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Ebooks in HE


The State of Ebooks in Academic Libraries: 2022 (US report). How libraries are continuing the pivot toward a growing array of digital resources. A survey and analysis that examines the current environment of ebooks in academic libraries and updates data collected in 2020. OverDrive Academic and Choice (a publishing unit of the Association of College and Research Libraries) 2023

Key Findings
• The vast majority of academic libraries currently include ebooks and digital audiobooks in their collections.
• While curriculum support continues to be the dominant element in ebook collection development, survey results indicate that non-curriculum-based ebooks are a growing portion of academic library digital collections.
• Ebook purchasing in almost all subject areas is up, with a noticeable jump in popular fiction/nonfiction reading materials.
• Despite the budgetary challenges and service/ material cuts of the past two years, a surprising majority of college and university libraries added digital resources to their collections including, most notably, ebooks and streaming media.
• While the desire to serve and accommodate the needs of students is a primary factor in determining institutions’ distance learning approach, COVID remains an influential outside determinant. However, such initially pandemic-driven remote learning efforts are gradually shifting to support new academic initiatives.

The academic e-Book Market in Higher Education: the Good, the Bad, and the Confusing. Gavin Phillips. Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC). [Blog] January 2022
“The academic e-book market was complex and thorny long before COVID-19, but the severe disruption to education around the world has exacerbated issues around pricing and, access to teaching and learning resources. Here, SUPC Category Manager for Academic Services, Gavin Phillips, explores the positives, negatives and opportunities within the e-book market and offers some suggestions for universities looking to deliver value to students.”

The e-textbook market

If we don’t make textbooks cheaper, students will just rely on chatbots
Academics could cooperate to decommercialise publishing so that all students have affordable access to reliable information, says Michael Wynn-Williams. Times Higher Education. October 25, 2023
I“t will probably be down to academics to cut the publishers out of the picture. But that isn’t easy. My own experience of doing so may serve to highlight the opportunities – and the opportunity costs.Having long been troubled by the pricing of my own international business textbook and the understandably low purchase rate, I was glad to be able to reclaim its copyright recently. My plan was to republish it with a certain well-known online retailer so that students could buy it for the price of a coffee and a muffin.”

How the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated an e-book crisis and the #ebooksos campaign for reform.

Anderson, Y. and McCauley, C. Insights, 35, p.13. 27 Jul 2022, DOI:

“This article sets out the problems with the e-book market and the origins and work to date of #ebooksos, a librarian-led campaign for a fairer e-book market for libraries. While many of the issues identified predated the Covid-19 pandemic, the rapid pivot to remote teaching and learning and the subsequent change in working cultures it precipitated brought these issues to a head. The article is primarily about the academic context as the authors are academic librarians, but the e-book library crisis applies to all sectors and the #ebooksos campaign aims to represent them all. While it is recognized that change will take time, as with related change in areas such as open access and the movement of journals from print to online, this underlines, rather than diminishes, the need for the campaign to keep highlighting the problems and to work with colleagues and stakeholders to deliver an approach to e-books that is equitable and sustainable. The #ebooksos campaign is in its infancy and thus this article presents a snapshot of a work in progress at the vanguard of librarianship and information work”.

Is there a systemic problem with ebooks?

James Gray. Research Information. 23 May 2022.

From the article: “The main concern librarians share with me is that buying a set number of eTextbook licenses, restricted to a single person, that expire after a year, is a lot more expensive than buying paper copies that can be re-used on a bookshelf. Similarly, students don’t always understand some of the restrictions on digital content, considering digital, by its very nature, as synonymous with quick and easy access. Students expect seamless online access to their course content that is both fair and affordable – and, ideally, free.Meanwhile, the primary issue for academic publishers is they can only continue to exist if they find a way to sell their intellectual property digitally for a price that covers their costs”.

Where next for the e-textbook market?

Price rises, changes in models, changes in student demand - the textbook market is still not working well. James Gray, Libby Homer, and Rod Bristow ask what will come next. Wonkhe 6 December 2021
[NOTE: This article was published in association with Kortext. The authors of this piece spoke at at Kortext’s “Winter Webinar” on 8 December.

