A note from Albert Prior and Paul Harwood, the authors of the JISC Collections e-textbook business model trials final report:

Ten UK HE institutions, eight textbook publishers and three aggregators took part in the trials, which started in May 2009 and finished in May 2010. Seventeen textbook titles were involved, in 24 separate trials across the 10 libraries. The trials followed  a landscape report on digital textbooks in UK higher education, published in April 2009.

E-versions of the titles were made accessible to students via the libraries. The aim of the trials was to evaluate the impact this accessibility had on, for example, publishers’ print sales to students, library purchases and loans of print copies, and to consider possible business models for library provision of digital textbooks. Data was collected on these activities along with the analysis of usage data of the digital textbooks.

The librarians in the trials felt that students were still not overly enthused about e-books, for a wide variety of reasons. Digital textbooks are still new for students and the scale of available e-textbooks is small. A further 3-5 years is likely to elapse before a critical mass of content is achieved. These views were confirmed by students themselves who responded to an online survey regarding their preferences, indicating that their preferred way of working is to use a combination of the print and e-version. They also indicated that the two formats are used in different ways and with different objectives in mind.

The role of the lecturer is generally a key driver as to how students behave and this includes decisions that students make about textbook acquisition and use. E-textbooks need to be promoted by lecturers in order to get best use.

The trials showed a link between publisher-lecturer-librarian-student engagement and communication and the usage of the e-textbooks, and its impact on publishers’ sales to students. However, it proved difficult in the trials to draw other significant conclusive evidence of the impact of digital textbooks on print sales and use of libraries’ print copies. Reasons for this include the changing numbers of students on courses, the continuing library use of earlier editions of textbooks, the difficulty of defining precise numbers of print sales to students and similarly the extent of annual general decline of student purchases.

The report provides a number of suggestions for business models for e-textbook provision by libraries. It also reports on the significant developments taking place in online learning and teaching, that include textbook content, and that will have an impact on the way in which course material is made accessible to students in the future.

However, the feasibility of library provision of e-textbooks is also addressed in the report. The scale of student purchasing of print textbooks in UK higher education is estimated at some £200m annually. The current economic recession and the resulting cuts in budgets would appear to make it highly unlikely that libraries will be able to consider moving to a position where they could consider funding digital textbook provision on any substantial scale. For this, and other reasons, many of the participants felt that student purchase of textbooks will remain the dominant model for the foreseeable future. In spite of this, the majority of the organisations in the trials felt a considerable amount was learned from the trials, that would help them in developing  future strategy.

Case studies of a number of the libraries participating in the trials are accessible in the case studies area.