Ebooks in Education

The Radical Transformation of the Textbook

6 August 2019

From Wired:

For several decades, textbook publishers followed the same basic model: Pitch a hefty tome of knowledge to faculty for inclusion in lesson plans; charge students an equally hefty sum; revise and update its content as needed every few years. Repeat. But the last several years have seen a shift at colleges and universities—one that has more recently turned tectonic.

In a way, the evolution of the textbook has mirrored that in every other industry. Ownership has given way to rentals, and analog to digital. Within the broad strokes of that transition, though, lie divergent ideas about not just what learning should look like in the 21st century but how affordable to make it.

. . . .

Pearson is one of the biggest publishers of educational books in the world, with a roster of 1,500 textbooks in the US market. Last month, it announced that going forward it would adopt a “digital first” strategy. It’ll still produce physical textbooks, but students will rent by default with the option to buy after the rental period ends.

“Our job is to provide the very best content with the very best learning outcomes at the very best prices for students that we can,” says Pearson CEO John Fallon. “This model enables us to do that.”

. . . .

It also enables Pearson to staunch the bleeding caused by an explosion in the second-hand market. A company called Chegg launched the first major online textbook rental service in 2007; Amazon followed suit in 2012. Both advertise savings of up to 90 percent off the sticker price. And that’s just two examples. In fact, the market has spent the last decade in something of an unvirtuous circle. As students flock to more affordable options, textbook prices have skyrocketed to make up for the lost revenue. The price of textbooks has increased 183 percent over the last 20 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Students started to reject the expensive textbooks. What they did, since they had no other choice, was find ways to save money on textbooks,” says Michael Hansen, CEO of educational publisher Cengage. “The volumes of textbooks publishers were selling declined rapidly for years. However, they always had this magical price lever. They could always just increase the prices, so their revenue looked relatively stable.”

. . . .

Pearson’s digital-first strategy is a significant step toward a more sustainable business model. Under the new system, ebooks will cost an average of $40. Those who prefer actual paper can pay $60 for the privilege of a rental, with the option to purchase the book at the end of the term. The price of a new print textbook can easily reach into the hundreds of dollars; under digital-first, students have to actively want to pay that much after a course is already over, making it an unlikely option for most.

The benefits to Pearson are self-evident. More than half of its revenue comes from digital already; this move accelerates that transition, while providing substantial savings in printing overhead.

. . . .

“Up until now the product development cycle and the revision cycle were still driven by essentially the way the world has been the last 40 years,” Fallon says. “From now on all updates will be digital first. If there’s a scientific breakthrough, a compelling business case study, developments in contemporary politics or world events, you don’t need to wait three years. You can, from one semester to another, update content.”

. . . .

“We are finding that even though undergraduates prefer to read digitally, these preferences aren’t actually showing positive or even equalness in terms of effect on comprehension,” says Lauren Singer Trakhman, who studies reading comprehension at the University of Maryland’s Disciplined and Learning Research Laboratory. “When it comes to things like pulling details, key facts, numbers, and figures, participants are doing a lot better after reading in print.”

Not only do students retain less when reading digitally, Trakhman says, they’re more likely to overestimate how well they comprehended the material. And that’s before you take into account that students reading a textbook on a device do so amid a barrage of notifications that pull them away from the material. Even without those additional distractions, which Trakhman rules out in her research, students read more quickly and less deeply. They reread sentences less. And even when an ebook layout mimics that of a physical textbook, they move around the page less, potentially missing important diagrams, sidebars, or other supporting materials.

“Digital text, digital work, is often engaged with at a lower level of attention. By moving everything online, it’s going to become even more decontextualized. Overall, I think there’s going to be less deeper learning going on,” Trakhman says. “I believe there’s a time and a place for digital, but educators need to be mindful of the time and place for using these resources. Rolling out these digital suites is not really the best for student learning.”

. . . .

