Without wanting to sound nihilistic, we feel that a publisher pricing model in which we pay for e-book access for every single student on a module has no long-term future.
Pricing is based on the idea that there will be 100% take-up of a recommended text on a reading list. Even when discounts are offered, the quote for a module with 500 registered students, with a typical discounted unit price of £25.99 (instead of £39.99), would still amount to £12,995 for a single year’s access to the text.
This raises some concerns for libraries.
The assumption that all students on a module access the core texts is not a true reflection of reality. We are paying an over-inflated price for our e-book subscriptions and while we do our best (as all librarians do) to ensure that every student has access to the resources they may need, the take-up of any given text ranges from 40% up to 75%, with variations across disciplines.
It is rare to see 100% attendance at lectures and we know from our print book loan records that far less students access the recommended texts than there are on a module, so to apply a one-to-one pricing model for e-books is unrealistic.
The longer term aim of publishers seems to be to make this pricing model the standard for all e-book provision, which will lead to library budgets being massively stretched while paying for resources that will never be used. We have already observed this on modules where all students are given a personal, printed copy of a core text, only to see copies being sold on within 24 hours.
We need to find a way of reaching a more realistic, sustainable pricing model for both libraries and publishers. There is a lot of work to be done but we are taking some first steps by starting this discussion with publishers and hope to see much greater progress in the future.