Ebooks in Education

Global publishing giant wins $15 million damages against researcher for sharing publicly-funded knowledge

9 July 2017

From Privacy News Online:

It’s not every day that one of the world’s largest publishing companies is awarded $15 million in damages for copyright infringement against a site set up by a Kazakh neuroscientist. That makes the almost total lack of wider coverage of Elsevier’s win in New York against Sci-Hub surprising. But it is only the latest development in a saga that is of great interest for the deep flaws it exposes in both scientific publishing and copyright itself.

The court awarded $15 million damages to the scientific publisher on the basis of 100 articles published by Elsevier that had been made available without permission on Sci-Hub and a similar site called LibGen. At the time of writing, Sci-Hub claims to hold 62 million scientific research papers – probably a majority of all those ever published – most of which are unauthorized copies. According to a report in the scientific journal Science last year, it is Elsevier which is most affected by Sci-Hub’s activities:

“Over the 6 months leading up to March [2016], Sci-Hub served up 28 million documents. More than 2.6 million download requests came from Iran, 3.4 million from India, and 4.4 million from China. The papers cover every scientific topic, from obscure physics experiments published decades ago to the latest breakthroughs in biotechnology. The publisher with the most requested Sci-Hub articles? It is Elsevier by a long shot – Sci-Hub provided half-a-million downloads of Elsevier papers in one recent week.”

Those figures help to explain why Elsevier has been pursuing Sci-Hub doggedly for some years. Back in December 2015, the same New York judge who has just awarded the $15 million to Elsevier issued a preliminary injunction against the site’s operator. Access to the original domain – sci-hub.org – was suspended, but it carried on using a different domain. Its servers, meanwhile, remain beyond the reach of US law, since they are located in Russia. In the age of VPNs, attempts to block the site are similarly pointless.

. . . .

Most of the papers published by Elsevier and the other academic publishing houses and found on Sci-Hub were written by scientists and academics whose research grants were paid for by the public. Once written those papers were submitted to a relevant journal, where an editor or editorial board chose which ones should be considered for publication. To that end, the papers were passed to referees who scrutinized them as part of the peer review system, whereby fellow academics read the text, and judge whether it deserves to be published as is, or needs revisions and corrections. Typically, neither editorial boards nor peer reviewers are paid for their work, which is carried out as a kind of academic responsibility accepted by all as part of the job, and done for the greater good of society.

That is, most of the work writing, checking and editing a paper is carried out completely for free. The only costs that academic publishers incur are typically for production, which are limited if publication is purely digital, as is increasingly the case. Given the extremely efficient nature of the academic publishing system, it will come as no surprise to learn that leading companies in the sector – including Elsevier – have consistently achieved profit margins between 30% and 40%, levels almost unheard of in other industries.

Such elevated profit margins have come as the prices paid by academic libraries to subscribe to titles have increased rapidly. While the cost of living increased by 73% between 1986 and 2004, the expenditure by research libraries on subscriptions to academic journals went up by 273% in the same period. The trend has continued since then.

Link to the rest at Privacy News Online and thanks to Paul at  The Digital Reader for the tip.

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What is the biggest challenge in university-press publishing?

6 June 2017

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

People are convinced there’s a crisis in university-press publishing — that we’re dying off in significant numbers, that we’re unsustainable, that dramatic changes are inevitable. None of this is true. Print, books, and bookstores are all healthy. Library sales are on the decline, it’s true, but they have been for generations. If anything, it feels like book publishing, including university presses, has achieved a new normal.

But I worry that the perception of crisis (stemming in part from a tendency to conflate for-profit journal publishers and not-for-profit university presses, which focus primarily on books) threatens to cause a crisis by undermining support for traditional university presses. If we seem doomed despite the evidence, after all, why continue to support us?

The book is necessary and important — and, while it’s hardly a static artifact, it’s proved remarkably durable. Books are also expensive, especially in terms of the skilled labor necessary to acquire and market them. But they’re worth it. In the current environment, with its emphasis on disruption and the widely promoted belief that university presses are a “problem” in search of a “solution,” our biggest challenge is making sure people don’t lose sight of that.

. . . .

There are roughly 4,200 institutions of higher education in the United States. These institutions rely on the work of some 140 scholarly presses to assure a critical function: the independent review, assessment, and distribution of the best ideas of faculty members, which in turn makes a clear basis for the evaluation of a scholar’s contribution to a field. But instead of finding ways to share the costs of this necessary system equally across all institutions, the sponsoring institutions have themselves increasingly abandoned their presses to the whims of the marketplace, effectively rendering these presses less and less distinct from trade publishers.

