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Ebooks: Scandal or Market Economics webinar – summary and links

By Kirsty, on 17 March 2021

On Monday 15th March, the UCL Office for Open Science & Scholarship hosted a webinar in conjunction with Copyright4Knowledge that aimed to examine the acute difficulties for higher education and public libraries caused by publishers’ pricing and licensing practices and discuss some possible solutions.

For the session we had over 600 attendees from countries across the globe including UK, Switzerland, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Ireland, Germany, Spain, USA, and the Netherlands. This level of interest highlights the way in which the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to a head issues surrounding the online provision of learning resources, not just in the UK, but globally.

In the session we played host to three expert speakers who have written up their experiences for a new article on the LSE Impact blog. Below you can access the individual slide decks for each speaker, and at the bottom of this brief discussion you can access a list of cited resources and a few shared in the chat, plus the full recording of the session.

The discussion in the chat was very active, with attendees sharing their own experiences and comments in support of the points that the speakers were making. The audience shared their own experiences of troubles caused by ebooks, with issues such as only half of the books in a key series being available in an ebook format, multiple examples of academics needing to rewrite module reading lists either to use books that the library already had or give several options for librarians to try locate since many were not easily available. In one instance an academic was told that she couldn’t use her own book in a course because it wasn’t available to buy as an ebook!

There were also a number of examples where the ebook version was not up to the same standards of a paper book, with chapters missing, or being presented as one long file that takes up to 5 minutes to download which would be particularly detrimental to students with poor internet or studying abroad in countries with less effective internet infrastructure. It was also noted several times that DRM on ebooks actually decreases accessibility of some content by preventing screenreaders from working properly.

One of the most commonly asked questions from the audience was what individuals or different groups could do to support the campaign. There are links below to resources, the open letter and a template letter to your MP, all of which were mentioned by Johanna but the biggest message was to talk about the issues and raise awareness of the issues that exist in the ebooks market as many people are still unaware there is a problem. Paul added that the environment now is similar to before the big push on Open Access journals and articles over the last 10/15 years, and hopefully we will see similar progress on this issue.

Another big question was on whether other bodies such as SCONUL, JISC and RLUK should contribute and start to develop their own OA book platforms, and this was something that was unanimously supported by the panel, with one notable addition – that one size may not fit all. Paul Ayris encouraged that a number of consortia working on the problem may be beneficial with the phrase ‘let 1000 flowers bloom’ and learn which models work.

To round off the discussion there were questions about what challenges the anticipated change to UKRI policy to include OA books will bring for academics and institutions, large and small. The concern among the panel was that the UK doesn’t have the infrastructure to deliver OA monographs and that until we have had enough time for the 1000 flowers to bloom, there isn’t really a path to take! Johanna also raised the issue of the mounting cost that has been seen in association with OA articles and noted that we need to be careful the same issue is avoided when it comes to OA books.


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The recording is available below or also on UCL MediaCentral.

5 Responses to “Ebooks: Scandal or Market Economics webinar – summary and links”

  • 1
    Sarah Field wrote on 17 March 2021:

    Thanks for this – a really useful session that I will share with colleagues. There were some great comments and questions in the chat and wondered if these had been recorded anywhere?

  • 2
    Kirsty wrote on 17 March 2021:

    Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for your feedback, I’m glad you enjoyed it! We have captured the chat and it will be shared with the speakers to feed into the campaign. Resources that were shared in the chat have been included in the blog post as much as we can but we won’t be sharing the discussion in any detail because we didn’t ask the participants consent to do so and a number of people included personal data. Watch this space for another post answering a few more questions from the Q&A though.

  • 3
    Rory wrote on 18 March 2021:

    A really great overview of this issue, thanks to all the speakers. I only thought of this question afterwards. Does Ben know if the Dutch library service has done anything since the 2016 court judgement to develop a lending service based on digitising their physical stock and avoiding overcharges for e-books ?

  • 4
    Kirsty wrote on 18 March 2021:

    Hi Rory, Thank you for your question. I will be doing a follow up post with a few of the left over questions from the Q&A so I will ask him and do my best to include it for you – Kirsty

  • 5

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