New Niche for E-Books

DN Staff

July 19, 2004

3 Min Read
New Niche for E-Books

Book shelves in engineering offices could become a lot less crowded if the folks at Knovel Corp. ( have their way. Knovel CEO Christopher Forbes and his staff have put the contents of some 600 technical reference books on their Internet site and made them searchable by topic and keyword. The ability to access such information as graphs, tables, equations, and other technical material electronically can cut research and analysis time by 75 percent, the company says.

Knovel's move is an extension of what other engineering websites have done. GlobalSpec (, for example, leads engineers to 10,000 catalogs, 40,000 material data sheets, and 50,000 application notes, while has 67,000 product categories on its website. Kellysearch (, with about 1.2 million visitors per month worldwide, includes listings from about 765,000 U.S. companies. But Knovel actually has the reference books' contents directly on its site. Among the titles: McGraw-Hill classics such as The Electromechanical Design Handbook, Dimensoning and Tolerancing Handbook, and Roark's Formulas for Stress and Strain, as well as books from Elsevier and material from professional associations, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The company says the contents add up amount to about $142,000 worth of material-the amount of all the hard-copy books.

Knovel also points to the interactive nature of the content as a big plus. For example, all the graphs are interactive. View the content in HTML or PDF form, then put your mouse on a curve, and you get the data point. Tables are interactive too; click on them and they morph into a form you can merge into a spreadsheet. And equations solve themselves when you enter the variables. One reviewer compared the experience to a computer game, saying it was actually fun to do the calculations.

Marsha Bishop, information specialist and technical librarian at Michelin in Greenville, SC, says it's easy to find answers to engineering questions with Knovel. Recently, she says, she was asked to provide a list of all materials that met a certain criteria. She spent a month using a search engine to get the information and got 12 hits. "With Knovel, I got 17 hits in less than five minutes."

Engineers working for the U.S. Air Force are also among the users. Bill Benson, technical librarian at Wright Patterson Air Base in Dayton, OH, says engineers there and at other Air Force labs are saving time and money doing their searches electronically. He says Knovel regularly updates the contents. The company also has provided a lot of training in how to use the website, and in turn, the engineers at Wright Patterson have suggested new titles to add, as well as ways to improve the look of the website.

Next up for Knovel: K-Plastics, a collection of databases and handbooks that apply to plastics engineering. The company says it is including 14 handbooks, 21 searchable databases, an equation solver, a cost estimator, design of experiments, and a materials-selection database from MatWeb ( in all, about $40,000 worth of content.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. A single-seat license to use Knovel's content is about $2,500. For 600-700 licenses, companies can pay about $300 per license. Knovel pays royalties to the publishers of the books it puts on its site. But engineers have to weigh the price against the cost of buying new editions of standard textbooks.

Reach Teague at [email protected].

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