Just as traditional software has a thriving open source community, textbooks have Open Educational Resources, complete textbooks that typically come free of charge digitally, or for a small fee—enough to cover the printing—in hard copy. And while it’s not an entirely new concept, OER has gained momentum in recent years, particularly as support has picked up at an institutional level, rather than on a course by course basis. According to a 2018 Babson College survey, faculty awareness of OER jumped from 34 percent to 46 percent since 2015.

One of OER’s leading proponents is OpenStax, a nonprofit based out of Rice University that offers a few dozen free textbooks, covering everything from AP Biology to Principles of Accounting. In the 2019–2020 academic year, 2.7 million students across 6,600 institutions used an OpenStax product instead of a for-profit equivalent.

. . . .

Harris also argues that while OpenStax updates materials annually as needed, it doesn’t do full revisions just for the sake of it. “Our physics book, which we published in 2012, we haven’t done a revision yet, and we don’t want to,” he says. “The laws of physics haven’t changed for the last eight years, I can guarantee you that.”

. . . .

OpenStax alone counts around 50 ecosystem partners to provide homework and testing support. Faculty can choose the one that best suits their needs, versus being locked into Pearson’s platform when you buy a Pearson textbook.

“You pick what’s best for your course,” says Harris. “We have open license content that you can adapt, and then you can pick and choose from five or six online homework platforms that better meet your curricular needs. That’s getting more flexibility, more innovation, at a much lower price.”

Link to the rest at Wired

Pearson Hackers Access Thousands of Student Accounts

5 August 2019

From Inside Higher Ed:

The personal information of approximately 13,000 school and university students was exposed as the result of a cyberattack, publisher Pearson confirmed July 31.

In a statement, the company said the exposed data was limited to first name, last name and, in some instances, date of birth and/or email address.

Pearson said the vulnerability has been found and fixed. “We have no evidence that this information has been misused, we have notified the affected customers as a precaution,” the statement said.

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

Pearson provides a lot of e-textbooks to students in the US.

Pearson Launches Digital-First Textbook Strategy

17 July 2019

From Copyright and Technology:

Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, announced on Tuesday that it is transitioning to a digital-first model for textbook publishing, moving away from the print-edition-based model that has been the foundation of higher education publishing for centuries. In its press release, the company announced that it will move almost all of its 1500 U.S. textbook titles to continuously-updated digital-first content and will only make print textbooks available on a rental basis.

This is a major turning point in higher ed publishing. Pearson’s move contrasts with that of its rival Cengage, which launched a subscription model called Cengage Unlimited last year. Whereas Cengage is offering access to all e-textbooks from its catalog to students at a rate of $120 per semester or $180 per year, Pearson is renting them individually for an average price of $40. Both Pearson and Cengage will make print textbooks available as rentals only. The e-textbook rental model has been around for several years through providers such as eFollett and VitalSource (formerly CourseSmart, a joint venture of Pearson and other higher ed publishers).

. . . .

Yet the switch to digital-first has a whole host of implications beyond student access or pricing models that indicate how big a deal this is. Higher ed publishers have been talking about going digital-first for many years, and there are several reasons why none of them — at least none of the major publishers — have done it until now.

First are all the implications of moving from one edition at a time to a program of continuous updates for digital textbooks. This requires major changes to editorial processes and technologies, and it requires that textbook authors — typically full-time faculty members at universities — commit to continuous updates to their material rather than committing only to one edition of a book at a time. Pearson has been putting in place the editorial infrastructure and processes required to do this for several years now and has been leading the way in setting standards for online educational content such as EDUPUB.

Then there are all the rights clearance challenges. Textbook publishers typically license thousands of items of content for use in each of their textbooks — illustrations, photographs, quotations, tables, etc. — and do so for discrete editions of those textbooks. In many cases, those rights have to be re-cleared for continuously-updated digital textbooks.

. . . .

The impetus for Pearson’s announcement is very simple: higher ed publishing is (finally?) in enough pain to make these disruptive transitions necessary. Publishers have been competing with a combination of used textbooks, third-party textbook rental services such as Chegg, and course instructors using online materials that are free and potentially more up-to-date than material that had to be committed to print-oriented textbooks months or years in advance.

