The group said that "at least two well-known academic publishers raised the cost for a single-user ebook by 200% or more with no warning earlier this year". They asked for "imminent action to ensure that research, information and ideas are accessible to those enrolling in our universities" via an open letter to Education Committee MPs.
The letter cited multiple relevant grievances. It was estimated that only "around 10% of academic titles" could be purchased by universities as ebooks, and ebook costs for universities were higher than individual user prices.
Additionally, publishers have revoked purchased ebook licenses, demanding that universities pay for a new license annually, particularly for e-textbooks that are licensed for restricted cohorts of students through a third party.
Letter-signers claimed that these practices were "gross exploitation," and that the e-textbook model in particular was "exclusionary, restrict[ed] interdisciplinary research, and [was] unsustainable." For the full letter, read: Campaign to Investigate the Academic Ebook Market
In response, publishers disagreed: "Comparing individual print costs to a digital licence which gives access to many readers does not represent the reality of how the different formats are used," said publisher Taylor and Francis, owner of Routledge.
They also cited free ebook access and upgrades from single to unlimited user access that they offered to libraries during the pandemic. Some publishers did not respond or declined to do so.
The Education Select Committee responded that they "[didn't] have any capacity for further inquiries at the moment," but were "very aware of this campaign on the accessibility, cost and licensing of e-books and perhaps if we have Ministers before our Committee, this is something we can ask about." The letter continues to be signed and shared after media attention.
Featured image: Unsplash @SharonMcCutcheon