Tag Archives: technology

Literature review findings: Innovation

The latest in our series of literature review reports has identified a number of innovative ways of purchasing and delivery.

One particular institution is part of a state wide consortium that frequently negotiates prices for the whole state system, while another has developed a purchase predictor system prototype. Other institutions have found Demand or Patron Driven Acquisition a cost-effective way to purchase books at the user’s point of need and libraries must recognize that many library users are better suited to identify the resources that will best meet their needs, often before librarians even know they want it.

Much remains to be seen on how Demand or Patron Driven Acquisition will affect the bottom line for publishers and what impact this might have on the pricing (and bundling) of electronic books.  At the time of writing there are a number of e-book pilots (providing students with core e-books) taking place at other institutions and it would be worth keeping track of any publicised outcomes from these.

NAG 5th Collection Development Seminar for Academic Libraries: Collaboration and Innovation

As a regular attendee at this National Acquisitions Group (NAG) conference, I was delighted to see that e-textbooks featured on this year’s programme. A library perspective was supplied by the University of East London (UEL) and a supplier perspective by Vitalsource.

Libby Homer from UEL outlined the evolution of their textbook offer to students. Having initially implemented a print-based solution to provide free copies of the key textbook for each module to their students, by 2014 they were providing all their new undergraduates with a tablet on which these key texts were freely accessible via the Kortext app or online (second and third years still received hard copies).  Library staff offered support to students, both in using the devices and accessing content.


UEL are now investigating the pedagogical aspects of e-textbook provision and gathering more student feedback. Initial feedback on reading preferences appears to echo that featured in a previous post, with students generally preferring print: interestingly the percentage of students preferring print to electronic was significantly lower among the first year cohort (who were provided with free e-books) than it was for second and third years.

Jeni Evans of Vitalsource outlined the supplier perspective, providing impressive statistics on the number of e-textbooks delivered in the UK in 2014. This was followed by a discussion of business models, analytics and e-book formats.

At the University of Manchester, we have negotiated with publishers directly and used Vitalsource as the delivery platform but alternative models are available. For example, Vitalsource can  buy content from the publishers and sell it back to the library.

Jeni presented Vitalsource analytics that supported our own experience in the pilots we have been running: users overwhelmingly accessed content online rather than downloading it to a device, access via Android devices is relatively small and less than 1% of the pages accessed are then printed out.

The remainder of Jeni’s presentation outlined how the electronic versus print debate is set to be radically altered by developments in e-book technology. Making more content available via EPUB 3.0, for example, would improve the experience for readers using mobile devices and the enhanced interactivity could alter students’ views on the limitations of e-books for study.

Other highly informative presentations included the use of reading list systems at King’s College London and Edinburgh and the approach to collection development at Leeds University Library following their restructure. Conferences such as this are a great opportunity to discuss progress with colleagues at other institutions facing the same challenges and engaging in similar initiatives.

Des Coyle, University of Manchester Library 

What about Amazon?

We are always looking for solutions to the challenge of supplying core texts to our students, particularly if we can make the texts easily accessible in ways our students want. If we can find a neat technical solution and a viable financial model in the process then even better!

To this end we were interested to see what – if anything – Amazon is doing in this area and how it might help us increase student reading of core texts and improve the student experience. Given Amazon’s propensity to reach out to potential new business areas and its ability to spot and develop client-focused solutions we hoped to find a lot of information.

While we did find that they have developed a product for the US market called Whispercast, there are as yet apparently no plans to launch this in the UK. One example of an institutional deal is in Brazil, where the Brazilian Ministry of Education – via its National Fund for Educational Development (FNDE) – selected Amazon to convert and distribute textbooks using Whispercast for up to 600,000 tablets used by teachers across the country.


The immediate benefits to us of this kind of service are obvious. The market reach and brand recognition of Amazon mean its services are instantly familiar to students. Amazon’s simple, intuitive ordering, payment and supply models are attractive both to us (in terms of managing the project) and to students and academic colleagues (who would be the primary users). Notwithstanding any ethical issues these groups may have about Amazon, it is a fact that most will be at least familiar with the Amazon interface and many will have been customers in some capacity.

Amazon’s charging mechanism is based on a simple 1:1 transaction model, something we are committed to developing. In many ways, it appears that Amazon’s approach is not really a nuanced institutional pricing model but more of an attempt to encourage institutions to purchase books directly for students using Amazon’s technology and systems.

Further investigation on our part will continue over the next year but we are definitely interested in trying to move this forward for three main reasons:

  • Amazon’s experience of working with publishers and their ability to leverage pricing and availability is something we would be keen to tap into, perhaps with them acting in an intermediary capacity
  • Their experience of supplying both content and devices brings an understanding of the whole supply chain
  • We know that academics and students are increasingly using Kindles – for example, English Literature students are consulting poetry texts in seminars on them – and in addition to provision of core texts we also want to enhance the provision and accessibility of other library material and this could be a way to help achieve it

It’s very early days, but this is something of real interest to us in terms of our options for future core text provision.

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: Kindle 3 P1 via photopin (license)

The impact of technology: trends in e-book reading

A survey commissioned by Publishing Technology in August 2014 found that out of 3,000 consumers across the US and UK, 43 per cent have read an e-book – or part of an e-book – on their mobile device and that 66 per cent of mobile phone book readers currently read more on their phones than they did in 2013.


Perhaps publishers need to shift their focus away from investment on print, tablets and dedicated e-readers as the main reading channels for their content and consider mobile devices as a significant route of content delivery? To put this into context, the market for smartphones has grown considerably from 53 million in 2006 to a projected 2.4 billion in 2015. At the same time, recent estimates suggest that over the same period Amazon has sold just over 20 million Kindle devices.

However, despite the mobile phone’s overall growth in appeal and popularity over the Kindle as a reading device, the survey discovered that readers (particularly in the UK) tend to read on their handsets fairly infrequently and in much shorter bursts compared to the amount of time they would spend reading printed books or e-books on tablets.

Is smartphone access to core text e-books important to students? Do publishers provide adequate provision for smartphone access to their content? “Reading behaviour” and “Discovery” are two of the key themes of the literature review we are undertaking for the Books Right Here Right Now project and these are just a couple of the questions that the review will consider.

photo credit: theunquietlibrary via photopin cc