Extracts from the article:

James Gray, Kortext: There’s broad agreement that the current digital textbook market is not working. It’s impossible to argue that huge price increases or multiple subscriptions are sustainable, or that models of procurement and collection development designed in a hard copy world will work when more and more libraries are moving to digital first strategies.

Libby Homer, Anglia Ruskin University: And longer term there are more ambitious ideas in play. Driven in part by open access mandates around monographs, university presses are once again becoming major players – many providers are now publishing their own textbooks, and some of these are open access. This has also sparked conversations with academics – the people who write textbooks – about different approaches to their rights as authors.

Rod Bristow, formerly of Pearson: At the same time, many students will continue to take control of their own learning and continue to buy resources they need to support it, themselves. The more that can be provided centrally the better, but I think student purchase will always be a part of the model, even alongside provider-level deals on e-resources.

Campaign to investigate the academic ebook market

from the campaign to investigate the academic ebook market** website

Background reading (From the campaign to investigate the academic ebook market website (see above)
“This reading list provides some context to the ebook crisis in the UK and further afield”

Joint statement on access to e-book and e-textbook content6 October 2021

Extract from the statement: “Together with other representatives and sector bodies, Jisc has pledged to help students and teachers in UK higher and further education to gain equitable and sustainable access to e-books, e-textbooks and related teaching content.

Economic and technological changes in the current publishing market have led to libraries being increasingly excluded from, or priced out of, providing e-books and e-textbooks for students and library users. Many of the models and fees charged by publishers have either become prohibitively expensive, or libraries are no longer permitted to purchase these titles at all, creating an unsustainable situation”

Problems with the market for academic ebooks

There’s big problems with the market for academic ebooks. For Rachel Bickley, market pressure alone cannot solve the problems in the market for academic ebooks. Wonkhe. [blog] 28 March 2021.

“In the time since a small group of academic librarians launched the #ebooksos campaign with an Open Letter asking for an investigation into the academic ebook publishing industry, we have faced some questioning of our actions. In spite of the letter having attracted, at the time of writing, signatures from over 3800 librarians, lecturers, students, heads of services, university senior managers and two vice chancellors, indicating that the cost and availability of ebooks is a significant concern across the sector, there have still been suggestions that perhaps we could sit down and discuss the issues with the publishers instead.

However, these issues are not new. The pandemic has brought the lack of availability of ebooks for institutional access, and the astronomical prices and restrictive licences under which those which are available can be procured, into sharp focus, but librarians have been dealing with this situation for a long time. Dialogue with publishers has been attempted, but it went nowhere useful. The investigation route was not a knee-jerk reaction to being unable to obtain the resources that we need for our students; it was the only option that those of us who set up the campaign could see remaining.

Anderson, J., Ayris, P., White, B. (2021) E-Textbooks – scandal or market imperative? LSE Impact. 17.03.21
UCL Office for Open Science & Scholarship (2021) On Monday 15th March 2021, the UCL Office for Open Science & Scholarship hosted a webinar in conjunction with Copyright4Knowledge that aimed to examine the acute difficulties for higher education and public libraries caused by publishers’ pricing and licensing practices and discuss some possible solutions.

Ebooks: Scandal or Market Economics webinar – summary and links. Open@UCL. 15.03.21

Fazackerley, A. (2021) 'Price gouging from Covid': student ebooks costing up to 500% more than in print. The Guardian. 29.1.21

Ebook aggregator platforms

Cross publisher E-textbook providers:

In addition major academic publishers such as Elsevier, Sage, Taylor & Francis make ebooks available on a variety of licensing models direct from their publisher platforms.

Cross-publisher ebook platforms:


The student consumer and the rise of e-textbook platforms. By Ken Chad.Higher Education Library Technology (HELibTech) briefing paper (No. 4). March 2018.

