Thousands of university staff in the UK are launching a probe into the high cost of academic ebooks. They state that the ebook prices are increasing without any rhyme or reason. “Price rises are common, sudden and appear arbitrary” with some digital books increasing by 200%, they say in a letter to Education Committee MPs.
Universities are having their budgets stretched thin due to the economics. A textbook that costs £44 for a print copy, but the digital edition is £423 and £500 for three users. An employment law book costs £50 for a hard copy, but is £1,600 for three users of the digital version. In another case, a book on working in childcare is listed at £30 for a hard copy, but online costs £1,045 for unlimited access for a year.
Prices have been rising for some time, but the University of Gloucestershire librarian said there were reports of increases during lockdown, when access to libraries and bookshops was restricted and getting course material difficult. “It’s a scandal. It’s public money,” she said. “Students are shocked when I tell them just how much it costs to get them their texts. “People just assume we can get books for the prices they see on Amazon and Kindle. It just doesn’t work like that for universities. “The academic publishing business model is broken, and as you can see from the number of people who have signed the letter we think it is time for an investigation,” she said. Lectures are increasingly having to be designed around what texts are available and affordable, not what is best for learning. Buying multiple copies of print books is not the answer and simply not practical in the digital age when so much is moving online”, she added
Universities are accusing publishers of predatory pricing and increasing the cost of digital textbooks during the lockdown period, a claim many of the publishers deny. In the letter to the MP, there are already over 25,000 signatures in just the past few days, so hopefully this can be addressed and a unified pricing model can be implemented.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.