#Ebooksos on Tour

The #Ebooksos team have been hard at work planning a 2021 quarantine armchair tour to discuss the current situation and future plans for the campaign. Please do join us at these events if you can We encourage academics, students and other interested parties to come along as well as librarians. Dealing with the ebook challenge will require a collective effort.

15th March E-Books: Scandal or Market Economics? 2pm -3:30pm (GMT). UCL Office for Open Science & Scholarship/Copyright for Knowledge webinar.
Further details and free tickets available here. Expert speakers are

Dr. Paul Ayris, Pro-Vice-Provost (UCL Library Services & UCL Office for Open Science and Scholarship)
Johanna Anderson, Subject Librarian, University of Gloucestershire and founder of the #eBookSoS campaign
Benjamin White, Researcher, Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management, University of Bournemouth and Chair of the Copyright and Legal Working Group of  the European Research Library Association (LIBER).

500 tickets have been snapped up already so get in quick if you don’t want to miss out

Monday 12th April – Rachel Bickley and Caroline Ball of #EbookSoS will be hosting the #uklibchat discussion on the ebook crisis at 7pm (GMT).

Tuesday 13th AprilUKSG Online Conference Breakout 32: #Ebooksos scandal : the need for critical collection development. This is an on-demand presentation by Johanna Anderson and Cathal MCcauley, University Librarian at Maynooth University, Ireland. We discuss the #ebooksos campaign, the library profession’s role in countering these issues and the long-term consequences if they are not addressed. There will be a live Q&A session to follow (details to be confirmed).

Wednesday 5th May – Johanna Anderson is the keynote for ABC 2021 Virtual Copyright Conference, Canada. Don’t call me brave”: How a subject librarian stepped into a leadership vacuum to challenge #ebooksos scandal”

5th-6th MayCritical Approaches to Libraries Conference (CALC) – Johanna Anderson, Caroline Ball and Rachel Bickley will discuss the ebook crisis and the restrictive impact it has on critical collection development and academic freedoms (Details to be confirmed).

11th-12th May – The Independent Publishers Guild Spring Conference 

6th-8th July – Johanna Anderson, Caroline Ball and Rachel Bickley will be discussing Information literacy as activism: standing up to the academic e-book industry at  FestivIL by LILAC (CANCELLED).

15th July 2021 eBook Licensing in Europe and the Vanishing Library? Johanna joins the newly formed Knowledge Rights 21 programme to discuss, The perfect storm? Pandemics, Publishers and #ebooksos at 15:15pm (CET)


Meanwhile, Publishers Association (PA) have released a report entitled The economic impact of the potential new Open Access (OA) policy from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) which contains the statement

“There are also concerns that the UKRI Policy would exacerbate existing challenges facing the HE sector – which is already managing significant financial and operational pressures due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic”

This was met with some surprise as PA did not seem aware of these “pressures” when they tried to justify their members price-gouging from COVID in the BBC piece that reported on the ebook crisis. For expert analysis of the report we recommend you read this blog post by Martin Paul Eve, Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London. We hope Publishers Association will consider the pressures universities face before trying to justify exploitative practice in the future.

UK Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance join call for ebook investigation

As our open letter attracts over 3600 signatures, UK Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance has become the latest organisation to join our call for an investigation into the broken academic ebook market.

We very much welcome this support. There may be differing opinions across the sector on what to do about the current crisis but there is broad consensus that the academic ebook market is broken. Only by collective effort can we even begin to fix it

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) formally petitions Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate practices of academic ebook publishers

CILIP letter to the Competition and Markets Authority

In discussion with the Academic eBook Investigation campaign, CILIP has written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to petition them formally to investigate the practices of publishers in respect of the pricing, licensing terms and availability of academic ebooks, which prevent librarians in Higher Education from fulfilling their public and educational task.

Under their Royal Charter and as a ‘regulatory authority’ for libraries and information services, CILIP has two mandatory roles:

  • To promote and encourage the maintenance of adequate and appropriate provision of library and information services of various kinds throughout the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and;
  • To scrutinise any legislation affecting the provision of library and information services and to promote such further legislation as may be considered necessary to that end.

