Category Archives: Academic Publishing

Print textbooks more popular than digital

I noted an interesting tweet from @DigiBookWorld the other day:

Only 3% of students used a digital textbook as the “core” course material last semester, down from 4% in the fall

The tweet included a link to the article by Jeremy Greenfield on the Digital Book World website, which noted that the e-textbook revolution was still waiting to happen. Whilst sales for fiction ebooks appear to be soaring, it seems that the e-revolution for academic textbooks isn’t quite meeting expectations. According to a survey of over 1,500 undergraduate students, digital is still critical; however, the majority of students favour print textbooks. The reasons for the result were split 50-50: some students prefer the look and feel of a print book, whilst others pointed out that they would not be able to re-sell a digital textbook.

The research was made by Bowker Market Research. The Director behind the survey, Carl Kulo, stated that students feel that print textbooks are better value for learning and for money.

Despite this result, digital textbooks are still proving popular amongst some students who favour them for being easy to carry and for the text being easier to search. Results show that students trying digital textbooks is actually up 31% from 28% in the past two years, proving that digital textbooks do still have a hold on a considerable amount of the marketplace. Although growth is slow now, Kulo believes that the market will begin to pick up in the next two-to-five years. Digital is only set to soar in growth as more and more students use some form of digital in their studies, particularly with emerging learning management systems and integrated learning platforms. Even publishers use these types of platforms to present training materials for editors, and also to help customers in their day-to-day lives. A good example is online learning platform, Cambridge English Teacher, which Cambridge University Press has made available on their website. The aim is to help teachers (current and aspiring) to enhance their own knowledge of grammar, for example, to help develop their teaching techniques.

The article makes me doubt whether universities shall stop spending as much money on textbooks, journals and monographs. I wrote an entry not too long ago, ‘Open Access: in, £50 breeze blocks: out’, which explored a prediction from the vice-chancellor of Durham University, who stated that as digital and Open Access becomes more popular, universities will cut their spending on print materials. He also made a point that students could not afford to buy ‘£50 breeze blocks’. It seems that these students, however, are very much for print textbooks…

In my opinion, I am with the majority of students who believe that print is better monetary value and value for learning. Whilst I do still use digital textbooks and articles which I access through my University Library’s website (mostly if the print version is not available), I feel that textbooks are easier for studying. Not only are they good value for money, you can annotate it and easily access it next to you, as opposed to clicking between computer windows. They may be a pain to lug to-and-from the library, but I feel that their presence is still, and will continue to be, a very solid feature on every student’s bookshelf.

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‘Internet English’ destroying language?

The Guardian published an article today which piqued my interest. It posed the question: Is internet English debasing the language?

It got me thinking that with the evolution in internet technology constantly changing, what does this mean for the English language and is it being devalued as a result? And with the digital era in publishing, does this also devalue the English language in e-publications?

Robert McCrum, former editor-in-chief at Faber & Faber and current associate editor for The Observer, stated his concern over ‘the abuse and impoverishment of English online’ and what he perceives as ‘the overall crassness of English prose in the age of global communications (being blogs, emails, etc.)’

He did also mention the fact that depending on various websites and blogs, there is bad and very good writing all over the web. McCrum stated that ‘there’s just more writing at all levels of quality’. It can be argued that more people have access to the internet in this day and age and people are communicating through a multitude of mediums, therefore English is likely to be written in different levels of quality. With social media having a vast presence on the internet, today, and different generations using the sites, the quality of English language will undoubtedly vary. Take Twitter, for example. Twitter users base their entire communication messages on 140 characters or less, therefore creating a different level of English, for example, some people may choose to use ‘text’ language in which to get their full message across.

It has already been seen with the rise of ebook technology, that some ebooks may be published with grammatical errors which poses the question as to whether the English language is devalued in e-publications. There is no denying the surge in ebooks being published over the past year, and particularly with the many options available for people to self-publish their works, the quality of what is being published may not be to as high a standard as ebooks which might have been published by a publisher. In addition, many academic publishers are enhancing people’s access to journals through online access, and with the introduction of Open Access, does this mean that the English language could be devalued? In particular for academic publishers, I feel that the standard of publishing is too high for it to be thwarted by the internet.

So, as publishers continue to adapt to the digital age, it will be interesting to see how ‘internet English’ will continue to change the way in which we write over all aspects of the internet.

Do you think ‘internet English’ is destroying language?

Another article which may be of interest: George Orwell’s critique of internet English


Open Access: in, ‘£50 breeze blocks’: out

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.


Cambridge University Press visit

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Yesterday the MA publishing group had a field trip to the fantastic Cambridge University Press University Printing House. We were told about various departments at the Press and heard talks from a variety of people including Richard Fisher (MD Academic and Professional Publishing), Dan Edwards (Senior Commissioning Editor, STM Journals), Helen Barton (Commissioning Editor, Linguistics), Alastair Horne (Communities and Social Media, ELT), Liz Warman (Global Content Production Director) and Fiona Kelly (Director of Intellectual Property, ELT).

Each speaker gave a brilliant insight into the workings of the Press and how they contribute to the thousands of titles published each year. There were also brief talks from former and current MA Publishing students who talked about their experiences at the Press and how they came to work there.

I found everything really interesting and it has definitely fuelled my ambition of wanting to work for the company. It was great to hear each person’s experience and to also hear about current ways the Press was changing to accommodate for the digital age.

We also got a tour around the Customer Services and HR Department. I am really excited for April as we shall get to visit the Printers for CUP. (More on that when it happens!)

Even if in the future I do end up working for a company as successful as Cambridge University Press, currently I am definitely undecided on which department I’d like to work in. Everything sounded so interesting. I think I would like to do something with ELT. I studied English Language and Linguistics and English Literature for my undergraduate degree (and also did a little teaching in Denmark a few years back), so the thought of going into that part of publishing would be something which I would find interesting.

Until then though, all I can do is work hard and hope that one day, it will all pay off.