University of Bath

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

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 Bath. This provides information to supplement the more detailed findings in the final report.

Institution name: University of Bath

General extent of e-book provision by the library:

We have in the region of 19,000 titles in e-book format. This is a combination of collections and backfiles from individual publishers, e-books obtained through database subscriptions and single title purchases through our aggregator. We have around 1,000 single title e-books in the latter category.

Engagement with teaching staff regarding the trial:

Both relevant lecturers were notified of the purpose and scope of the trials through individual visits and e-mail and both agreed to us collecting written questionnaires from the students at the final lecture at the end of the trials. Both lecturers were interested in obtaining electronic versions of their chosen texts, but at a price suited to the students’ (or library’s) budget.

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

One title via EBL. Individual record put onto the catalogue linking to the electronic version. Also mentioned in moodle, the institution’s VLE, under the relevant module information and therefore ‘endorsed’ by the lecturer. The second title via a link to Cengage website and voucher code via note added to printed book catalogue record.

Feedback from teaching staff and students:

One title: lecturer was positive about the availability of the e-version. Students – several bought their own print copy but library circulation also pretty high. Second title: lecturer felt the e-book being limited to one year period was unrealistic and inflexible for a four-year course. Students – several bought their own print copy but library circulation also pretty high.

Views on the level of usage:

One title: 15 individual students (of c. 120) made use of the e-book throughout the trial period. We were not able to activate the download function due to technical restrictions on campus, but students were able to print or read online. This may have had an impact on its relatively low take-up

Second title: There was no take-up of this title online. A number of factors may account for this:
• lack of awareness on the part of the students that the title was available online
• a large number of students purchased the textbook in print
• a large number of copies were available in print in the library
• online access was not free of charge to students

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

Our preferred pricing model is a one-off purchase for perpetual access with no limit on concurrent users. We will consider annual subscription provided that the price is reasonable.

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

• do not assume that students will use the library catalogue to look for text books (they may browse the shelves or use a classmark provided on a reading list)
• students *may* be unwilling to purchase e-textbooks or e-Chapters, but this cannot be confirmed without further research
• from comments received on the student survey, they still prefer print to online access.