Responding to the effects of ebook availability/pricing

By | February 2, 2021

As I’ve said previously, as academic librarians, we’re continuing to work with our academic colleagues in responding to the effects of library ebook availability and pricing. This is an update to the ebook availability message sent out by the library in May 2020

10 months since the first pandemic lockdown in the UK, most publishers/aggregate suppliers have withdrawn ‘emergency’ online access to texts. There are notable exceptions to this, especially JSTOR, who have continued to offer a wide range of titles in addition to those for which we have already paid. In a more cynical turn, some publishers have increased the price of online access to texts considerably since March 2020, with one in particular raising the price of 1 user ebooks (where only one user at a time can be logged on to the content) to 8 times the price of a print copy in this period. This has had a significant impact on the availability of essential reading, and the cost of providing it, in subject areas across the University. National campaigns are underway to try and address this, and evidence being gathered of the practices, but there are steps that can be taken at a local level to help too. This is the content of a short update we’re circulating to try and promote further dialogue with specialists in the university in the areas of open access, research dissemination, and learning and teaching.

We ask that any academics in a position to help ensuring continued online access to books do so by taking one or all of the steps outlined here. 

Discuss general availability of texts provided by potential publishers of your work before signing contracts yourself, with your academic liaison librarian 

Your academic liaison librarian will be able to give you an overview of availability of works from that publisher on fair library ebook models, and any cost inflation during the pandemic. 

Suggested response to publishers re inspection copies/requests that texts are adopted as module reading 

If a publisher approaches you with a text which they believe supports our programmes, or you have received an inspection copy with a request for feedback, it would be helpful to reply along the following lines. 

Please note that the library at my university is unable to support the adoption of any text as essential reading which is not also available on a fair ebook model. This therefore excludes: 

  • Any text not available in ebook format for libraries via the three main purchase platforms (Coutts Oasis, Gobi, or Askews/Vle)
  • Any text only available as part of a wider subscription package 
  • Any text where the online copy costs more than 3 x the cost of a print copy per user 

Suggested response to publishers re authoring or editing works 

If a publisher approaches you with a proposal to author or edit a work, or if you are currently seeking a publisher, asking the following will help ensure that the end text is available to libraries to supply online. 

I would like to ensure that this text is available to readers, online, via libraries. Can you please confirm that this would be made available as a library ebook, excluding: 

  • Platforms other than the main three purchase aggregators (Coutts Oasis, Gobi, or Askews/Vle) 
  • Publication online via a wider subscription package only 
  • Library ebook pricing of more than 3 x the cost of a print copy per user 

Move to open access sources/publishing where possible 

There is a growing body of open access works which can be used as programme resources. This provision is dependent upon subject area, with some better catered for than others, but is growing in all of themSearch tools such as Oapen and DOAB index these, and provide links. 

The library has an agreement with Open Book Publishers if you wish to explore this option for your own work and will put you in touch with contacts there. 

Ask any national associations or groups, linked to HE or learning and teaching, to join the campaign 

If you are a member of any associations which you think may be able to help in lobbying for fairer access to academic sources, please ask that they join the campaign, or make a statement themselves about the impact this is having. 

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