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ebookSOS: can my students read my books?

by Alison Taylor on 2021-07-13T09:49:00+01:00 | Comments

Open door leading to the outside world

Ebook access has been vital for students during the pandemic, ensuring that learning can continue. However, getting ebooks to students isn’t always easy. This is why we’re supporting the ebookSOS campaign which calls for urgent government intervention and market regulation of ebook publishing. This blog post explains what it’s all about and what you can do to make sure students have access to their learning resources.


What’s the problem?

Ebooks have always been more expensive than printed books, but over the course of the pandemic we’ve seen huge price rises. For example:

•    a £33.49 Kindle book costs £650 for a 3-user license ebook
•    a £51.99 print book costs £1,050 for a 3-user license ebook.

These two examples are from a Twitter thread from the University of York’s library service, but libraries across the country all have dozens of equivalent examples. The ebookSOS campaign has crowd-sourced these examples to show the scale of the problem.

Pricing isn’t the only issue

Lots of books aren’t available for academic libraries to purchase as ebooks. Even where ebooks are available, we often don’t own them outright or can’t buy them individually. For example they might be:

•    part of an annual subscription, where we pay for access every year
•    on restricted licences, like 1-user or 3-user simultaneous use, or a ‘top-up’ credit model
•    part of a much bigger package of ebooks, where we have to buy many titles just to get the one we want.

Publishers are also selling many titles direct to academics as etextbooks. These are usually sold as core textbooks, with enhanced interactive features like quizzes, designed to provide each student with their own copy. This can be useful! But often it’s a much more expensive alternative than a library copy.


What can you do?

There are a few ways you can make sure students are able to read the books you recommend. We support academic freedom to recommend and publish the right books for your students. But we also want to give you the tools to make the best choices to do this. You can:

1.    Sign the open letter and lend your support to the campaign. We’re delighted that David Green was the first VC to back the campaign and add his name to the open letter.

2.    Be open to alternatives on your Resource Lists. We’ll let you know if a book is unavailable or very expensive, though we have a number of routes to exhaust before we do this. Are there alternative texts you can recommend? Have you thought about freely available textbooks like the Open Textbook Library and Libre Texts?

3.    Bring a librarian with you if you’re talking to publishers about etextbooks. Let us know about any offers so that we can check for other options. Make sure our colleagues in the TEL team also know so that any integration with Blackboard is ironed out. We have some great guidance on etextbooks.

4.    Question publishers about ebooks before you publish with them. Use the ebookSOS guidance on what questions to ask publishers and potential clauses to add to contracts. We can also offer advice on contracts.

5.    Think about Open Access book publishing in future. There’s a really useful online resource about OA books as well as a list of all publishers who publish OA books.
Dr Sarah Pittaway, Head of Library Academic Engagement

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