Why aren’t all books available as e-books?

Why can’t you get an e-book of the title I requested?

One of the difficulties with studying online may be that the books that you wanted weren’t available online. We appreciate how frustrating this is and the library has wherever possible purchased e-books to allow you to access whenever and wherever you need. Unfortunately some titles are just not available for us to buy.

A study by Sconul* in 2018 found that only 10% of academic titles were available digitally for libraries to purchase.

The title I need is available as an e-book on Amazon so why can’t the library get a copy?

Whilst titles might be available as an e-book on the publisher’s website or on Kindle these are only available to individuals. As libraries don’t limit the e-book to a particular student we have to get e-books that are licensed for universities allowing multiple people to use.

Sometimes even if an e-book of a title is available for libraries to purchase it may be prohibitively expensive. For example, one popular study skills book available in paperback or Kindle for £15.99 would cost the library £5,000 for a 1 year subscription. Another title aimed at helping postgraduates with writing their thesis would cost £24.99 for a paperback or £17 on Kindle but costs libraries £455 for an e-book that can be accessed by one student at a time.

There are many examples of e-books that are vastly more expensive than print or Kindle version and libraries have been collecting examples of the huge cost of some titles.

Many people prefer using print books so why are e-books being prioritised?

We recognise that many people will prefer print books and we are continuing to buy print copies however not all students are able to get to campus to borrow the print. The Library therefore recommends that all essential or core titles are available digitally to ensure that students studying at a distance or those with a particular accessibility need can access the reading that they need.

The publisher has told me that the textbook I need is available digitally through Vitalsource, Kortext or BibliU so why is the library telling me it is not available?

Publishers may advise that an e-book is available but this doesn’t always mean that this is an affordable option for libraries. Increasingly titles deemed to be textbooks are only available through an e-textbook model where the library is charged per student on a module or per student that accessed the text. These models provide access for 1 year so represent an ongoing cost with prices often increasing year on year. The average cost of this model is £36 per student per textbook. The cost of providing just 1 textbook to all students would therefore cost £648,000 (per year). If the library cancelled all other resources we could only afford 6 textbooks for each student. Given how important all of our other resources are it just isn’t an option for us to buy all the textbooks that students need digitally.

So if an e-book is not available in the Library already does that mean it is not available?

No – whilst the Library has got a large collection of e-books already we are constantly expanding this and we will do our best to get hold of books digitally. If there is a book we don’t have as an e-book please get in touch or fill out our request a book form and we will try and order for you. Hopefully being aware of the issues that we face you will understand if this is not available and we are happy to discuss possible alternatives.

What is being done to address this issue?

There are a number of campaigns that are seeking to address this issue and you can contribute to raising the issue:

#ebooksos set up by a group of university librarians is calling for an investigation into the academic e-book market. You can sign their open letter and get more information on the issue.

E-book Emergency @ScandalUni was created by a group of students from UEA campaigning on the price of e-books during Covid-19. Students can use their draft letter to send to their MP asking them to look into the issue.

JISC also has an e-textbook publisher strategy group working with publishers to make content affordable and accessible

As an author how can I ensure my books will be available to be purchased digitally by the library?

The ebooksos campaign has provided some guidance for academics to help when negotiating contracts with publishers. Our Research and Scholarly Communication Support team would also be happy to provide advice.

*Secker, J., Gadd, E., Morrison, C. (2019) Understanding the value of the CLA Licence to UK higher education available at https://www.sconul.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/CNAC%20Research%20Project%20Report%20FINAL%20with%20logos.pdf

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