Academics demand investigation into rising e-book prices

An open letter addressed to the Eduction Committee MPs from university researchers calls for an investigation into rising e-book prices.

Elizabeth Meade
23rd November 2020
Librarians, researchers, lecturers and students have requested an investigation of what they describe as "common, sudden and [apparently] arbitrary" price rises for e-books licensed to universities.

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.

well-known academic publishers raised the cost for a single-user ebook by 200% or more with no warning earlier this year

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

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
(she/her) 4th year Chem student. Former Head of Current Affairs and Former Science Sub-Editor. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking. Wrote the first article for Puzzles. Probably the first Courier writer to have work featured in one of Justin Whang's videos.

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