Ebooks in Education

Students Forgoing Required Learning Materials Due to Cost

22 September 2017

From No Shelf Required:

A growing number of college students are choosing not to purchase textbooks and other required course materials in an effort to save money, according to a new study conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of VitalSource Technologies LLC.

The study finds 85 percent of the college and university students surveyed have either waited to buy course materials until after the first day of class or opted not to purchase the materials altogether – up five percent from a similar survey conducted in 2016. Nearly all (91 percent) of the students surveyed cite cost as the reason for not buying their books, and half admit their grades suffered as a result.

. . . .

“As costs have risen, we have seen course material cost become a significant barrier to student retention and completion. Students are increasingly finding work-arounds that are not working – like putting off buying materials or choosing not to buy course materials at all.”

. . . .

“With college costs on the rise and student outcomes lagging, offering more affordable options on critical course materials is just common sense,” said Pep Carrera, Chief Operating Officer of VitalSource®, a leading provider of digital learning materials. “In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of students who are forgoing course materials due to costs. This is alarming, but even more disturbing is the consequence this decision has on students’ grades.”

The study also confirms students’ interest in “inclusive access” programs as a solution to their textbooks and course material cost woes. Inclusive access rolls the cost of digital course materials into tuition, making it easier for students to automatically access critical learning materials at a more affordable price.

“The prevalence – and success – of digital inclusive access programs has increased significantly in recent years,” said Carrera. “The survey results mirror the anecdotal data we have collected from students about the value of digital course materials delivered through an inclusive access model.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

Barnes & Noble Hates Its Customers, and Wants Them to Suffer

14 September 2017

From The Digital Reader:

Some retailers like Amazon try their best to make customers happy, secure in the knowledge that a happy customer is a repeat customer.

Then there is Barnes & Noble, a company out to cause suffering, destroy customers’ futures, and (if they have time ) make blood rain from the sky.

B&N inflicts pain upon customers in many and various ways, but today I would like to focus on the most insidious: Yuzu.

Named for an Asian fruit, Yuzu is a digital textbook platform that Barnes & Noble launched in 2014.  It was in beta at that time, and still under active development.

Alas, development petered out before B&N ever really got it working, but that didn’t stop B&N from continuing to foist the platform on college students.

Every time a new semester started, students would show up in my comment section, complaining about Yuzu. They also left negative reviews in iTunes, where the Yuzu app has a rating of 1.5 stars.

Students were complaining about Yuzu in 2015, and again in 2016, and students were still showing up last week:

Why didn’t I see this before I purchased the textbook with yuzu, its horrible. Do yourself a huge huge favor and buy it from someone else or buy the hard copy. yuzu sucks, it’s very frustrating. it was suppossed to make my studying easier but now I’m stuck with this useless c***. ugh.

It’s now three years later, Yuzu still doesn’t work, and yet it is still the digital textbook solution for all of Barnes & Noble’s 700 plus college bookstores.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says there’s nothing like ruining your brand with college students to build a foundation for future success selling books into your prime post-college demographic.

E-book expansion could mean student savings

9 September 2017

From the Gainesville Sun:

Florida universities are taking the first steps toward expanding the use of electronic textbooks and other material, hoping to bring significant savings to students who spend hundreds of dollars each semester on traditional textbooks.

The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, approved a 2018-19 budget request this week that includes a $656,000 program to encourage the greater use of so-called “eTexts” and other open educational resources in lieu of the standard textbooks.

It may take some time to replicate the experience of the University of Indiana, a leader in the use of eTexts, with IU reporting last spring that its students saved an estimated $3.5 million in the 2016-17 academic year by using eTexts in place of textbooks.

But Joseph Glover, provost at the University of Florida and part of a group coordinating innovation and online programs among the universities, said the expanded use of eTexts and other open-source material “is a great opportunity for really substantial savings for our students.”

. . . .

The budget proposal would set aside $656,000 to create a catalog where professors and other instructors, as they are developing their courses, will find open-source material as well as eTexts where lower prices have been negotiated with the publishers, Glover said.

