Ebooks have been in the news lately. A Department of Justice antitrust case is pending against Apple for price-fixing ebooks. On Monday, Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced they’re creating a subsidiary to compete in the digital reading market with Amazon and Apple. Andy Lees, a Microsoft president, said during the press conference, “Clearly, we are on the cusp of a digital-reading revolution.”

Are associations part of this revolution? I’d like to think so, it seems like a no-brainer for content providers, but ASAE’s store lists only four ebooks among its 148 digital products – the rest are PDFs.

Digital demand is growing

The holidays were good to Apple (iPad), Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook). In December 2011, only 18% of Americans owned at least one digital reading device. One month later, that number increased by 11% to 29% of Americans.

On Amazon.com, books for its Kindle have been outselling its paper books since last May. Here are some staggering stats: the Association of American Publishers reports a 49% growth in adult ebooks and a 475% growth in children/young adult ebooks between January 2011 and January 2012.

Will ebooks replace paper books? According to an IDG Connect survey, 76% of business professionals who own an iPad always use it for reading. I believe that. I know many who only buy ebooks now; I still have a leg in both worlds.

The ebook advantage for associations

When did you last survey your members to find out the types of reading devices and information delivery methods they use? What do they read on those devices?

Unlike a PDF, an ebook can be:

  • Easily read on phones and tablets.
  • Sold through Amazon and other online stores.
  • Enhanced by social sharing features.

Given the increasing use of tablets and readers, your members will appreciate having more options for content delivery. Your marketing and publications staff will appreciate how large distributors such as Amazon, Google Books and iTunes or smaller ones like Smashwords can help with distribution and exposure. Plus, additional non-dues revenue never hurts.

Timely knowledge on demand

But here’s the best case for ebooks: they can be updated frequently without worrying about existing inventory and print runs. An author can provide new case studies, revise copy in light of a changing market, or add analysis of new research, laws or regulations.

David Meerman Scott notes another advantage of ebook publishing that could be applied to any newsjack-worthy story:

“…in the nonprofit world, a natural disaster strikes and people are looking for how to help the victims and how to protect themselves in the future. Write the book quickly and get it out fast. Then blog it, tweet it, and send a media alert about it. The Newsjacking aspect comes in because the media, looking for background on a story, may read and then cite the book in their stories…”

Conference ebooks can link to video and audio recordings, blog posts, Twitter hashtag archive, photos, handouts and slides. If sponsors subsidize the hard and soft costs, you could provide it for free to attendees, maybe even your members too. If not, it’s a great marketing piece for the conference, far better than PDFs or expensive audio recordings.

Enhanced ebooks and book apps take it even further. What about an interactive certification or designation study guide with quizzes at the end of each chapter and the ability to share text and discuss topics with other readers?

When I read this quote from Dominque Raccah, CEO and publisher of Sourcebooks, about the “agile publishing” of ebooks, I thought of associations:

“You really are publishing into a community already. So what you are going to be doing is developing that book in front of that community, having the community interact with the author to develop the book [and] provide feedback.”

If you’d like to learn more about the ebook publishing process, Omnipress has a downloadable Guide to Association eBooks.

Does your association publish or have plans to publish ebooks? I’d love to hear about it, please share in the comments below.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer and copywriter who debated whether to use the word e-book, eBook, Ebook, E-book or ebook in writing this post. I went for simplicity.