Cambridge U. Press to Join the E-Book Distribution Race

The rush to market scholarly e-books keeps picking up speed. JSTOR, Project MUSE, Oxford U. Press and a consortium of mid-size university presses have all unveiled plans for e-book distribution platforms, hoping to provide scholarly publishers with better access to the library market. Now a fifth contender, Cambridge University Press, will soon announce that it too has struck agreements to distribute e-books for scholarly presses in the United States, Europe, and Asia, according to Frank Smith, the press’s director of digital publishing.

The publisher will build off its experience distributing its own e-books through Cambridge Books Online, which went live a year ago and contains more than 10,000 titles, according to Smith. In an email, he said that the program had been a global success. “Libraries in more than 15 countries, including the U.S., Germany, South Africa, India, Australia, and Taiwan have already made very large purchases, in some cases of 5000 titles or more,” he said. “Cambridge Books Online has been upgraded with new features four times over the course of 2010 and new releases, including a patron-driven acquisition capability, are planned before March of 2011.”

Which of the competing options will university presses choose, and what will librarians make of this embarrassment of e-book riches? Douglas Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press, said he hoped the period of decision would not last too long. “I can imagine libraries are going to be worried seeing so many e-monograph sources emerging, and so I’m hoping the initial shakeout phase (who’s with who) will be a quick one,” he said in an e-mail. “At least temporarily, this has to help the commercial aggregators who already have a lot of content deals flowing—ebrary/ProQuest, NetLibrary/EBSCO, Questia/Gale.”—Jennifer Howard

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