. . . .

We’ve seen e-book sales plateau and drop, so we aren’t experiencing the print reduction offset by the digital. Amazon, our biggest reseller, instituted a new policy that requires a minimum threshold of demand in order to carry stock. That’s a scary scenario. Our authors are constantly looking at Amazon and get nervous when they don’t see their title listed as “in stock.” —Fredric Nachbaur

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Researchers find free textbooks are just as effective as costly ones

26 May 2017

From the Provo Daily Herald:

In a result that will make college students rejoice, a group of researchers at Brigham Young University have found that a free textbook is just as effective as an expensive one.

BYU’s Open Education Group studies open educational resources, free and open-access educational resources they’ve found that can teach students just as well as paid resources.

The group’s research not only showed that students using the free materials do just as well, and in some cases better, than if they were using a pricey textbook, but that the students were also more likely to stick in a course and not drop out.

. . . .

Lane Fischer, a BYU counseling psychology and special education chair and member of the Open Education Group, said many students will wait to buy their textbooks until weeks after classes begin when their financial aid comes or until they decide they need the textbook for the course. By the time the students get their books, they’re behind and might drop the course.

“That cycle continues for these folks who have lower educational resources,” Fischer said. “This is our most vulnerable group who most need an education and we are making them slow down and hurting them in the process.”

At community colleges, the price of textbooks can be half of the price a student pays for their education.

Fischer said the cost of textbooks over time, compared to inflation, has grown astronomically and that the textbook market in general doesn’t follow traditional supply and demand.

“It is a broken economic system because the normal laws of supply and demand don’t apply,” said John Hilton III, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU and member of the Open Education Group. “The professor doesn’t have to pay for it, and the students don’t have a say in which one they chose.”

Fisher said about half of professors know how much their required textbooks cost.

. . . .

“If students perform just as well without the textbooks, it is like giving every student a $1,000 scholarship if students are using open education resources,” Hilton said.

With new editions constantly coming out in subjects that don’t change, like algebra, once a student buys a textbook, a new edition can make it nearly impossible to sell the used one.

Link to the rest at Daily Herald

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Labyrinth Books is a local store with a worldly mission

10 April 2017

From CentralJersey.com:

The French booksellers (known as “bouquinistes”) and their stalls along the Seine are fixtures in Paris, dating from the 16th century. Tour guides call them “literary entrepreneurs.”

The one and only bookseller on Nassau Street, Labyrinth Books, has become a Princeton fixture, dating from the 21st century with its “stalls” in the form of tables pushed out onto the sidewalk. It too is a literary entrepreneur, as indicated by the fact that in spite of enormous changes and challenges in the bookselling industry, the store is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

. . . .

“Four or five years ago, many thought that e-books would spell the end of print as we know it,” said von Moltke, who lives with Cliff and their two daughters in Princeton. “Maybe because we operate in a bit of a niche market that values print as its own . . . we were perhaps less nervous than others about this trend.

“And in fact, publishers have seen their e-book sales not only level off, but decline of late, so it seems that both e-books and print books are here to stay. Interestingly, there is now a substantial body of neuroscientific study that confirms what many readers experience: retention when reading from a page is markedly better than when reading from a screen. Add to that the persistent interruption and auto-interruption when reading on a connected device, and it becomes easy to see how reading a book is a far more immersive experience than reading a data file can be. Students everywhere, too, are showing a clear preference for a printed book over an e-book when price is not the overriding factor.”

. . . .

Labyrinth came to Princeton at the invitation of Princeton University and has had a very close partnership with the university as its official book provider. “Princeton University truly went against the trend of the day in bringing an independent, scholarly and community bookstore to town for all their book needs and has remained an incredible partner and supporter over the years,” von Moltke said.

. . . .

Even though Dorothea acknowledges that the printed book is preferred over e-books “when price is not a factor,” price is a “huge factor when buying textbooks,” and the partnership with the university has been invaluable in helping to keep the price under control.

“For better or worse, students have become very savvy at finding ‘free’ books online, at circulating pdfs of textbooks, at substituting video tutorials for textbooks, and at using social media for buying and selling from each other. So you can see why our course book operation has needed to adapt,” she said. “Fortunately, in all of this Princeton University has remained always willing to sit down with us to come up with joint solutions that benefit the students and the university while helping to support the store. As a result since 2012 we’ve been able to offer an across-the-board 30 percent discount to all students, which keeps us in the mix as a competitive option for students when they are deciding what and where to buy. As for our non-course book sales, we are happy to have been able to either hold steady or grow a little each year, and are grateful to our varied customer base, without whom we would not be here.”

