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Do pages a book make?

Augsburg Fortress publishes its first eTextbook

Longtime customers of Augsburg Fortress will remember. It wasn’t that long ago when the aroma of fresh paper and ink from the on-site printing presses filled the downtown Minneapolis store. That was then.

In December, Augsburg Fortress closed its last bookstore. At the same time, Fortress Press released its first eTextbook, American Civil Religion, by Gary Laderman. Fortress Press Academic Sales Manager Pamela Johnson shared that the editorial process for this new offering has been an invigorating one for the publishing house: “Everyone in publishing is thinking about electronic publishing. Augsburg Fortress has been way ahead of other publishers with 1,500 titles currently available as eBooks.”

Pamela Johnson, Fortress Press

“The e-text is the future. Publishers need to develop expertise in developing these kinds of books now.”

The move to the eText came as the publisher studied trends among college and seminary students and concluded students were no longer spending a lot of time in libraries. They preferred to do their reading and research in a dorm room or coffee shop. “Students want their textbooks in the palm of their hands,” Johnson explained. “The e-text is the future. Publishers need to develop expertise in developing these kinds of books now.”

In choosing a title for its first eText, Fortress surveyed the marketplace and determined the frequency of courses on religion in America in both church college and state universities made it a ripe one for this type of offering. A manuscript could be greatly enhanced by adding links to videos, audio, and primary source documents that would illustrate the author’s thesis in a lively way.

Laderman, professor of American religious history and cultures, was selected because of a robust class he already was offering on Religion in America at Emory University. Laderman was no stranger to ePublishing. He launched an online magazine, Religion Dispatches, which he ran for five years as his introduction to electronic media. But he is quick to differentiate that process from the creation of an eTextbook. “For scholarship and humanities, this was new terrain and unchartered territory. It was a little unnerving as there were not a lot of models out there to establish a road map.”

Gary Laderman, author of American Civil Religion

In the end, Laderman agreed the topic of religion in America lent itself well to the project. “I already was using a lot of media in my classroom teaching.” The biggest challenge was balancing the media elements with the written narrative. “If there were too many links, images, and YouTube videos, the text easily could have become overshadowed and much too long.” The editorial process was a rewarding one for Laderman with a final product that pleases him.

The effect of eTexts

With 67 titles currently available as eBooks, Northwestern Publishing House Marketing Director Mark Buske says the publisher is carefully studying the addition of eTexts to its collection as a part of their day school curriculum offerings. However there are no foreseeable plans to move quickly. Even with their most popular new titles released concurrently in print and eBook, 90 percent of the sales continue to be bound books. Northwestern is the publishing house for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

The Rev. Paul McCain, publisher and executive director of editorial at the Concordia Publishing House (LCMS) is not surprised by Fortress’ experiment. “The advent of digital media has created the most revolutionary time of change in publishing since Guttenberg cranked out the Bible on a movable press.”

All new Concordia publications are now available digitally on the Amazon Kindle. “CPH has released numerous academic titles in eBook format, which are being used as textbooks,” explained McCain. “But we believe that while an eBook can be used as a textbook, we have found that the powerful LOGOS software engine provides, at this point, the kind of robust interactivity across multiple texts that makes digital versions of academic texts much more useful as textbooks.”

“The advent of digital media has created the most revolutionary time of change in publishing since Guttenberg cranked out the Bible on a movable press.”

Dr. Eric Barreto, assistant professor of New Testament, at Luther Seminary agrees there are challenges in using an eText in the classroom. “In making the shift to this new medium, things that come naturally on paper change for teachers and students.” Practical questions quickly emerge. “How do you deal with page numbers? How do students take notes on their reading?” In light of the success of the Kindle and other eReaders, Barreto believes there are enough advantages to make an eText worth the effort. The eText may be more affordable and is definitely more portable for students; eTexts can be constantly updated, bibliographies can grow, and simple errors are easily corrected.

Augsburg Fortress’ proliferation of eBooks does not mean the publisher is retreating from print books. Johnson reflected that many of their customers do appreciate bound books, especially on religious topics and spiritual matters, that can be kept and referred to over time. Fortress has no immediate plans to publish another eText, but she expects there will be one soon. “We know ePublishing is the future.”

Laderman concurs: “My hope is American Civil Religion will be enlightening and illuminating. The ideas are the same but the experience of reading a book will be a little more dynamic and provide a broader experience for the reader.”

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