Onwards and upwards! – An expanded range of e-book pilots for 2015/16


Owing to the success of the e-book pilots we decided to expand the project for this academic year.   We wanted to both inform the project, and also learn from interactions with different publishers, new schools and students in the University.   Above all, and something we never lose sight of, is that we wanted to continue to enhance the learning of the actual students we would be working with, by providing them with unlimited access to their own e-textbook.  The total number of students to benefit directly from this initiative for this academic year has risen to more than 9000, spanning across 46 individual courses and modules.

The number of publishers we are working with directly has expanded to ten.   Critical for us is the new and wider involvement of schools and disciplines across the university including Computer Science, History, Drama, Electrical Engineering, and Fashion and Textiles.  Of course the traditional and voracious consumers of text books such as Law, Business, Medical, and Health Sciences are all still present and correct

One of the most time consuming and resource intensive elements of the pilots was the individual negotiations with publishers over price.  Despite our misgivings and scepticism  the 1-1 model was something all publishers still insisted upon (for now…)

Nevertheless working within these parameters and learning from our experiences last year we laid down these conditions for finalising any deals (and where these were not met we walked away)

  • Either 75% discount on the digital list price (or nearest equivalent) per book on a flat fee up-front payment model


  • Minimum of 35% discount on the digital list price (or nearest equivalent) per book on a usage based model, where we only pay for 50% of books in advance with the remainder figure determined by subsequent usage

Of course this matrix looks straightforward on paper but what we discovered whilst dealing with so many publishers is that there is certainly no industry standard for this type of negotiation.   Some patterns did emerge, such as the aforementioned and widespread desire to link cohort sizes to overall price.  In terms of issues such as application of VAT, the setting of digital list prices, and indeed the setting of the unit price for the text, there were vast differences.  This only confirmed our view publishers are still looking to identify (and price) their offerings in a coordinated way but from our perspective this is still a long way from being transparent and sustainable.

This is something we hope to look at in more detail over the coming months, having developed a series of questions for publishers that we hope will aid our understanding of the market and the apparent constraints they are working within!

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: DWRL U. Texas via flickr (license)

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