Publishers’ strategy in coping with these forces over the past several years has been to keep raising textbook prices. But as prices go further and further into the stratosphere and backlash increases, that strategy has become self-defeating; Pearson’s revenues are expected to fall up to 5% in the U.S. this year.

. . . .

The other important implication of digital-first is that it can enable publishers to build their own distribution channels to students, bypassing college bookstores as well as third party distributors like Chegg and MBS Direct. The first evidence of this happening for e-textbooks was in 2014, when the four major publishers involved in the CourseSmart joint venture sold it off to VitalSource, a unit of the publishing services giant Ingram Content Group. The deal involved moving CourseSmart e-textbooks to VitalSource’s platform, and the publishers decided not to make all of their titles available on a platform they didn’t own. More recently, Pearson and McGraw-Hill have been working towards distribution channel control for print textbooks through something called consignment rentals. And certainly Cengage Unlimited is a further move towards distribution channel control by publishers.

It seems likely that Pearson will insist that students engage with its own service to obtain their course materials as part of its digital-first strategy.

Link to the rest at Copyright and Technology

PG says this is entirely about money – killing the used textbook market once and for all plus taking all the markup generated by sales of new and used titles from college bookstore and redirecting that money to the publisher.

PG hopes college and university departments are motivated to create their own course materials and distribute those to their students at a reasonable price. This could benefit individual professors with an additional income stream and help the students avoid piling on more and more student loans to acquire textbooks they won’t be able to keep or sell after the class ends at exorbitant prices.

The Books of College Libraries Are Turning into Wallpaper

7 June 2019

From The Atlantic:

When Yale recently decided to relocate three-quarters of the books in its undergraduate library to create more study space, the students loudly protested. In a passionate op-ed in the Yale Daily News, one student accused the university librarian—who oversees 15 million books in Yale’s extensive library system—of failing to “understand the crucial relationship of books to education.” A sit-in, or rather a “browse-in,” was held in Bass Library to show the administration how college students still value the presence of books. Eventually the number of volumes that would remain was expanded, at the cost of reducing the number of proposed additional seats in a busy central location.

Little-noticed in this minor skirmish over the future of the library was a much bigger story about the changing relationship between college students and books. Buried in a slide deck about circulation statistics from Yale’s library was an unsettling fact: There has been a 64 percent decline in the number of books checked out by undergraduates from Bass Library over the past decade.

Yale’s experience is not at all unique—indeed, it is commonplace. University libraries across the country, and around the world, are seeing steady, and in many cases precipitous, declines in the use of the books on their shelves. The University of Virginia, one of our great public universities and an institution that openly shares detailed library circulation stats from the prior 20 years, is a good case study. College students at UVA checked out 238,000 books during the school year a decade ago; last year, that number had shrunk to just 60,000.

Before you tsk-tsk today’s kids for their lack of bookishness, note that the trend lines are sliding southward for graduate students and faculty members, too: down 61 percent and 46 percent, respectively, at UVA. Overall, across its entire network of libraries, UVA circulated 525,000 books during the 2007–08 school year, but last year there were only 188,000 loans—nearly 1,000 fewer books checked out a day. The Association of Research Libraries’ aggregated statistics show a steady decrease of the same proportion across its membership, even as student enrollment at these universities has grown substantially.

. . . .

Maybe students aren’t checking the books out but are still consulting them regularly within the library? This also does not appear to be true. Many libraries also track such in-house uses, by tallying the books that need to be reshelved, and the trends are the same. At my library at Northeastern University, undergraduate circulations declined 50 percent from 2013 to 2017—before we decided to do our own book relocation—and our logged number of books removed from shelves but not checked out also dropped by half.

