The University of Northampton

JISC Collections e-textbook business models trials, 2009-2010
Library Case Study – The University of Northampton

Background, introduction and link to the trials

In Autumn 2008, JISC Collections engaged consultants to arrange a series of trials involving publishers of core textbooks serving UK higher education, the principle aggregators used by HE libraries and a selection of higher education institutions. The purpose of the trials was to try to find appropriate business models that would allow for library-delivery of e-textbooks to students.

In April 2009, and preceding any trials, the consultants produced a landscape report which surveyed the current status of the higher education textbook market in the UK and also drew on examples from overseas to chart the development of the e-textbook and the various initiatives being pursued by publishers.

One of the aims of the landscape report was to put forward recommendations about options for business model trials for widely‐adopted core textbooks, in order to provide data to inform future strategy for all stakeholders. Following discussions by the consultants with a number of libraries, publishers and aggregators, the trials began in September 2009 with ten UK HE institutions, eight textbook publishers and three aggregators taking part. Publishers placed between 1 and 3 textbooks in the trials, and in the majority of the cases, the textbooks were made available via the library’s aggregator of choice. There were 17 e-textbooks in total across 24 trials.

The overall objectives of the trials were:

  • To analyse the economics of a selection of business models for e-textbooks and course text e-books in terms of impact on publisher print sales / revenue and library budgets
  • To assess the management of a selection of business models for e-textbooks and course text e-books in terms of administrative burden and ease of implementation
  • To make recommendations about business models for e-textbooks and course texts e-books following the trials, that are sustainable both in terms of profitability and value for money.

The case study below gives brief details of the experience of participating in the trials by the Library at the University of Northampton. This provides information to supplement the more detailed findings in the final report.

Institution name: The University of Northampton

General extent of e-book provision by the library:

We currently provide access to 1400 e-books, although this figure is constantly rising, as it is our policy to buy e-resources in preference to print as far as is possible, or appropriate in the pedagogic context. We subscribe to one  collection of e-books (Safari), which we think is the appropriate model for the subjects covered, and have another collection of e-books in the field of health which we acquired to kick start our provision in that area of study. Our preferred strategy, however, is to buy individual titles in perpetuity from our main library suppliers.

Engagement with teaching staff regarding the trial:

The academic librarian who liaises with the Department of Psychology had a series of conversations with academic staff in the Department. As the text chosen was a core text on a first year module the academic staff did not need much encouragement to support the trial, and the timing (in the first term) was opportune. Anything that would encourage students to read this text was welcome.

How details of the e-book were made available and how it was accessed:

The details were made available, as with all our e-books, through our library online catalogue, Talis Prism with links to the content on Dawsonera. As the content was hosted on Dawsonera, any user logging on to that platform would also have been able to discover the content. Our users are Athens authenticated when they access such content.

Feedback from teaching staff and students:

Feedback was uniformly positive, with everyone being delighted the book was being made available in this way.

Views on the level of usage:

We are very pleased with the high level of usage this text received, which was 50% higher for the one e-copy than the combined total of loans for our seven print copies. If we had had access to the title two weeks earlier, at the beginning of term, usage would have been even higher. This is a core text, which many students will already have bought before the access began, so the level of online usage is highly significant.

Preferred pricing models from publishers for library-delivered e-textbooks:

We were not greatly impressed with the models the offered by the publishers in the trials. We felt that the savings the publishers would make in moving from print to electronic were not reflected in their offers. Our purchasing strategy is to buy no more than 5 copies of any book. We might buy a few more if demand was particularly heavy, but in the case of a core text  we are unlikely to spend our scarce resources on a text which students are supposed to buy. In other words, if we could only afford to buy x copies of a text we are not likely to buy an e-version priced at the cost of x+1 print copies or above.

Useful lessons learnt from the trial in terms of future library strategy for providing access to e-textbooks:

Being able to compare usage of the electronic and print versions has been useful in justifying our current approach to the acquisition of e-books.  We do think that the provision of e-textbooks is the way forward, and it will improve access to the texts, and possibly ensure that students who might not have read the texts do so. As we have indicated above, we think that there is a place for different models of e-provision, depending on the subject content, and particular user needs. Everything does depend on the pricing model, however. We do not think we are alone among academic libraries in needing to apply a formula to textbook acquisitions. If we bought more core texts, we would be unable to satisfy the needs of the full range of our users. In the current economic climate we will be struggling even more than usual to satisfy expressed needs.

The lessons of the trial are that if we provide the right e-textbooks at the right time they will be used very heavily, but unless the publishers change their pricing models we would need to examine our purchasing priorities.