Background : what is the problem? 1


If you’re writing an academic book, you presumably want your students to read it. To do that, you’re going to want your library to be able to buy it as an ebook. Sounds simple?

It’s not.

Most academic libraries buy ebooks whenever we can. This is to make sure that the maximum number of people can access texts, even when they’re not on campus. However, publishers sell books to libraries differently to how they sell them to you and your students:

  1. We can’t buy Kindle books. We have to buy ebooks that are licensed to universities. Some are only available to individuals as an ebook, and not to libraries.
  1. Some books can be bought as ebooks, but we can’t afford them. Librarians gathered hundreds of examples of this in 2020/21. Here are just 2 of them:
    • a £33.49 Kindle book costs £650 for a 3-user license ebook for universities (i.e. an ebook that can only be used by up to 3 people at any 1 time);
    • a £51.99 print book costs £1,050 for a 3-user license ebook.
  2. Some books can be bought as ebooks, but their licences mean we don’t own the books outright or that it’s difficult for students to access them. For example:
    • credit model ebooks. We pay x hundred pounds to use an ebook 400 times. When that’s used up, we have to pay again (often more) for more credits;
    • subscription model ebooks, where we pay an annual cost (which usually goes up every year) to keep on accessing the ebook;
    • single-user licences. Like a print book but much more expensive, these can only be read by one person at a time, so we have to buy multiple copies;
    • publishers can stop selling ebook versions, or change the licence, for example, so that all their 3-user licences become 1-user licences.
  3. Sometimes ebooks are only sold as part of bigger packages. These mean we have to pay more and buy books we don’t want or need.
  4. Sometimes books are only sold as part of etextbook models, licensing content for use by specific, very restricted cohorts on an annual basis. These are often sold direct to academics without input from libraries.

[1] This section adapted with thanks from the University of York Library’s Twitter thread

What can you do?

Click on the download button below to read and download our guidance for academics on negotiating contracts with publishers

With thanks to Lucy Barnes of Open Book Publishers, Dr Nadia Georgiou of University of Gloucestershire, Professor Charles Oppenheim, Visiting Professor at Robert Gordon University and Dr Sarah Pittaway of University of Worcester, for giving their time and wealth of expertise in writing this guidance for #ebooksos campaign.

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