Questions and (some) answers

question mark

We recently completed a series of meetings with some of the publishers we have been working with on the Books Right Here Now Project (in supplying an individual copy of a textbook to large number of our students)

From our perspective the objectives of these meetings were:

  • to understand the environment publishers are working within
  • to inform future negotiations around e-textbook acquisition and supply
  • to develop a sustainable and mutually beneficial model for future supply

To meet our objectives we asked each of the publishers to answer a number of questions (sample examples provided below) in advance based around the following themes:

Book Production

What elements make up the cost of production in a standard text book and how does a digital book differ?

Unit Pricing

What percentage number of units would you expect to sell to a particular cohort via your retail/distribution channels?


How are authors reacting to changing model of production and in particular impact upon on author royalties?


What is your preferred model of delivery for your digital text books e.g. via an intermediary, via your own platforms?


What is your optimum pricing model? e.g. flat fee, subscription, usage based etc.?


What are your views on future issues of production and delivery of e-text books?

We were under no illusions that publishers have found some of the questions difficult to answer and indeed a number used the veil of “commercial in confidence” to hide behind on certain questions.   Understandable perhaps, but a little frustrating and only made us think further that their current margins on textbooks are still healthy and even excessive, albeit if under pressure from the increasingly volatile nature of the textbook market.

Nevertheless it was a series of very productive meetings, especially with those publishers that shared the most information!   We will divulge some of the findings in due course (without, of course, giving out any sensitive information!)  For now, here are some of the general themes that emerged:

  • The vice like grip that both print sales and the print pricing model still has on the e-textbook model. Despite falling or plateauing print sales, like a baby with a dummy, this is something many are unwilling or unable to give up…
  • All are aware of seismic changes affecting the market both now and especially in the future, but none are fully sure whether to stick or twist…
  • The belief (or fervent wish perhaps) that their own adaptive learning systems and solutions are the key to their future prosperity! From our perspective and that of our academics and students the jury is most certainly out on this issue…

Interesting times indeed – comments very welcome!

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: Karen Eliot via flickr (license)

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