The academic epidemic

With the Booksellers Association’s Academic, Professional & Specialist conference on the horizon (11th–13th March), I wanted to take this opportunity to take stock of the past year in academic bookselling. As a bookseller, I speak to students and lecturers regularly, and keep abreast of changes and student trends.

Evidence suggests that students have been very slow to embrace e-books. When given the option, they still prefer physical textbooks because they stare at screens [for their study] most of the day. I am looking forward to hearing from students at the conference, as well as seeing the key statistics for the academic year from the Publishers Association, to confirm my suspicions that e-books are not best for retention of information and long-term studying.

Also occupying the minds of academic booksellers is the increasing incidence of publishers direct selling at the expense of bookshops. While there has always been direct selling by publishers to institutions, in 2014 this has definitely become a more obvious ploy, accompanied by aggressive and persistent marketing which sometimes seems to be purposefully trying to put academic bookshops out of business. 
Many publishers say they understand the benefit of academic bookshops and have policies not to compete. However, many do not. Particular examples are Cengage and other US-based conglomerate publishers who really do not seem to understand the value to the publishing industry of on-the-ground bookshops or the value chain they are undermining.

Of course, several big publishers have claimed they have never targeted institutions that are served by academic bookshops. I have had great success with a number of publishers this year where all parties are happy with the content and the medium it was supplied in. An equal number of publishers may see direct selling as a way to protect their business, but the reality is that they risk driving academic bookshops out of business. And this will reduce the size of the market overall.  

We have all been blessed in the past few years with institutions buying textbooks for students but do we all really think that students will get their materials paid for long term? I don’t. Do publishers want one supplier for all books when universities say they can’t afford to pay for content?

So I welcome the discussion with academic publishers next week at APS. I have a feeling that the debate and talk will be as candid as ever.


Dan Johns is the manager of the University Bookseller, Plymouth