These stark statistics present a conundrum for those who care about libraries and books. At the same time that books increasingly lie dormant, library spaces themselves remain vibrant—Snell Library at Northeastern now receives well over 2 million visits a year—as retreats for focused study and dynamic collaboration, and as sites of an ever wider array of activities and forms of knowledge creation and expression, including, but also well beyond, the printed word. It should come as no surprise that library leadership, in moments of dispassionate assessment often augmented by hearing from students who have trouble finding seats during busy periods, would seek to rezone areas occupied by stacks for more individual and group work. Yet it often does come as an unwelcome surprise to many, especially those with a powerful emotional attachment to what libraries should look like and be.

. . . .

The decline in the use of print books at universities relates to the kinds of books we read for scholarly pursuits rather than pure pleasure, the rise of ebooks and digital articles, and the changing environment of research. And it runs contrary to the experience of public libraries and bookstores, where print continues to thrive.

Unlike most public libraries, the libraries of colleges and universities have always been filled with an incredibly wide variety of books, including works of literature and nonfiction, but also bound scientific journals and other highly specialized periodicals, detailed reference works, and government documents—different books for different purposes. Although many of these volumes stand ready for immersive, cover-to-cover reading, others await rarer and often brief consultations, as part of a larger network of knowledge. Even many monographs, carefully and slowly written by scholars, see only very sporadic consultation, and it is not uncommon for the majority of college collections to be unused for a decade or more. This is as it should be: Research libraries exist to collect and preserve knowledge for the future as well as for the present, not to house just the latest and most popular works.

But there is a difference between preservation and access, and a significant difference, often unacknowledged, in the way we read books for research instead of pleasure. As the historian Michael O’Malley humorously summarized the nature of much scholarly reading and writing, “We learn to read books and articles quickly, under pressure, for the key points or for what we can use. But we write as if a learned gentleman of leisure sits in a paneled study, savoring every word.” Or as he more vividly described the research process, academics often approach books like “sous-chefs gutting a fish.”

. . . .

With the rapidly growing number of books available online, that mode of slicing and dicing has largely become digital. Where students or faculty once pulled volumes off the shelf to scan a table of contents or index, grasp a thesis by reading an introduction, check a reference, or trace a footnote, today they consult the library’s swiftly expanding ebook collection (our library’s ebook collection has multiplied tenfold over the past decade), Google Books, or Amazon’s Look Inside. With each of these clicks, a print circulation or in-house use of a book is lost. UVA’s ebook downloads totaled 1.7 million in 2016, an order of magnitude larger than e-circulations a decade ago. Our numbers at Northeastern are almost identical, as scholars have become comfortable with the use of digital books for many purposes.

I’ve seen my own book usage change over time. When I was a graduate student studying Victorian history at Yale, the university’s towering collection in Sterling Library, next door to Bass (then called Cross Campus Library), allowed me to find and leaf through relevant books easily. Now almost all of the texts I consulted for my dissertation are available online in repositories such as HathiTrust, which stores digitized books from research libraries, many of them freely available for download since they were published before 1924, the cutoff for public-domain works. If I were doing the same scholarly project today, I would likely check out only a small subset of books that I needed to pay careful attention to, and annotate others digitally in my PDF reader.

. . . .

Statistics show that today’s undergraduates have read fewer books before they arrive on campus than in prior decades, and just placing students in an environment with more books is unlikely to turn that around. (The time to acquire the reading bug is much earlier than freshman year.) And while correlation does not equal causation, it is all too conspicuous that we reached Peak Book in universities just before the iPhone came out. Part of this story is undoubtedly about the proliferation of electronic devices that are consuming the attention once devoted to books.

. . . .

When i tweeted about this under-discussed decline in the use of print books in universities, several respondents wondered if, regardless of circulation statistics, we should keep an ample number of books in the library for their beneficial ambience. Even if books are ignored by undergraduates, maybe just having them around will indirectly contribute to learning. If books are becoming wallpaper, they are rather nice wallpaper, surrounding students with deep learning and with some helpful sound-deadening characteristics to boot. If that helps students get into the right mind-set in a quiet, contemplative space, so be it. Maybe they will be more productive, get away from their distracting devices, and perhaps serendipitously discover a book or two along the way.

