The vice-chancellor of Durham University, Prof. Christopher Higgins, has recently predicted that universities’ spending on physical textbooks, journals and monographs will be in rapid decline as online content becomes more easily accessible through Open Access, and universities’ spending budgets become smaller.
Martin Seeley, Manager of Waterstones’ Gower Street branch has apparently told academic publishers that they must stop producing ‘£50 breeze blocks’ which students cannot afford. The comments came as both people spoke at the Booksellers Association’s Academic, Professional and Specialist Conference, last week (13th March). Prof. Higgins has also said how most students will access the content they need online, with universities’ spending less on physical materials due to the recent changes in the higher education landscape (i.e. higher tuition fees) and bookshelving being too costly!
Higgins further commented against the rising cost of journals and how staff spending (unpaid) time reading and peer-reviewing work is essentially subsidising publishers, with the Open Access policy reducing the budget on research and thus giving more money to publishers.
Whilst I understand the points Higgins is making (yes, it is unfortunate that universities’ are having to cut their spending due to the rise in tuition fees etc.), publishers need to make money too. In my opinion, the decline in academic book sales means that publishers have had to change their way of publishing in order to continue making a profit. In a day and age where most businesses and industries are struggling against the economic climate, new models such as Open Access have become an ever-growing development in the academic publishing industry.
As for £50 breeze blocks which students cannot afford. I can of course relate to this. Being a student, especially now that education has become an agonisingly costly expense (and the cost of living is consistently increasing), having to pay a lot of money for a textbook is an expense which I could do without. On the other hand, I personally have never not bought a book because I’ve found it too expensive! I have always managed to find the books I need for cheaper than the RRP (remember Amazon?) and given that I’m one of those people who loves buying books anyway, I happen to like ‘breeze blocks’. Moreover, I have also used journal databases which I’ve been able to access through my university library. Now, whilst I am in no way any expert in how our tuition fees are distributed throughout the university, I would like to think that the money I pay to attend university includes money towards however much the library is spending on access to journals for its students. In essence, I would assume that some of the thousands of pounds I pay goes towards my access to online journals? (Of course I have no idea about this, it’s only an assumption considering the fees are what they are).
So whilst the academic world appears to be divided in the fast development of the academic publishing industry, let us hope that some time in the near future there will be a happy medium in which vice-chancellors and booksellers alike will be happy with the developments occurring.
Link to Lisa Campbell’s article in The Bookseller: Universities’ spend on physical titles likely to decline.