Tensions between academic booksellers and publishers are likely to heighten following the introduction of student tuition fees this year after The Bookseller learned that some academic publishers are cutting deals with institutions instead of going through bookshops.
Campus bookshops have long prided themselves on their strong relationships with institutions and lecturers, and are already feeling threatened by the growth in the number of students accessing digital course material direct from publishers, but universities now want to offer textbooks as part of the overall course package, with some talking to publishers direct.
Pearson admitted it expected to have new deals signed with up to 25 institutions by the time the tuition fee hikes come into play in September this year, to supply free textbooks, e-books and e-learning resources to students. Universities such as Warwick, Leeds and Manchester were among those mentioned as active in talks with the publisher.
Cengage confirmed that it had cut a deal to provide all first-year undergraduates studying psychology at Plymouth with free digital copies of 12 core texts for the whole of their university careers, and that it was working with institutions on an individual basis to see what bespoke packages it could provide.
Pearson’s UK president of higher and professional education, Subroto Mozumdar, said universities were looking at the deals now because they faced more pressure to appear as if they are providing value for money for students, who are facing a rise in fee charges to up to £9,000 a year.
The University of Plymouth’s deputy vice-chancellor, Bill Rammell, said the institution was “actively exploring how we might extend this initiative to as many of our students as possible”. Rossella Proscia, marketing director for Cengage, said: “There are quite a number of institutions that are not covered by a bookshop. In some cases we cover a gap that is missing for students and not covered by booksellers.”
Booksellers expect the issue the be addressed at The Academic, Professional & Specialist Bookselling Group Conference next week. The Booksellers Association declined to comment directly, and questions were referred to Plymouth University bookseller Dan Johns, who has run the campus bookshop for six years.
Johns said: “It is a question of ‘do publishers want campus bookshops and do they want campus bookshops to exist in five years’ time?’ I think it stinks and it is very short-sighted. We will fight it, we are not going to let the relationships we have built up over the years be ruined.”
But chain booksellers struck a more cautious note, indicating that there was room for both routes to develop. Peter Gray, chairman of bookseller John Smith, said: “Publishers will need to continue to explore all options of how to get their content to students in both the print and the digital world. We see this as a positive where they are working in places where there is no channel partner at an institution to offer the service. Nonetheless, where there is an existing route to market we would expect (and indeed do see) publishers wanting to work with us to ensure that everyone benefits.”
David Prescott, m.d. of Blackwell, said customers were telling them working with universities to source print and digital formats was a valuable service and something individual publishers could not provide.
Graham Taylor, director of educational, academic and professional publishing at the PA, said: “Universities are competing for students like never before . . . Doubtless there will be sensitivities around the channels and I don’t know how this is all going to challenge the role of the booksellers.”