. . . .

Finally, the close relationship with the community is in the store’s equivalent of bookbinding glue. This spring, the store will be averaging three to four events per week. “The events are central in allowing the store to engage with the community we serve and, we hope, in creating dialog around books that also connects people with one another,” von Moltke said.

Link to the rest at CentralJersey.com

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How a Browser Extension Could Shake Up Academic Publishing

8 April 2017

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Open-access advocates have had several successes in the past few weeks. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation started its own open-access publishing platform, which the European Commission may replicate. And librarians attending the Association of College and Research Libraries conference in March were glad to hear that the Open Access Button, a tool that helps researchers gain free access to copies of articles, will be integrated into existing interlibrary-loan arrangements.

Another initiative, called Unpaywall, is a simple browser extension, but its creators, Jason Priem and Heather Piwowar, say it could help alter the status quo of scholarly publishing.

“We’re setting up a lemonade stand right next to the publishers’ lemonade stand,” says Mr. Priem. “They’re charging $30 for a glass of lemonade, and we’re showing up right next to them and saying, ‘Lemonade for free’. It’s such a disruptive, exciting, and interesting idea, I think.”

. . . .

Unpaywall, by contrast, has focused on creating a browser extension. “We want to do just one thing really well: instantly deliver legal, open-access, full text as you browse,” says Mr. Priem, who also started the altmetrics site Impactstory with Ms. Piwowar.

When an Unpaywall user lands on the page of a research article, the software scours thousands of institutional repositories, preprint servers, and websites like PubMed Central to see if an open-access copy of the article is available. If it is, users can click a small green tab on the side of the screen to view a PDF.

“We’re able to deliver an OA copy to users more than half the time,” says Mr. Priem. “We’re really excited about that, because that’s when you start hitting critical mass. That’s when people start thinking, Hey, why are we paying millions of dollars to subscribe to tens of thousands of journals when our researchers have about a better-than-even chance of reading an article with no subscription at all?”

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

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Can Self-Publishing Crack the Academic Market?

14 March 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

In 2016, self-publishing pioneer Lulu.com introduced Glasstree, a new service the company hopes might begin to reshape the academic and scholarly publishing market. Ahead of the London Book Fair, PW caught up with Glasstree’s Daniel Berze to learn more about the company’s plan to crack the academic publishing market wide open.

In announcing Glasstree, you noted that “the existing academic publishing model is broken.” You’re not the first to make such an observation—but explain why you think the market is broken and why Glasstree might be a solution.

The traditional publishing model is broken for a number of reasons. First, because academic authors traditionally have so little control over their own content. When they hand it over to their publisher, they often assign their copyrights and hand over legal ownership. And they have no power to set the market price. Traditional publishing often compels purchasers to obtain content with restrictive policies, at often-extortionate levels.

This is also true for open access content, which usually requires the author to pay unfair processing charges in order to publish. More generally, traditional academic publishers also lack transparency: it is impossible to obtain any insight into the costs associated with the production of a book—or the profit margins earned by the publisher and/or the author. Speed to market is also an issue, as academic content can sometimes take years before being published. Glasstree aims to put power back in the hands of the author.

. . . .

What do you think the main selling point for Glasstree is? And where do you expect the service to be next year, and then, say, five years out?

I think that the biggest selling point is the ability to provide authors and universities with the tools that they need to publish, print, and be successful at a price level that would be unfathomable even a few years ago, with a specific orientation to academics and educators—for example, the ability to track bibliometrics with a DOI, discoverability tools, creative commons licensing, and so on. This year, we will introduce a print API to the market.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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Your e-books are about to get a big IQ boost

4 February 2017

From CNet:

Generations of college students have lugged expensive textbooks around campus. But a few years from now, students could shuck that burden as web technology radically changes what exactly a book is.

Imagine a chemistry book with a pop-up periodic table of the elements for instant reference, a sucrose molecule that rotates under your fingertip to show its 3D structure, a video demonstration of titration procedures, a chat box to message the professor and a built-in quiz that directs you to any subjects you didn’t understand. Oh, and it’ll be updated continuously so it won’t go out of date as soon as element 118 gets named oganesson.

