and still getting used to e-books (in the sense that e-books are still not the norm)
    2. like Walton mentioned, many of the things we do with PD books (highlight, underline, circle, dog-ear, bookmark) are not as intuitive as with print books (again, perhaps this will change with time though)
    3. density: some (though definitely not all) PD books can be quite dense in both material and number of pages. When trying to digest it all, it’s useful to be able to quickly flip between, say page 286 and back to page 44. We don’t necessarily read PD books from cover to cover, but may dip in to certain parts. For this, it’s more practical to be able to physically flip through them.
    4. Length: I have no data to back this up, but for PD books, it seems that shorter is better. As Sue Kay mentioned, I think one of the many reasons that the ELT Teacher 2 Writer books are so appealing is that they don’t run 200 pages. They’re very digestable in e-book format.

    As for the question about supplying staff rooms, we have had a few inquiries at the round with people asking how they could purchase “licenses” or some other way of putting all of our titles at the disposal of their teaching staff. Granted, when I say a few I mean 1 or 2, but you gotta start somewhere!

  19. Hi Ian

    I’ve tried to address some of the issues you raised in the creation of my own ebook (at present only available on iBook Store:

    I produced the book independently by raising cash on Indiegogo and did all of the production work myself. I crowd sourced the editing and reviewing process.

    The book has embedded video tutorials (26 in all)
    It has full colour high resolution images
    Loads of practical advice and materials
    It retails at under a fiver (£4.99)

    I can’t say I’m experiencing huge sales so far (especially as it’s only available for Apple devices at present) but I hope this represents a step forward for ebook publishing and shows why digital can be so much better than paper.


  20. I am coming to this discussion as a former marketing and sales person, and now in my role as publisher, and I have to say that I find all of your arguments on this thread to be right on point. Personally, I don’t think there have been right or wrong beliefs and opinions expressed here, and I can see that the key issues are related to user preferences (physical vs. electronic, full ownership vs. limited ownership, full text vs. chapters, different learning styles and expertise, etc..) and customer preferences (pricey vs. less-pricey, for purchase vs. for lease, and free, borrowed, or pirated.) And so on.

    I would like to voice my own perceptions around context and motivation, and my perspective as Publisher of PDT books. For starters, we can agree that it would be highly unlikely that anyone preparing for a professional career in ELT will be intrinsically – and independently – motivated to buy anything for themselves … regardless of the format, unless a list of publications have been recommended, and/or required by those managing such professional teaching development programs.

    Over the past year at my publishing company, we have been experiencing an increased demand – and sales [happy dance!] – of our reference and professional development titles; which were only available in print format. So we are currently working on producing eBook versions of these books for several eReader platforms including Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, and B&N Nook, as a way to reach a wider audience globally, reduce our costs for printing, warehousing, and distribution, and make these publications available in print and digital formats; both with a unique set of business challenges and business models.

    As a Publisher, I believe that we need to have different offerings in order to meet specific requirements, and to provide solutions for everyone, regardless about their learning and content consumption preferences. The demand for PDT Books/eBooks will continue to evolve, and we must be prepared to access the opportunities that this process is sure to bring.


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