Thousands of University staff across the UK have called for an investigation into a potential academic e-book scam.
“Price rises are common, sudden and appear arbitrary” with some digital books increasing as much as 200% according to a letter written to the Education Committee.
Johana Anderson organiser of the push against this trend says that some e-texts can be ten times more expensive than print copies.
She expanded that this was a problem we all pay into as taxpayers whilst publishers are capitalising on student loans.
Publishers claim the costs come from using different formats and shared-use but Anderson cited numerous examples disputing this:
- Economics book for £44 in print is £423 for an e-book and £500 to share between 3 users.
- Employment law book for £50 in print is £1600 between 3 users.
- Working in childcare book £30 in print, £1045 for 1 year of online access.
Effect on learning
The University librarian of Gloucestershire said that prices have been rising during lockdown, a time when many libraries have been forced to close.
“It’s a scandal. It’s public money,” she said. “Students are shocked when I tell them just how much it costs to get them their texts. People just assume we can get books for the prices they see on Amazon and Kindle. It just doesn’t work like that for universities. The academic publishing business model is broken, and as you can see from the number of people who have signed the letter we think it is time for an investigation.”
One of the contributing factors is the way texts are often bundled into expensive packages as well a licensing and copyright issues.
“In some cases, it’s like having to buy the whole of Waterstones to get access to a couple of books,” says Anderson.
The letter released by the Academic Book Investigation group points out that: “much teaching will be conducted online this term, and university spaces will not be fully open, university librarians are once again examining reading lists and finding that much of the e-book content is either unavailable, or prohibitively expensive. A few key players monopolise the market and with the lack of competition or alternative options, we can either pay the extortionate prices, or not purchase the e-books at all. University library budgets are finite, and are frequently prone to cuts.”
Publisher Taylor & Francis responded saying: “Comparing individual print costs to a digital licence which gives access to many readers does not represent the reality of how the different formats are used. Taylor & Francis believe our e-textbooks are fairly and competitively priced for the library market.”
It also added it did provide some free access for students during lockdown as well as freely upgrading libraries from single to unlimited user access.
Publisher Helen Kogan of Kogan’s Page also weighed in claiming the company’s pricing was standard industry practise.
“It allows flexible options for multi-user and perpetual access licences which provide a fair return to authors and ensure investment in high-quality, rigorous academic e-books to support students’ learning.”
The letter is to be reviewed by the Educational committee.