. . . .

But there is another future that these statistics and our nostalgic reaction to them might produce: the research library as a Disneyland of books, with banker’s lamps and never-cracked spines providing the suggestion of, but not the true interaction with, knowledge old and new.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

PG says one of the fundamental reasons for the creation of the World Wide Web was to bring all the world’s books (plus a bunch of other stuff) online.

Google’s corporate mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Google has a related corporate vision “to provide access to the world’s information in one click.”

PG discovered quite a few libraries have mission statements. Here are a couple:

The Harvard Library advances scholarship and teaching by committing itself to the creation, application, preservation and dissemination of knowledge.

The mission of the Bodleian Libraries is to provide an excellent service to support the learning, teaching and research objectives of the University of Oxford; and to develop and maintain access to Oxford’s unique collections for the benefit of scholarship and society.

The W3 – World Wide Web Consortium describes its mission as follows:

The W3C mission is to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web. Below we discuss important aspects of this mission, all of which further W3C’s vision of One Web.

The W3’s vision includes:

W3C’s vision for the Web involves participation, sharing knowledge, and thereby building trust on a global scale.

The Web was invented as a communications tool intended to allow anyone, anywhere to share information. For many years, the Web was a “read-only” tool for many. Blogs and wikis brought more authors to the Web, and social networking emerged from the flourishing market for content and personalized Web experiences. W3C standards have supported this evolution thanks to strong architecture and design principles.

. . . .

Some people view the Web as a giant repository of linked data while others as a giant set of services that exchange messages. The two views are complementary, and which to use often depends on the application.

. . . .

The Web has transformed the way we communicate with each other. In doing so, it has also modified the nature of our social relationships. People now “meet on the Web” and carry out commercial and personal relationships, in some cases without ever meeting in person. W3C recognizes that trust is a social phenomenon, but technology design can foster trust and confidence. As more activity moves on-line, it will become even more important to support complex interactions among parties around the globe. Learn more about:

Open Access: Germany’s De Gruyter Signs ‘Read and Publish’ Deal

13 January 2019
Comments Off on Open Access: Germany’s De Gruyter Signs ‘Read and Publish’ Deal

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Berlin-based independent publisher De Gruyter has announced this week the signing of a “read and publish” agreement with Iowa State University Library, the first of its kind for the German house in North America.

The three-year pilot agreement, according to the publisher’s media messaging, “allows for all articles written by authors at Iowa State University to be made open access immediately upon publication.

“In addition, Iowa State patrons will be provided with access to De Gruyter’s “Research Now by De Gruyter” package, which includes all De Gruyter journals that are subscribed to by North American ARL institutions.”

De Gruyter’s “hybrid journal pricing structure” is in play here, with journal subscription prices adjusted based on the percentage of open access articles. A deep discount is provided, as well, the company says, “to Iowa State authors who publish their articles in one of De Gruyter’s many pure open access journals.”

. . . .

OA2020 is to a Munich-based collaborative effort signed by institutions in many parts of the world to replace “the subscription business model with new models that ensure outputs are open and re-usable and that the costs behind their dissemination are transparent and economically sustainable.”

The endorsement carries several stipulations to which signatories agree.

First, they’re asked if they agree that:

  • Researchers should retain full rights to share their work and the freedom to publish in the journals of their choice and participate in the publishing services they wish
  • The current subscription model, with its ever-rising paywalls, is an unsustainable barrier to the full fruition of scientific research and the fundamental objectives of open access
  • Scholarly publishing should be supported with economically sustainable and transparent business models and released from the constraints of an obsolete system of dissemination

And then they’re asked to promote the primary principle: “We aim to transform a majority of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to OA publishing in accordance with community-specific publication preferences. At the same time, we continue to support new and improved forms of OA publishing.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

What If Digital Is Antithetical to Learning?