Sound far-fetched? This e-book future is possible thanks to the World Wide Web Consortium’s absorption of the International Digital Publishing Forum, keepers of the Epub standard for e-books. On Wednesday, the W3C and IDPF announced their merger plans are complete.

The merger means that e-books are going to get a lot smarter thanks to a deeper embrace of web technology. While it’s simple for web browsers to show video and offer a quiz, it’s well beyond what you’ll see in e-books that you read on your Amazon Kindle. Expect that to change in coming years as e-books play a bigger role on your laptop or tablet.

. . . .

Books printed on paper will remain important, but e-books are where much of the next generation will learn, said Rick Johnson, co-founder of education e-book seller VitalSource, now part of publisher Ingram Content. VitalSource sells 18 million digital titles to 4 million people at 7,000 campuses.

“When you talk about people in college or pre-college or who are learning on the job or as a part of their job, they need web technologies,” Johnson said. “That’s how they’re learning now. I can’t imagine training somebody on a job or in a school without being able to show them video, without being able to quiz them and show them results.”

Link to the rest at CNet

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Do ‘Digital Natives’ Prefer Paper Books to E-Books?

23 November 2016

From Education Week:

As digital devices and access to e-books proliferated in schools and homes over the past several years, some ed-tech experts expected that print books would soon become relics—or at least fall out of favor with a generation growing up in an electronic world.

But, in a wrinkle in the digital revolution, that hasn’t transpired—at least not yet.

More children now know what it’s like to read an e-book—61 percent in 2014 compared with 25 percent in 2010, according to Scholastic’s 2015 Kids and Family Reading report.

But most students still opt to turn actual pages. In the Scholastic survey, 65 percent of children ages 6 to 17 agreed they would always want to read in print, up from 60 percent in 2012. And 77 percent who had tried e-reading said that the majority of the books they read were in print. That was especially true for younger readers when reading for pleasure: 84 percent of 6- to 8-year-olds read mostly on paper, compared with 62 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds.

Link to the rest at Education Week

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Educational Publishers Confront Tech Disruption

21 October 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

“I’m sure taxi cab drivers now wish they had been better before Uber came along,” laughs Jim Donohue, executive vice president and chief product officer of Cengage. “However, Uber’s success isn’t down to some wild new idea; they just do it better.”

Donohue was on the Education Hot Spot Stage at Frankfurt Book Fair on Wednesday (October 19) to consider the question: “What Do Pokémon Go, Big Data, and Alt Text Mean for EDU?”

. . . .

A panel chaired by Samudra Sen, CEO of Learning Mate Solutions, discussed not the Pokémon Go game itself, but the lessons educational publishers can learn in using new technologies in an education sector that may stand at least a couple of years behind the cutting edge.

It’s also a sector that could be turned upside down at any time by the giants of Silicon Valley.

“The biggest challenge is to design a product based on the detailed study of how our customers are engaging with the content we produce,” said Joan O’Neil, executive vice president of knowledge and learning at Wiley. “We can now study it in a level of detail that has never been [possible] before. This will make sure that we don’t get ahead of what the customer is looking for and over-engineer our products.”

“Flexibility has become critical for us. The platform has become our differentiator,’ said Cengage’s Donohue. “We’ve invested millions of dollars in content management systems that take all our content to down to a paragraph level. It has set our content free.”

 

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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The New Goldmine For Textbook Companies: Charging Students To Do Homework

27 August 2016

From BuzzFeed News:

As universities go digital, students are complaining of a new hit to their finances that is replacing — and sometimes joining — expensive textbooks: pricey online access codes that are required to complete coursework and submit assignments.

The codes — which typically range in price from $80 to $155 per course — give students online access to systems developed by education companies like McGraw Hill and Pearson. These companies, which long reaped big profits as textbook publishers, have boasted to investors that their new online offerings, when pushed to students through universities they partner with, represent the future of the industry.

But critics say the digital access codes represent the same price-gouging ethos of the textbook business, and are even harder for students to opt out of. While they could once buy second-hand textbooks, or share copies with friends, the digital systems are essentially impossible to avoid.

“When we talk about access codes we see it as the new face of the textbook monopoly, a new way to lock students around this system,” said Ethan Senack, the higher education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, to BuzzFeed News.

“Rather than $250 [for a print textbook] you’re paying $120,” said Senack. “But because it’s all digital it eliminates the used book market and eliminates any sharing and because homework and tests are through an access code, it eliminates any ability to opt out.”

Link to the rest at BuzzFeed and thanks to Kat for the tip.

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