Following yesterday's post about "Can Books Survive the Digital World", I was chatting to a College Librarian about eBooks for one of my modules. I was surprised to find that access to one of the books was very restricted - it is available to only one student at a time for only two hours. Not much use when I have two classes with over 60 students needing this book.
|Image source: Bookmasters.
I dug a little deeper into why this is and came across a report by Christopher Williams in The Telegraph from last December: "Pearson woes deepen over UK ebook price row". Publishers like Pearson have been experiencing loads of financial problems due to decline in sales of paper versions of their books. So naturally they have turned to eBooks for response - but according to Williams this is not happening fast enough. Pearson have increased prices for eBooks, in some cases 100 fold. Hence the difficulties for library budgets all over the third-level sector, which means that for some books with lower usage - it does not make sense to pay an expensive fee. According to Williams, some UK Universities are even boycotting Pearson in this row.
In the end it is students who lose out. Unfortunately, books cost money, and Pearson is not a charity. Fortunately, in my case, there are plenty of paper copies of older editions in the College Library for my students - so I'm good to go for another year. But the 2012 text I use is probably already near or out-of-date, what will happen if I want to update for a 2017 version?
The printed textbook is not quite dead yet - its epitaph is not ready to be written. But we are not yet in a modern environment where students can access their reading lists online or though a reader on their laptop and tablet computers.
In the near future, authors of textbooks might need to reconsider by what means they sell and distribute their books. According to The Spectrum, "Publishing textbooks can mean big money for professors" - so while that lasts, paper versions of books though publishers will continue. However, I do see that some day soon, authors will self-publish their books online direct to students for a reduced fee. There's a business opportunity for someone to set this up!