9 September 2018

From Inside Higher Ed:

In 2018, the most important article for our “Inside Digital Learning” community to think about was not published here. It wasn’t even published in 2018.

It is the 2017 Educause Review piece “The Rise of Educational Technology as a Sociocultural and Ideological Phenomenon,” by George Veletsianos and Rolin Moe.

Those of us who champion digital learning, and who participate in the “IDL” community, need to take Veletsianos and Moe’s thinking seriously. If nothing else, we should be aware of the possibility that “the rise of ed tech is underpinned by ideology.”

What is the underpinning ideology of “Inside Digital Learning”?

If asked, and I’m not sure that our community has grappled with the question, I’d wager that we’d come to some answer that included adjectives such “critical,” “skeptical” and “a bit wary.” This is not a community populated by unthinking digital learning evangelists.

At the same time, I’d say that much of our community — and here I’d include myself — is deeply invested in the idea that digital technologies have the potential to be a force for good in advancing learning.

We may be critical of how digital technologies are applied in specific cases, but we genuinely believe that, done right, technology can improve student learning within higher education.

But what if we are wrong?

What if digital technologies are inherently harmful to learning?

. . . .

Indictment No. 3: Digital Distracts

The third charge against digital technologies is that they are driving our students (and professors) to distraction. Even those of us who tend to think it a bad idea to ban laptops from classroom have to admit that their presence can sometimes detract from student learning. The case that professors need to learn how to leverage laptops as learning tools may be justified, but it does impose yet another burden on the faculty.

Nor are students the only people on campuses likely to use technologies in a way that inhibits, rather than promotes, learning. PowerPoint has probably set back the art of teaching more than anything else in the past three decades.

How would our discussions on “Inside Digital Learning” be different if we started with the hypothesis that digital technologies are inherently destructive to the goal of advancing student learning?

Would this contrarian viewpoint to the basic assumptions of much of our professional practices change how we think about our higher ed jobs?

Might starting with a critical perspective about educational technologies make any efforts we make to introduce digital platforms to advance student learning more legitimate?

If our digital learning community learns to be more critical, might we develop great levels of empathy for the perspectives of many of our faculty colleagues who are skeptical of digital learning?

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

Authors Guild Demands South Carolina Police Cease Pressure on School About Reading List

14 July 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a strongly worded letter to the Fraternal Order of Police Tri-County Lodge #3 in South Carolina, the Authors Guild today (July 13) is demanding that the organizing stop “interfering in the reading selections of a high school in suburban Charleston.”

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with this case from our reporting earlier this month on how the police organization president, John Blackmon is calling for an English-class summer reading list to drop The Hate U Give (HarperCollins, 2017) by Angie Thomas and All American Boys (Simon & Schuster, 2015) by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Both books have stories that include police brutality and racism as themes, and both are among the most highly acclaimed bestsellers in their sector of recent years. Blackmon’s complaint about the books–two of four titles from which students of Wando High Schoo’s English 1 class in Mount Pleasant are to choose and read one.

In the guild’s open letter to the police group, executive director Mary Rasenberger writes, “Attempts at censorship by law enforcement organizations cannot be tolerated in a democracy. Educators must be free to choose books on any and all subjects for their students’ reading.”

. . . .

Rasenberger writes to Blackmon, “This interference–which is clearly based on the content of the books in question–must stop.

“It is a blatant violation of students’ first amendment rights and an improper attempt at censorship by law-enforcement officials.

“It is a fundamental principle of democracy that police have no proper role in deciding what books should or should not be read. We have already co-signed a letter to the principal of Wando High School to urge the school to abide by its own internal processes, and we ask the Fraternal Order of Police to cease its efforts to influence that process.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While PG has an instinctive response to oppose actions by government entities to restrict the availability or use of nearly any book, he must note here that this is an argument between two different entities comprised of government employees.

Arguably, the Fraternal Order of Police is a private membership organization (assuming police officers are not required to be members) and can say what it wants about any subject. In their private capacity, police officers are permitted to create associations to further their personal goals and exercise their first amendment rights individually and as a group to support or oppose just about anything they desire just like any other group does in the United States.