On the basis of these roles, CILIP has highlighted a number of concerns with the CMA including:

  • A price differential between print and ebooks that cannot be justified by ‘enhanced functionality’;
  • The insecure nature of the licensing arrangements for access to ebooks, which means libraries do not ‘own’ the content they have paid for, and;
  • That restrictions on price and licensing place an unfair constraint on teaching, learning and research;
  • That the culture of confidentiality around pricing inhibits the operation of a fair and balanced market for academic e-content.

Commenting on the campaign, CILIP CEO Nick Poole said,

“We commend our members and colleagues in academic libraries for their work in shedding light on the issue of unsustainable pricing  and licensing conditions for academic ebooks through the Academic eBook Investigation campaign. We will continue to pursue dialogue with all stakeholders in seeking a sustainable long-term solution, but we believe that an intervention from the CMA is necessary to bring all parties to the table to address the issue. We are also reaching out to our network of Parliamentarians to maintain focus on this issue and to push for an equitable resolution.”

Founder of the academic ebook campaign Johanna Anderson said,

We are absolutely delighted to receive the strong endorsement from CILIP, evidenced by this unprecedented move. It is testament to the seriousness of the situation that CILIP have seen fit to formally put the case to CMA and are supporting us in our efforts to secure a full, fair and transparent investigation of the current academic ebook market.

We look forward to the response from CMA with interest

We thank Nick Poole, CILIP and all members of the board for their support.

New campaign milestone

We are delighted that our open letter has now surpassed 3000 signatures. We are not going away. Thanks to everyone who signed and shared the letter. We will keep pushing for the investigation we so desperately need. Can we make it to 5000?

‘Price gouging from Covid’: student ebooks costing up to 500% more than in print

Written for The Guardian by Anna Fazackerley

Our campaign features in today’s Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jan/29/price-gouging-from-covid-student-ebooks-costing-up-to-500-more-than-in-print

Please do read it. It is a fantastic piece. Anna has done an impressive job in illustrating the complexities of the situation with data and comment from Higher Education staff across the UK,

Thank you Anna!

The Move to Open Access as Ebook Crisis Worsens

As we approach the second semester in the academic year, we still await meaningful intervention in the ebook crisis from those in power. Arguably, we are in a far more critical situation than at the start of the pandemic when the severe lock-down began in March 2020. Students now have significantly reduced access to resources for the following reasons.

1) In March 2020, several academic publishers and 3rd party vendors announced, to much fanfare, that they were opening up access to many of their resources for free. Whilst this move was welcomed by many in Higher Education, much of the content was withdrawn as little as three months later while COVID was still raging. Access has not been reinstated during this most recent lock-down. (One has to wonder if the original offer was little but a cynical marketing strategy).
2) Unlike March 2020, many students are starting the semester away from campus and so cannot make the dash to access hardcopy resources as they may have done last year.

Furthermore, Semester 2 is when level 6 students have dissertations and final year projects to complete and will be heavily reliant on research methods books. Electronic research methods books are notoriously difficult to purchase because key research methods publishers, such as Sage, do not allow academic libraries to purchase their titles in ebook format.

Many libraries have had little choice but to provide new postal services to try to get books to students. Given that we supposedly live in the digital age, this situation is nothing but perverse. It is also far from ideal because the logistics of getting the books off the shelves and out to students, processing their return, and quarantining them is putting immense pressure on already stressed and exhausted library staff. Not to mention the emotional labour of supporting students who are frustrated and anxious at not being able to access the resources they need in a timely manner. This approach is also placing additional financial burden onto library services.

Librarians, academics and, more importantly, students, cannot wait for senior figures to act at this critical time in the HE cycle. Librarians are increasingly turning to the complex world of open access resources to fill the huge holes in information provision bought about by traditional academic publisher business models. There is hope that open access will become more and more commonplace going forward.

One example is a crowd-sourced list, compiled by librarians, of open access research methods resources . It can be accessed here – Research Methods – Open Access Resources
We encourage you to share this list with students and academics and to add anything you think might be helpful. We would like to thank Tobias Steiner for launching and overseeing this initiative . It will be an invaluable resource for students and staff.