Link to the rest at the Gainesville Sun

PG has said so before, but will repeat himself:

Especially for introductory courses typically taken by large numbers of students, “Introduction to Economics” or “Introduction to Psychology” or “Introduction to Probability and Statistics”, there is absolutely no need to revise and update the textbook for the class (and make students buy a new book) each year.

As the OP implies, there is almost certainly no benefit derived from an introductory textbook published by an educational publisher compared to free materials. Reams of open source material are readily available online from authors who disclaim any copyright to such materials. If there is a question about rights to reproduce, an ebook can simply provide a link to such materials.

If a student really wants a printed version of the ebook, POD is the simplest and cheapest way to obtain it.

Colleges and universities are very liberal in adding various fees to their students’ tuition bills. If there is an ongoing cost to maintaining and updating free etextbooks, a campus with 20,000 undergraduates could generate a one million dollar annual budget to do so by charging each student a $50 ebook maintenance fee. That amount is substantially less than most students would pay for printed course materials for a single class.

No Better Time for Teachers and Librarians to Introduce Teenagers to Self-Publishing Than Now

2 September 2017

From No Shelf Required:

We live in an age in which the resources necessary to self-publish are readily available. Many adults self-publish their books and see them distributed to online retailers and libraries. Some libraries are beginning to facilitate this, especially with seniors who are memoirists, but what of students? What of adolescents whose hearts are filled with passion for life and who need to express their thoughts and feelings, to know that their words can find readers, and that their ideas matter to others? Now, thanks to Smashwords with its technology and how-to guides, educators and librarians can help these young people find their voices and speak to the world.

I send a big thanks to Tonya McQuade, poet, teacher and pioneer in both ebook publishing and in educational leadership.  Tonya McQuade began writing poetry as a child. She has won awards for it, published a book of her own writings, and appeared in anthologies. She has taught high school English for over 20 years. But in 2014, she found herself inspired her to go into self-publishing with her students.

She knew that when students write for an audience, when students write with the knowledge that their words will reach people who will understand them, then students become young writers. They are not writing to satisfy a course requirement or to please a teacher. They are writing to express themselves. And this can change their lives. But how did a busy educator whose forte was poetry not technology find the time and resources to make this work, to write, organize, publish and distribute an ebook? If it had been a printed book, the cost would have been high, but as an ebook, money was not a problem. The problem, had there been one, would have centered on the technology. But there wasn’t any problem.

Los Gatos, California, was the center of a vortex of indie author energy. A great and serendipitous confluence of people and ideas met there, and the dream of publishing ebooks of student writings became a reality.

McQuade taught 9th grade honors English at Los Gatos High School for five sessions per day. Not an easy task. Smashwords, which provided the technology and the know-how, was headquartered in Los Gatos. Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, was a graduate of Los Gatos High and eager to share his knowledge with students. Henry Bankhead, a librarian with a passion for self-publishing and a vision of libraries as centers of community publishing and beyond, worked at Los Gatos Public Library. Tonya was friends with Heidi Murphy, then Co-Director of Los Gatos Public Library. Henry Bankhead was the other Co-Director. Through these personal connections and new ways of thinking about authorship, publishing, and the role of libraries in their communities, Tonya found the support she needed to publish her students’ writings in the Los Gatos vortex.

Once these personal connections were made, Mark Coker and Henry Bankhead spoke in-person to McQuade’s classes about the business of self-publishing, the benefits of it, the best practices and so on.

. . . .

The students took their book through all the stages of editing and revision that books need and then released it concurrently with a book launch party organized by the events team and held at the Los Gatos Public Library.

. . . .

Because of the pre-sale work of the marketing team, Windows to the Teenage Soul hit number one in poetry in Apple’s iBooks store on the day of its release and generated several hundred dollars of profit toward the senior prom. The book and its successors remain available through online retailers and library ebook platforms.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

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.

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

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

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

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.

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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