Tag 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.


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.


The year of the mergers

Penguin Random House

(Image taken from Aziz Isham, The House of Penguin: Notes on a Publishing Apocalypse)

Penguin Random House

The Bookseller released an article last week reporting how Australia has approved the Random House Penguin merger which was announced in October last year. It has been reported that companies Pearson and Bertelsmann will own approx. half each; the former owning 47% of shares and the latter owning 53%. Of course this means that both companies’ publishing firms across the world will be involved in the merger, including offices in the USA and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, India, China and Spain.

Waterstones and University of Derby

Not only have two of the publishing worlds’ ‘big six’ has joined forces, but other companies in the publishing sector are also coming together. Book retailer Waterstones have of course done deals with e-retailer Amazon in the past in which they have agreed to sell Amazon’s Kindle in their stores. More recently, however, Waterstones has announced its agreement with the University of Derby to launch the first professional qualification in bookselling, which will be the equivalent of a first year in an undergraduate degree.

Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh

The two literary agencies announced earlier in February that they would be joining together to ‘extend their authors’ reach in the new publishing multiverse. Like with the Penguin Random House merger, Curtis Brown has bought a 50% stake in Conville & Walsh. It is not the first time the agencies have worked together though; both have formed alliance on film projects in the past for M L Stedman and S J Watson to name a few.

Predictions for 2013:

Whilst obviously, the Penguin and Random House merger was a big deal in the trade publishing world, however, the end of January saw the prediction that consolidation of academic publishing houses will become more common this year, particularly with the mass rise in digital sales, as well as developments in Open Access. George Lossius, CEO of Publishing Technology told The Bookseller how consolidation is ‘not the sole domain of the trade’ although the consolidation of small publishers into large publishers recently means that the prediction for this to happen in 2013 is more likely.

Other developments predicted is the mass surge in Open Access publishing and the rise in purchasing digital academic textbooks for Universities around the world. Cambridge University Press Chief Executive, Peter Phillips, said that digital educational services were massive, yet the demand for print textbooks and Print On Demand was still popular and was still a growing part of academic publishing, particularly in the Far East and Latin America.

Personally, I think that mergers between publishing houses will continue to change the industry. With the changes in the digital revolution in publishing, large (and small) publishing firms have joined forces to try to enhance the services which they are already providing. In addition, with the rise of giant Amazon, publishing houses should stick together. It is thought that Amazon controls 80-90% of the market, as reported by Aziz Isham, The American Reader (as above). With Amazon controlling such a large part of the market, there are obviously fears that the future of publishing will not extend much further than Amazon. Personally, whilst I do and have used Amazon in the past, I think it is important for publishing houses to still exist! It would be a shame for years of companies’ hard work to be over-taken by Amazon and in addition, I do like to have that choice of being able to purchase my books direct from the publisher – again another service which is increasingly on the rise…

As I have summarised in this post, mergers are affecting ALL aspects of the industry: trade, academic, literary agents and retailers! I guess the interesting game now is, one publishing house at a time, to guess who will be the next merger…?