A 2017 report for the Society of College, National & University Libraries (Sconul) listed ‘students as customers’ as one of the five top ‘transformational’ trends that will impact libraries over the next ten years. These student consumers are not all happy and one reason is the rising cost of textbooks and the lack of availability from libraries. The briefing paper looks at the textbook market and the moves to digital and more interactive learning resources. It analyses new approaches to textbook publication including Open Textbooks and institutional initiatives and new ways libraries are delivering e-textbooks to students. It concludes with an analysis of the potential disruptive impact of new user focused e-textbook platforms

The new role of the library in teaching and learning outcomes. By Ken Chad & Helen Anderson. HELIbTech briefing paper No. 3. 20 June 2017

Students in many countries, especially the US and UK are concerned that the growing cost of higher education is not delivering good value. Excellence in teaching and a focus on measurement and assessment of learning outcomes have become entrenched in higher education policy and the strategies of academic institutions. In the UK this trend has crystallised in a new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) introduced by government in 2017.
As a result library leaders around the world will need to become more strategic in articulating value propositions based around a more holistic view of library/learning resources.The value of data analytics will be a key driving force. Data from reading list systems and digital textbook platforms combined with information from other institutional systems will allow powerful insights to emerge. Such analytics will be invaluable to institutions, publishers and intermediaries as they look at new ways to deliver content.

All this suggests a trend for library technology and educational technology to merge. There looks to be the beginning of shift away from a narrow conception of *library* systems, the *library* supply chain and *library data*. Conventional integrated library systems (ILS) and even the new generation of library services platforms (LSPs) remain wedded to an outdated view of library learning resources and will have to change significantly or be integrated or subsumed into a new generation of learning services platforms.

Institution as e-textbook publisher

Open textbooks – an untapped opportunity for universities colleges and schools. Insights. UKSG May 2018

From the artcile: “The pilot phase of the UK Open Textbook project reached completion in April 2018. This article discusses the project, what open textbooks are, and why they are an untapped opportunity for universities, colleges and schools. The North American models of open textbook creation and uptake (adoption) are designed to help reduce university student financial worries and enhance learning opportunities, and provide much-needed resources for schools (or the K12 system in the US and Canada). The ability to repurpose books leads to innovative and engaging pedagogies including students as co-authors. Yet in the UK, the level of discussion and awareness of the opportunities afforded by open textbooks, and the existence of a small number of UK initiatives, is poor.”

“Given that many parts of the UK education sector are experiencing a textbook crisis, and given the levels of student debt, it is surprising that open textbooks have gained little traction here, and that they are entirely absent from government policy. ‘The UK needs to make a strategic response to the 2017 Ljubljana OER Action Plan set out by UNESCO’ to make publicly funded educational resources available to improve the learning experience for all.”

Open Access Ebooks

The OAPEN Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation based in the Netherlands, with its registered office at the National Library in The Hague. OAPEN is dedicated to open access, peer-reviewed books.

OAPEN operates three platforms:

- a central repository for hosting and disseminating OA books

- a toolkit on OA book publishing for authors

- a discovery service indexing OA books, in partnership with OpenEdition

OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks) was developed as a 30-month targeted project co-funded by the EU in its eContentplus-program (2008-2010). The goal of the project was to achieve a sustainable publication model for academic books in humanities and social sciences and to improve the visibility and usability of high quality academic research in Europe. After the close of the project, OAPEN continued its activities as a foundation.

OAPEN Foundation was established by the University of Amsterdam (UvA), the University of Leiden (UL), the University library of Utrecht University (UU), the Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW), the National Library of the Netherlands (KB) and Amsterdam University Press (AUP).


OAPEN is involved in various initiatives for open access books:

Open Access Textbooks

UK Open Text-book project
“Open Textbooks have seen impressive growth and impact in the North American context, through providers and initiatives such as OpenStax, the Open Textbook Network, BC Campus, and Lumen Learning. With the exception of Siyavula in South Africa however, the open textbook model has largely been restricted to North America.. Whether this is a result of particular contextual dependencies (such as the relative cost of textbooks) or because this is where the funding and interest has been focused is as yet unknown. The aim of this project then is to test the transferability of this model to a new context, namely that of the UK. Our overarching research question is:

What is the viability of introducing open textbooks in UK higher education through the testing of two proposed models: OpenStax and OpenTextbook Network approaches?

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ebooks.txt · Last modified: 2024/02/27 06:18 by paul