University of Surrey

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

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

Institution name: University of Surrey

General extent of e-book provision by the library:

Extensive – more than 80,000 titles, not including EEBO (a further 100,000 titles)

Engagement with teaching staff regarding the trial:

Not a huge amount. Physics staff seemed unaware throughout and after the trial, which might be due to the departure of the Physics liaison librarian just after the commencement of the trial. The relevant law staff did like the idea of the book, but I don’t think they promoted it heavily.

How details of the e-books were made available and how they were accessed:

For one title – MARC record provided by EBL imported into the Library catalogue.

For the second title – custom record created on the catalogue using MARC data from the print record, linked to a dedicated web page giving details of how to collect a flyer with an individual registration code. Flyers kept at the Information Desk to be given to students. (in other words, very clunky).

Feedback from teaching staff and students:

Law lecturer 1 :

“I had a look at it and I find it great. Although I don’t think e-books could or should replace paper copies I think they would be very useful in reducing the number of available copies and moreover short-term loans or reference books. I am not sure how much they cost but I assume once we purchase them an unlimited number of users can read them online? I think they are probably more useful for those books which students don’t need to read in full, i.e. books they need for reference or single chapters for coursework etc, rather than textbooks.”

Law lecturer 2:

“I think that having a core text available on line for students is brilliant.  Some students genuinely have financial hardship and cannot afford the text.  This is a key source for public international law and an essential read.  I prepare my lectures primarily from this text.  I hope in future that core texts will be available to students on line.  l still think it is nice to own books but there are times financially that it is not possible.”

Views on the level of usage:

Disappointing, but not unexpected. It does take a little bit of time for individual resources to penetrate the consciousness of students – the shortcut is to get an e-book specifically mentioned on a reading list or linked from a resources list in the Virtual Learning Environment, but as academics compile their reading lists over the summer and send them out before term starts, the trial started too late for this. If access was continued, I would expect usage to rise steadily, as lecturers tell students, and students tell each other. It can take up to 3 years for an electronic resource to become “embedded”, even now.

I was not surprised that one of the e-textbooks was little used – hard science students in particular give the Library a wide berth if they can, and expecting them to come and pick up a flyer and then create an individual registration for the resource was definitely a step too far. They are used to seamless access to online resources, particularly on campus.

It was a shame that none of the additional options on the EBL book (e.g. to purchase permanent download rights) were taken up. This may have been because students were simply unaware of the functions – they are very used to the standard model of e-books where permanent download and printing of large amounts of text is forbidden, and we chose not to publicise the additional functions, hoping they would simply discover them instead.

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

We would like to see unlimited access for a cost based on JISC band. Realistically, what it would cost for 5-10 copies of the paperback print book would be about all our budgets could bear without seriously compromising our ability to provide all the other required resources for specific modules.

Payment could either be a one-off cost for that particular edition, or for books that are regularly updated, we would be happy to pay an annual subscription fee. We would not be willing to pay an annual fee for a book whose content stayed the same – it would be more cost effective to purchase the print in that scenario.

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

  • People (staff and students) DO want them.
  • People want to be able to access both formats for different reasons, so libraries would probably want to pay for both, perhaps balancing the cost by purchasing slightly fewer print copies.
  • E-textbooks need to be promoted by lecturers in order to get best use – it’s not enough for students to simply come across them in the catalogue.