Publishers and libraries must work together on e-book pricing, IPG hears

Publishers and libraries must work together on e-book pricing, IPG hears

Libraries and publishers must work together to bridge the divide over e-book pricing, the IPG’s summer webinar heard.

In a 23rd June panel event hosted by Independent Publishers Guild academic and policy correspondent Richard Fisher, Chris Bennett of Cambridge University Press, Caren Milloy of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and Julie Carroll-Davis of ProQuest debated the issue, which rose to prominence when the country entered into lockdown and university teaching went online. That brought the pricing models of academic e-books under scrutiny, with the independent "e-book SOS" campaign branding them "ridiculously expensive".

Fisher said the pandemic has accelerated and compounded already challenging issues in the supply of e-books to university and libraries but had “absolutely not created them”. 

“There has been a complete lack of transparency over e-availability for libraries, and pricing models can seem opaque,” he said, claiming the issue of copyright was “poorly understood”. 

Milloy, director of licensing at JISC,  said both colleges and libraries were under increasing pressure to review spending. Though libraries saw up to a 50% increase in spending on e-books in 2020, their overall funding wasn’t topped up and they were forced to reapportion funds and drop their print spend.

“There is such scrutiny on any costs going out — making things very challenging within the institution itself. Budgets are very stretched. If you ask a library at the moment about what their budget is, half of them are unable to say anything because of the shifting landscape in which they are operating,” Milloy said.

Julie Carroll-Davis, senior vice-president at ProQuest said the company had experienced sky-rocketing demand for electronic resources, compounded by the migration of many Dawson users onto ProQuest platforms. Dawson, the former academic and professional library supplier and arm of Bertrams, dissolved when the wholesaler collapsed last year. 

In addition to advocating partnerships between publishers of all sizes, higher education institutions and libraries, Carroll-Davis said greater international collaboration was needed to heal divisive negotiations. 

"The voice of the UK is indistinct compared to the voice of the US when it comes to setting pricing strategies — we need to come together collectively in order to have more of an effective position in the negotiations," she said. She also called for more centralised data sharing. "The provision of analytics in one place so libraries can make much more timeless, data-driven decisions is vital".

Global academic sales director at CUP, Chris Bennett, described the launch of the organisation’s Higher Education platform, a model which “breaks away from the traditional print-based format” and prioritises wide-ranging access and affordability.

“What we really wanted to create was access to an ongoing vein of information,” Bennet said. “It’s less than £1 per student for the teaching-orientated institutes which otherwise would find it very difficult to afford this”

Since launching in August 2020, the HE platform has seen its revenues grow by almost 300% while the print side has experienced an eight to 10% decline, he said.