Should You Get Medical Books Via iBooks?

Sigh…. I hate ebooks.  I really do.  Dealing with ebooks is worse than refinancing your home loan.  Yeah the home loan has a ton of paperwork and dives into your private financial life, but the hoops you have jump through for ebooks makes me want to repeatedly bang my head on my desk.  (I’d bang it against my iPad but that cost too much to replace from repeated bangings.)

The article “Why you should avoid iBooks for your medical ebooks” on iMedicalApps is just another example of the frustration having to do with ebooks.  My major criticism about the post is that it isn’t news.  I mean really, is it a shocker that you can’t get your iBook somewhere other than your Apple device?  Does music and iTunes ring a bell to anyone?  This problem really isn’t unique to Apple and iBooks. What makes iBooks unique is that it doesn’t have an app that pretends to allow it to be read on another device.  You can’t download an iBook to an Android, Kindle, or Nook.  While that may be frustrating, at least most people should know that going in, which isn’t always the case with Kindle or Nook books.

First off… Downloadable ebooks are device dependent.  Don’t tell me that you can get a Kindle book on an iPad so Kindle books aren’t device dependent.  Pthbb.  I have the Kindle app on my iPad and there have been several times where I have wanted to read a Kindle book only to learn that certain Kindle book requires me to download it first to a USB or to my Kindle device.  Gee thanks, for making it a pain to get it on my iPad. 

All (with the exception of iBook) ebook platforms have free apps for reading their books on your “different” device.  But it isn’t always a simple to download and read the book as the cool television commercials or the apps claim.  It is a pain in the butt. 

If you get ebooks through your local public library the process can still be confusing.  Overdrive, a “leading full-service digital distributor of eBooks, audiobooks, and other digital content,”  enables libraries and schools to provide downloadable books to their clients.  They have an app for downloading and reading books.  Supposedly this app makes it easier for people to download and read an ebook regardless of the ebook format and their device.  All I have to say about the Overdrive app is that it is still confusing to the average user.  I am a librarian for God’s sake and I find it  confusing at times. 

If you aren’t a public library, you might consider Mathews ebrary to offer downloadable ebooks.  However their platform is confusing and clunky, it is difficult to even find the title you want to download.  It doesn’t matter what titles they have if they are difficult to find.  I don’t know how easy it is to download the ebooks to your device because we never made it that far. 

See where I am going here?  I don’t care if you have a Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc. I guarantee you that there will be a time when the title you want is only available in a format different from your device.  If you buy direct from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Apple, you run the risk that the book won’t work on your “different” device despite having the app.  Equally frustrating is that the “all in one” ebook reader services such as Overdrive and ebrary are confusing from the design side of things and confusing from the download side of things because they are dealing with ALL ebook types and devices. 

Next…. Institutional subscriptions to ebooks, specifically medical, may not be device dependent but they aren’t the answer either.  This is somewhat related to ebook format and platform problems but like all things bought at an institutional level, the problems are different. 

UnBound Medicine and Inkling are companies that provide access to download ebooks to institutional users.  While it is fairly easy, their titles are limited and can be quite expensive as some charge as if you are buying an individual copy for every person.  

Other ways institutions get their ebooks are through publisher electronic site packages.  These aren’t downloadable ebooks.  You can’t highlight a paragraph or take notes on the ebook because they all live on the web and you are accessing them through your wifi or cellular connection.  These are books within MDConsult/ClinicalKey, AccessMedicine, Ovid/LWW, Wiley, Springer, Rittenhouse, EBSCO etc.  While these books aren’t device dependent they are just as much of  pain, but for different reasons. 

They are all in their own publisher created silos so searching their full text is difficult if your library doesn’t have a discovery tool.  Even if your library has a discovery tool, ease of searching depends on the discovery tool’s set up and your resources’ set up. 