Another inspiring example is featured in a new guest contribution entitled, Promoting Open Access Resources in Programme (Re)Validations. Posted here with kind permission from Dr Clare McCluskey Dean, Academic Liaison Librarian of York St John University

Promoting open access resources in programme (re)validations – Guest Post

by Dr Clare McCluskey Dean, Academic Liaison Librarian

A recent revalidation of a course suite, in a subject area for which I am the library liaison, brought to a head the problems in providing online access to programme resources. This is both in terms of access during lockdown, preventing unnecessary handling of print sources and the associated health risks with that for library workers and users, and also because these courses involve placements or distance learning where the students will not have easy access to campus anyway.

There were three key areas that needed addressing.

  1. The lack of availability of ebooks from traditional academic publishers, due to them either not being offered at all, only being offered on restrictive, unfair models, or because of prohibitively high costs.
  2. The inaccessibility of ebooks supplied to libraries, with DRM often stopping users relying on screen-readers decent access to texts. This is particularly with the use of third-party software stopping the download of books, or sections of books, to the formats needed.
  3. The lack of representation of sections of society, and inherent marginalisation, in the content of many traditionally-published texts, and the wish to find alternative sources to try and counteract this.

The academics involved in the revalidation asked me to participate at the stage where all of the modules to be designed had been outlined, but the content of them was still to be decided. I had the aims and outcomes to work with, and some suggested readings that could help as a starting point, and the remit to build up potential resource lists for each module which helped address these three core issues.

I decided that open access sources provided one way of addressing all three of them, to some extent. By their nature, they are designed to be accessible without payment. They are usually readable online, or downloadable to PDF, and testing of a sample showed that they were screen-reader compatible. In addition, I could check the contents more easily to identify works from a number of different viewpoints, and particularly found works from writers in countries which were not represented in the texts we had in stock, purchased in the traditional way by academic publishers. This is one step in trying to address representation, acknowledging that this should not stop here or be a token gesture.

We started by looking for open access books, with a view to having core lists in place for each module. From here, once module leaders have been appointed for the actual teaching, I can work with them on locating a wider range of sources. I used Oapen, DOAB and LibreTexts as my main search tools.

I took the approach of putting all of the modules into a stand-alone reading list. For each module, I took the indicative titles from traditional publishers supplied by the academics, and gave notes as to their current availability (or otherwise) in ebook format, and potential costs in their further use. After this, I introduced other texts from existing traditional publishers that may be useful, again with notes as to availability and trying to surface the ones which provide DRM-free access. Finally, I also ensured that open access resources were added where ones appropriate to the content of the module could be located.

Generally I found there to be a good range of titles available in open access format, and this is only going to develop as more academic authors find their work restricted by traditional publishing set-ups. They are much easier for students to use, with no passwords needed for future access if they bookmark them, full download is available so they can save them wherever they like, and they work with assistive technology in the format available to all.

I plan to make more posts about this, with more specific examples of where open access texts have been used in module design and/or delivery in order to enhance learning. It’s my hope that we can find alternative ways of providing access to information when the cost of obtaining or providing access to resources has proven to be too high in either monetary or accessibility terms, and find a sustainable way forward.

Note : A longer version of this post is available, with links to references and further reading.

Academics and ebooks : an example of what you can do to help.

With their fingers firmly in their ears, academic publishers are still busy trying to tout their ebooks to academics. Emails such as the following, which was received by academics today from Oxford University Press (one of the worst culprits in the ebook pricing scandal)

I hope teaching is going well in this very unusual year.
Like everyone else, at OUP we have had to adapt to a virtual way of working for the foreseeable future. At this time of year I am usually on campus visiting lecturers, discussing how staff and students are using our textbooks and beginning to share news of our upcoming publications.
Over the summer period, one of the main focuses for institutions has been on our digital offerings. It would be great to talk with you about our textbooks and how they can meet your course needs digitally, and the ways that we can make that happen for you. 
If you are available over the next few weeks for a meeting over Teams or by phone to discuss our titles in more detail, please let me know and we can get this scheduled.
I look forward to hearing from you and as always, any questions do not hesitate to get in touch.

