Dear Sir or Madam…
Since its inception in 2014, the Books Right Here Right Now project has maintained a keen interest in new and innovative ways universities, publishers other providers deliver content to students. Enabling students to access the textbooks that they want, when they want them, and for the period they want them is a key aim of the project. The project has looked to make key textbooks available for the duration of a student’s course (or longer). But there are some resources which are only needed for a shorter period of time; perhaps during exams or working on assignments.
Paperback aims to meet this need. Having secured funding through Shark Tank (think Dragon’s Den with an American accent) in 2014, the company offer a number of services including 24 hour rental access to textbooks, at a fraction of the cost of the purchase price. Recently the company have looked to get academic teaching staff onside by launching Paperback Questions; connecting student users of the platform to their academics. For a semesterly subscription fee students can ask their lecturers about their reading through the platform.
With my student days (sadly) behind me, I asked a colleague with a much more recent perspective for her thoughts:
‘While appreciating that the university library cannot provide access to absolutely everything for absolutely everyone, it’s unfair to expect students to pay subscription for such a service considering they’re already paying fees to their university for support and resources. It’s also very dependent on academic staff, so students could get a different level of support depending on how available their particular tutor is. To me it devalues the academic relationship somewhat if students are literally paying for an academic’s time/answers rather than viewing it as a discussion with another scholar interested in a similar field. Such short-term rental periods are not particularly feasible. In some cases it may not be possible to physically read the item in such a short window. Personally, as I study part-time I download all my reading a week in advance so I can spread the work out over the week and know I am not going to be held back by connectivity issues if I try and read something the day before. Therefore I never usually read something within 24 hours of finding it.’
We have seen previously that student attitudes and expectations towards paying for textbooks differ greatly between the UK and the US, and perhaps this is another example. For US students who expect to pay for their course textbooks, on-demand rental access to those resources they only need occasionally may offer savings and convenience. I would however agree with Fiona that 24 hours seems a very limited period (though given my undergraduate procrastination, such time pressures might have been helpful!)
What do you think? Please let us know in comments section.
Michael Stevenson with Fiona Dora, University of Manchester