Users are unable to take notes on these book “pages” and at the same users are looking at these sites trying to find the downloadable version.  They now are expecting books to be downloadable.  They see it online and that is nice but then they ask how they can get that same book downloaded to their iPad or Kindle.  Short answer, you can’t.  Long answer…publishers either don’t want to do it or don’t have infrastructure to do it.  Theoretically Ovid or Springer could partner with Overdrive to get their books downloadable. But I’m sure there is more to it than just partnering like that.  I’m not sure if they are only interested in creating their own site for downloadable books or if they just aren’t interested.  ClinicalKey/MDConsult and AccessMedicine probably won’t do downloadable because their books are within their larger information database site.  In other words those sites have more than just the ebooks, they offer videos, patient information, images, etc. 

So you have these major barriers to using ebooks but you also have a group of people who despite the complications are interested in getting them.  What I find most misleading about the iMedicalApps post is that it is directed only at Apple’s iBooks when the problems with ebooks is pervasive and really a pain across all devices.  Quite frankly it is a miracle that users have stuck with trying to get ebooks this long.  We are a society that finds waiting more than 20 seconds for an elevator too long, how long are we going to wait for publishers to get their act together on ebooks?

5 thoughts on “Should You Get Medical Books Via iBooks?”

  1. For the first time EVER (in almost 3 years) I had a physician ask about ebooks. I told him all we have is MDConsult, but if he doesn’t mind a few extra steps, he could pull up those books on his iPad. The problem is that the full text isn’t searchable, which is what a resident really wants in an ebook.

    I’m anxious for publishers to start really listening to the medical community (especially those ones who do the bulk of the book buying). I would love (and I think my docs at least would use) handbooks (like Washington Manuals or Mass Gen Pocket Medicine) that can be easily accessed/downloaded onto mobile devices. It needs to be searchable so they can find what they need.

    The resident who asked me about ebooks said that he gets tired of pulling out a paper book every time he wants to check something specific. The handbooks the library circulates are the most checked out by far, so that’s where I would start buying if they were available in a format (and for a price) everyone liked.

  2. Thanks for the comments. The article wasn’t meant to be an overarching comparison of ebooks. Rather, was really just to comment on how iBooks are not nearly as flexible as Kindle books. My physician peers and I have found that using Kindle affords more flexibility than iBooks in regards to platforms. You make some great points in this article — but I’d like to stress the article that I wrote wasn’t misleading. It was making a brief point on a narrow topic. If you would like to add to the conversation I encourage you to do so using the comments section on the original article. Thanks!

  3. Also, the purpose of iMedicalApps isn’t to provide only news. Rather, it’s to allow fellow health care providers to learn about subtle things in mobile they otherwise would not. For example, the anecdotal example I give in the article explains how my brother couldn’t access his iBook that he got for medical school on his computer. He’s a pretty smart guy, but as we all know, many health care providers are not well versed with technology — our job at iMedicalApps is to be cognizant of all types of technology levels and to not assume subtle things.

  4. Thanks for you thoughts. You are right Kindle books are more flexible than iBooks. Almost everything is more flexible than Apple. Doctors definitely need a place like iMedicalApps to learn there are even differences between devices and products for the devices. I don’t think your article was misleading. After dealing with ebooks on multiple platforms, devices, subscriptions, etc. I just meant to express my frustration that the issue of ebooks is much more complicated to the average user and that the expert users even find them difficult. It wasn’t meant to express frustation with your post.

  5. I disagree with the opinions in this article. iBooks offer capabilities for learning and teaching in a multisensory fashion not afforded by any other tablet device in the market. LEarning medicine requires audio, visual and tactile learning resources which can all be incorporated into a multitouch iBooks with iBooks Author. Also, there are efficiencies to using the iPad. At Ohio State and other progressive IT school across the country there is a cultural swing and Medical Centers are adopting iOS products. I have used android devices and none of them rival the applications and efficiencies of utilizing the iOS tablet in healthcare delivery.

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