Assuming, for argument’s sake that the police department, rather than a private association is trying to forcibly limit books read by teenagers, that’s a bad idea because there’s an express or implied government backing for the limitation.

However, the summer reading list was clearly created by government employees acting in direct connection with their employment, so a clearer First Amendment infringement argument could be made by or on behalf of the students who are apparently required to read one of four books on a list provided by the school as a summer assignment. If these are suggestions by the high school and the students are free to read whatever they want, there shouldn’t be a problem, but if all the books were about police brutality and racism and included strong anti-police themes, PG thinks a student might object.

If all four books on the summer mailing list were written by white supremacist or antisemitic authors (or even – gasp – by Republicans), one might expect a lot of protests against the list, including by the Fraternal Order of Police.

PG will note that the two books mentioned in the OP are published by huge corporations – HarperCollins is owned by News Corp. was an American multinational mass media corporation headquartered in New York City and controlled by Rupert Murdoch and Simon & Schuster, Inc., is a subsidiary of CBS Corporation.

PG was also reminded of the increasing popularity of home schooling, at least in some areas of the country, which involves no government action. PG was further reminded of friends who are home schooling their children. Their two oldest children started college at age 16 and 14 after each attained a perfect score on the ACT.

Europe’s open-access drive escalates as university stand-offs spread

11 July 2018
Comments Off on Europe’s open-access drive escalates as university stand-offs spread

From Nature:

Bold efforts to push academic publishing towards an open-access model are gaining steam. Negotiators from libraries and university consortia across Europe are sharing tactics on how to broker new kinds of contracts that could see more articles appear outside paywalls. And inspired by the results of a stand-off in Germany, they increasingly declare that if they don’t like what publishers offer, they will refuse to pay for journal access at all. On 16 May, a Swedish consortium became the latest to say that it wouldn’t renew its contract, with publishing giant Elsevier.

Under the new contracts, termed ‘read and publish’ deals, libraries still pay subscriptions for access to paywalled articles, but their researchers can also publish under open-access terms so that anyone can read their work for free.

. . . .

Despite decades of campaigning for research papers to be published openly — on the grounds that the fruits of publicly funded research should be available for all to read — scholarly publishing’s dominant business model remains to publish articles behind paywalls and collect subscriptions from libraries.

. . . .

On 2 May, negotiators from countries across Europe agreed to align their bargaining strategies at a closed meeting in Berlin attended by the European Commission’s special envoy for open access, Robert-Jan Smits. According to Gerard Meijer, one of the German negotiators present, consortia are “frustrated” by the lack of progress in talks and feel the limits of partnerships between institutions and large publishers “have been reached. It is up to us now to act, and to step out of these negotiations if these are going nowhere,” he says.

The meeting was the latest in a string of events in which negotiators from different countries swapped tactics. “More and more people are willing to share their experiences,” says Matthijs van Otegem, director of the library at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and chair of the open-access working group at the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER) in The Hague, the Netherlands.

In September last year, LIBER published a list of principles to guide negotiators seeking to change their deals. These include ending non-disclosure agreements that publishers customarily place on contracts (which would enable negotiators to compare deals in different countries) and not agreeing to price hikes without open-access agreements in place.

. . . .

A key driver behind the activity in Europe is the European Commission’s goal that, by 2020, all research will be freely accessible as soon as it is published.

. . . .

One reason that libraries no longer fear an end to their contracts with publishers is that a growing number of free versions of paywalled articles can be found online as preprints or accepted manuscripts, notes Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an advocacy group in Washington DC. Sci-Hub, a website that illicitly hosts full copies of papers and is used by academics around the world, is also a big factor, says Joseph Esposito, a publishing consultant in New York City. “Without Sci-Hub the researchers would be screaming at the libraries and state agencies not to cut them off,” he says.

Link to the rest at Nature

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