Senior Lecturer at University of Gloucestershire, and campaign supporter, Dr Rachel Sumner, shared her response

I hope you’re well. Many thanks for getting in touch, and for starting the conversation about e-books. With the advent of Covid, e-books are not only increasingly important for students to provide good educational support, but their provision would undoubtedly assist in driving down infection through minimising on-campus contact, and potential infection transference on book surfaces. It seems that they are indeed quite the useful tool not just for ensuring a good standard for education, but also in terms of helping with public health issues.

You may be interested to hear that I have recently developed a new postgraduate course in health psychology, and as such I have been looking for new materials to recommend to my students. As a lecturer who teaches across quite broad subject areas (health psychology, biological psychology, environmental psychology, ethics, and neuroscience) there are several titles that OUP provide that would most definitely be of interest.

I’m sure you can appreciate that – as an educator – my principle interests are not just ensuring that students are provided with the best possible resources, but also that they and their education are treated fairly. The very recent habit of publishers massively hiking up their e-book prices in what I can only assume is a cynical response to the Covid-19 pandemic is a particularly unpleasant trend that I believe that OUP have participated in, and that I would very much like to see the end of.

Whilst I would be happy to discuss what OUP may be able to offer in terms of my teaching, I’m afraid without a commitment to the fair pricing of e-books that is not seemingly based on opportunism, I’m afraid I will decline. I should assure you that this is an increasingly important issue amongst staff in HE, so much so that our own staff have been very outspoken in their fight to ensure that our students are treated fairly by publishers. I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that as academics who also generate publishable work, we are also looking very closely at how publishers are responding in light of Covid, with a direct view as to the decisions we make about the publication of our own articles and books.

Whilst I appreciate that you as a rep do not set the costs for these materials, I do very much hope this response gets fed back to those that make these decisions so that a different strategy may be employed in the near future.

Rachel kindly agreed let us post this on our blog as it is going to take all of us; librarians, academics and students to bring about change. We hope this post will inspire more academics to follow suit and increase the pressure on academic publishers to rethink.

Next steps : Competition and Markets Authority and what you can do to help.

Following the disappointing response from the Education Select Committee yesterday, we have been considering our next move. While it is fantastic that we have succeeded in raising awareness of the issue in Westminster, we are still in the position of not being able to buy key text books for our students during an ongoing global health crisis. The approaching holiday season is going to make the situation even more critical as students will not be able to access physical library resources. They will have assignments to complete over Christmas without the resources to support them. This is not acceptable.

What are we going to do?

We are going to take our case to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) as publishers are “behaving unfairly during the Covid outbreak” It can also be strongly argued that several of these charges listed here can be applied to the academic publishing market. Throughout the campaign thus far, we have collected a lot of data to support our position and we intend to persist in holding publishers to account.

What can you do?

  • This started as a grass-roots campaign but we really need support from sector leaders. Following the media attention generated by the campaign, we have heard that library teams are being contacted by Pro-VCs and VCs to find out more about the issues with ebooks and how they can help. Academics and Librarians, please consider contacting your institution’s leadership team and ask them to support our campaign, raise the issue with the local MP and lobby Universities UK, “the collective voice of 140 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” to support and raise the issue with the UK Government whenever possible.
  • Librarians should consider advising academics to pull unavailable or prohibitively expensive titles from their reading lists and to tell the publishers why they have done so.
  • Library Services should ask that the authors in their institutions contact their librarians to find out what their books are being sold to universities for and, if excessive, complain to the relevant publishers.
  • Library Directors should consider writing and publishing a position policy such as the “Lobbying for Fairer Ebook Access” document written by Dr Clare McCluskey Dean for York St John University. We need to be clear that we will not purchase from publishers who have exploitative practices.
  • We know money is tight right now but we would also urge conference and event organisers to refuse sponsorship from exploitative publishers. We should also not allow them to advertise/market on campus

Everyone, please also consider contacting your MP and your library leadership teams.

Please feel free to comment below with further suggestions,

The open letter can still be read and signed here https://academicebookinvestigation.org/