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Feb 14, 2008
Case Study

How Elsevier Created New Ebooks From Old Content to Lift Revenue 15%

SUMMARY: Libraries and other institutions continue to add online content databases to their collections. So, opportunity calls for publishers to digitize even more specialty content for these customers.

See how one reference book publisher repurposed content by digitizing thousands of print titles for its paid content site and pushed usage through complimentary downloads. Conversions were strong enough to lift book revenue 15% in 2007.
Libraries and other institutional customers have become much more accustomed to using online content databases. In turn, this has given publishers more opportunity to digitize specialty content archives.

Since the late ’90s, health and science publisher Elsevier has offered digital subscriptions and downloads of its famous medical and science journals, such as The Lancet and Cell, through its ScienceDirect content website. In recent years, demand for digital versions of Elsevier’s reference books has grown as well.

“Now that they’ve shown the appetite is there for journals online, libraries are very much moving to the books side,” says Christopher Bromley, SVP, Strategy and Business Development, Science & Technology Books. “It’s a natural cycle from online journals to online books.”

Elsevier had been focusing on digital journals, so the company had only about 2,000 ebooks available at the beginning of 2007. Sensing a shift in the market, Bromley wanted to see if they could double their electronic book offerings and promote those resources.

Bromley and his team began calling 2007 ‘The Year of The Book.’ Here are six steps they took to expand their ebooks library for their ScienceDirect online service and then expand distribution of those titles on third-party content aggregators:

-> Step #1. Convert books to digital files

The team chose 4,000 titles from Elsevier’s S&T books catalog dating back to 1995.

Those titles covered all major subject areas, including:
o Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
o Computer Science
o Immunology and Microbiology
o Medicine and Dentistry
o Neuroscience
o Physics and Astronomy
o Psychology
o Veterinary Science and Veterinary Medicine

Their primary goal became getting a large quantity of new titles up quickly. “I think this is just a window of time in the market,” Bromley says. “We can have a much better impact by having critical mass of content going up.”

The team decided to simplify the digitizing process by offering new ebooks only as PDF files. Previously, they created each page of their ebooks and online journals in XML so they could create widespread links between related texts. But most readers simply downloaded the PDF files.

The process took three months, using the same digital production companies in India and the Philippines that digitized their journal archives.

-> Step #2. Integrate with online platform

The team added the newly digitized books to their ScienceDirect online platform, which allows customers to become subscribers or to buy the rights to read a specific book or journal title.

Books available on the online platform were:
o Fully searchable
o Downloadable by chapter or complete book
o Linked with other relevant ebooks and journal articles in the database
o Digital Rights Management-free

-> Step #3. Conduct pre-launch marketing campaign

Before launching the new collection, the ScienceDirect marketing team ran a multichannel campaign to raise awareness. Tactics included:

- Trade shows and events. They used their annual presence at events like the American Library Association meetings to discuss the expanded service.

- Print advertising. The campaign used ads in trade publications, such as Library Journal and The Charleston Advisor, an online site for information professionals.

- Email messages. Customers were informed that their account reps would contact them about the new ScienceDirect resources.

-> Step #4. Offer free trial

More than 200 Elsevier account managers, who were briefed in January about the expansion, ran their own two-part campaign to promote the new service:

- Email alerts. Sales reps alerted their customers early in the year to the expanded offerings and suggested they save room in their budgets for the service.

- Personal visits. In March, reps started visiting their customers and top prospects to sign them up for a free trial. The five-month trial period gave subscribers access to the complete database of 4,000 titles and Bromley’s team the chance to collect data about ebook usage.

-> Step #5. Convert trial members with discounts

Besides free trials, customers could take advantage of discounts to buy access to the new collection.

Discount offers varied by region but typically were based on the volume of books bought. Clients who paid for access to all the titles got the biggest discount.

-> Step #6. Distribution with third-party aggregators

Besides adding the titles to ScienceDirect, Bromley’s team expanded distribution agreements with third-party digital content aggregators.

“Not all libraries want to buy from every publisher. Some want to go through an aggregator to minimize their logistical burden, so we needed to be as flexible as we could.”


2007 truly was ‘The Year of the Book,’ as the effort exceeded all of Bromley’s expectations. About 2,000 customers signed up for the trial of the new ebook collection, and customers downloaded 9 million chapters -- three times their goal.

“Usage -- that is the number one issue moving forward,” Bromley says. “If you don’t have the usage, you won’t have any future sales. It’s as simple as that.”

Although Bromley couldn’t provide an exact conversion rate from the trial period, a large percentage of the trial members became paying customers for the ebook service. New ebook sales boosted overall revenues for the Science & Technology Books division 15% last year -- the industry typically grows 3%-4% a year.

By the end of 2007, Elsevier had licensed its content with 10 third-party aggregators -- up from three at the start of the year. Thanks to those new deals, third-party licenses accounted for 8% of Science & Technology book revenues at the end of 2007, up from 5% at the start of the year.

The launch was so successful that Elsevier recently announced a further expansion of its electronic books initiative. The goal is to make 10,000 of its 12,000 titles available digitally by 2009.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Elsevier’s Ebooks:



See Also:

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