Textbook inflation has risen dramatically in recent years due to the fall in print sales, this has led to an arms race in publishing content. Now modern technology is implementing that content and investing in the digital experience, particularly institutions, whose aim is to allow students greater access to learning via e-books.
Universities have long since been running their own print presses but are now moving in greater digital directions. With the rise in university fees more students cannot afford books, which already come in short supply at libraries. Access to e-books has become a core part of student learning. Institutions want to enhance the student experience so that students can access not just all of the books they need to but all of the books they want. But how do you create a sustainable e-books marketplace? A recent e-books conference at UCL listed the following points for any e-book provider’s consideration:
- Have a clear mechanism for driving adoptions
- Bench marking
- Extent to which access has been improved
- Content creation, production process
- Licensing, distribution, cost models effective?
- Author experience
- Reader experience
Through various examples of data analytics, such as student surveys, they showed that e-books with greater accessibility had a steady increase of usage over time than those with more limited access, such as e-pdfs. Access to these e-formats varied across the board with the highest percentages of students using e-formats with features such as ‘highlighting’ and ‘text to speech’. This data aligned with student grades, which increased according to those students with higher e-text and journal usage.
Consider the following questions:
How will knowledge be generated and published?
How will it be accessed?
How is knowledge engaged with and added to?
Yes, loaded questions.
I’ll go over their answers briefly for now and in more detail as I cover individual e-book topics, like accessibility and consumer experience.
The aim is to pull you to the community interested in that subject in order to generate more discussion, one university has created a program that allows users to upload their own files in order create their own learning space. There they can collate and work on one chapter/book that can be linked around the world. This program also allows for big data sharing, mirroring Apple’s cloud ability to accommodate storage online. A hugely popular app right now is ‘Refme’ which does reference formatting. It auto-populates the references needed, no matter how large or how many it can do them all at once, right down to the last point. I’m sure most people will remember how much of a bummer it was to finish your essay and then spend arduous amounts of time referencing only to be marked down for being one comma short of perfection. As the need for such product capability increases so does the number of platforms and technologies available to institutions, here are a few of the cooler kids:
“Ebooks have the potential to engage with three key strategic priorities common to most universities: to enhance the student experience and academic outcomes within an increasingly competitive environment; to drive innovation in learning, teaching and research; and to help to use space and human resources more effectively and efficiently.” Jisc , 2015
UHI & Edinburgh Napier: Frank Rennie’s How to write research dissertations
I’ll use this book as an example of what some institutions are doing now. This book was produced at very low cost, using tools that were of little expense and with free programs, by a small production team at the university.
– Academics discussed the content and proof-read
– No formal contract as it is a curation of many academics and colleagues so no legal rights to anyone
-Books are ecologically wasteful and inconvenient to students; this model aims to remove the printed word
-Electronic file conversion for Kindle available
-Permissions have been granted and licences for use acquired where needed
-Online sales channels offer access to consumers with minimum effort
-Mainstream consumer acceptance of e-books has created sustainable marketplace
Institutions believe this model of publication, once streamlined, will leave the traditional publisher in the dust and create a smarter more efficient way for institutions to generate material, at little cost. But we all know that a good idea never stays free for long. The idea of academics creating textbooks tailored for their course and for wider access freely or at affordable cost is a good one, but whether it is sustainable on a large scale is debatable.
This book is available on BM Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), and has DRM (digital rights management). Both incur a cost, particularly the latter. If an institution wants these books to have a companion site then they must also add that cost in too, most though already have some kind of platform in place. One question that sprung to mind when looking at this model is ‘who owns the content?’ When I put that question to the representatives of UHI & Edinburgh Napier, they drew a blank. As it’s still relatively new ground for institutions there is no standard yet on how these books are rolled out, and so each case performs differently. In most cases they do not follow the traditional books model, which means no royalties for authors, an intimidating concept.