In conversation

conversationIn April I was asked to appear on an e-textbooks discussion panel at the 2016 Talis Insight Europe 2016.   For those of you with 45 minutes to spare you can watch the full coverage here!

The session comprised of 6 panel members with a Chair to supervise proceedings!  In addition to myself there were colleagues from other institutions heavily involved in this activity; namely the Universities of Plymouth, Middlesex and Liverpool plus two colleagues from the publishing sector; Kogan Page and Pearson

The panel focus centred on institutional models where the library or another group is licensing e-textbooks for direct provision to students.

Rather than squaring us up; universities on the one side, publishers the other; the plan was for a friendly conversation where we explored the two sides of the coin.  Fortunately, that is exactly what we got!  We did not agree on everything but we were very fortunate to hear interesting perspectives and more on the challenges faced by both publishers and libraries on this rapidly evolving activity.  In a nutshell the discussion focused on these issues:

  • what does success look like to your organisation?
  • what are the key elements to making this type of model a success?
  • what are the threats to success?
  • what would you do if you were a publisher/institution to overcome the threats/barriers?
  • what is the common ground – how can we work together to ensure the models support the needs to students and their teachers?

As is evident from the video there was a wide ranging discussion, which also included many insightful comments from the audience.  One debate strand initiated by an audience member was whether these library-led initiatives posed a significant threat to campus bookshops.  My personal view is that many libraries such as ours work on a number of areas with campus bookshops and that this new activity would just work alongside.  A far bigger issue is the ever evolving market for book retailing in general, which poses a number of threats to physical book retail outlets.   A crucial dynamic is that many of the publishers who were traditionally only suppliers to the book shops are now also competitors as they look to sell their books via a range of competing retail and distribution outlets.

There were some major take homes for me.  Firstly it was really good to be on an open forum with colleagues from the publishing sector who were willing to explain their positions and debate the issues in a collegiate and frank manner.   What struck me was that we all need to understand each other’s position and then try and move together to chart a course in this new and often unknown territory.  I remain convinced that much of the future lies with the sector (working with Jisc) to drive a wider sector led agreement that both meets the needs of libraries and customers plus offers large potential volume sales of e-textbooks to publishers.

The four libraries on the panel, while already working together, also agreed to meet up in the summer to further discuss pricing and share best practice.  More details when we have them!

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester

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