E-book campaigners dismayed as Pearson raises prices by 500%

E-book campaigners dismayed as Pearson raises prices by 500%

Pearson’s average library e-book price is going up by 500% in a move criticised as “completely unacceptable” by campaigners. 

Late last month, ProQuest informed libraries that the publisher intended to change pricing on 5,028 titles from 4th December. It is understood price changes are flowing through both Pearson and external partners’ systems and will go live over the next week.

The average price of a Pearson Education UK title is changing from £31.73 to £190.38. A three-user license is also being added for all Pearson Education UK titles.  

Yohanna Anderson, subject librarian from the University of Gloucestershire and founder of the #ebookSOS campaign, told The Bookseller that the move was “more bad news” for libraries and criticised the decision as “gross profiteering”. 

However, Pearson claimed the new pricing will provide a “sustainable path” for the publisher to continue creating “quality content for UK students” which will also “fairly compensate” authors. It said its e-book pricing remained lower than average. The e-book SOS campaign has compiled a list of 329 titles across publishers, with an average licence price of £604.25 compared to £57.47 for a print copy.

Anderson said: “A lot of us have had our budgets planned out. We’re half way through the academic year now and so to pull this on us, it just seems to be the Wild West in academic e-book publishing. We just don’t know what’s coming, so how are you supposed to plan your budget? It's just completely irresponsible of the publishers to behave like this and there’s just no explanation."

She claimed Pearson had previously been one of the few publishers that had comparable prices between their e-books and hard copies. Although she understood the new prices were for three-user licences, she said the 500% price increase was still not explained.

“It’s completely unacceptable, it’s really, really bad,” she said. “We keep having these conversations and we don't get any more information as to where these prices come from. They just seem so arbitrary. Like they pull them out of a hat. They can’t identify where these extra costs are justified. There's going to be no enhancement to these books."

However she did acknowledge that “a week is more notice than we normally get”. The #ebookSOS campaign first started in 2019 when Anderson costed up a reading list for a new course to ask the university for funding, only to find the e-books had become more expensive when she went to buy them.  

She said: “It’s really sad the impact this is having on our students and academics. Times are really hard for us as we are trying to support students remotely and get them the access to the information that they need. It is really unethical behaviour.” 

A spokesperson for Pearson told The Bookseller: “Library e-book lending practices have evolved in recent years with digital e-books largely replacing print editions. The new pricing, which remains lower than average, will provide a sustainable path for Pearson to continue creating quality content for UK  students, including creating new affordable options for students to access Pearson content through a variety of channels. The new pricing also allows us to fairly compensate our talented authors, illustrators and others for the intellectual property we create together.” 

In a separate trade statement on Brown's Books, Pearson further explained that over the past three years there have been "significant changes" in the library e-book market, many of which have been accelerated by Covid-19. The publisher said: "Historically library provision of learning materials has focused on research and monograph publications, with many students purchasing their own core textbooks and libraries holding multiple copies of only the most heavily used texts. However, feedback from the market over the last two years indicates that many university libraries are now purchasing limited quantities of e-book user licences to fulfil entire course adoption requirements."

It stressed the revised library pricing and access models "align with the new realities of the e-book market" adding that its core textbook publishing requires "significant investment" and are "often developed with teams of authors and illustrators, and regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that they contain the latest information and relevant case studies which students can relate to".

Campaigners have previously contacted the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) about their concerns over the e-book market. It is understood the CMA is monitoring the situation and is considering if there is a case for potential action.