Print & ebooks: How are strategies for academic libraries, university presses, and vendors driven by the current necessity of online access?

by | Nov 5, 2020 | 0 comments


Session summary: The scholarly book ecosystem was already under budgetary stress before the COVID pandemic closed or limited access to libraries. In the current environment, students and faculty are often no longer located near the university.

It is difficult now for a library to choose to acquire print books regardless of discipline or faculty preferences which necessarily impacts publisher decisions and sustainability. Many university presses depend on print sales for 80% of their revenue. It is likely, in fact, that publishing and distribution businesses will see an acceleration in the mergers, acquisitions, closures, and bankruptcies that have been commonplace over the past couple of decades.

The digital distribution landscape is complex. Libraries have struggled in good times owing to the number of content sources, the wide variety of acquisition and access models, the costs of content and content management. University presses (and indeed, most publishers) are the other face of the Janus coin with academic libraries, and share the challenges libraries face. One thing is certain: these times will force change on all participants in scholarly communication.

Michael Zeoli, Senior Advisor, Publisher Strategy, De Gruyter Publishing presented a timeline showing where we have been in the last 20 years and where we are going.

Dean Smith, Director, Duke University Press, described their approach to e-books and how they expanded their sales channels. The Press produces high quality peer reviewed books in the humanities and social sciences. There is a strong social justice component to their titles. Their goal to break even, and e-books help them to do that. 32% of the Press revenue in 2020 has come from e-books and it is increasing. They issue about 140 new titles/year and have about 2,800 titles available either singly or in collections. Even though print supply chains are crippled, revenue remains steady.Here are some principles to maximize sales and coverage of the e-book market.\

Results of their sales efforts this year are shown here.

34% of collection is from consortia sales. The goal is to ensure that they can meet the customer where they are. Single title sales are increasing over the last 3 years. The ability to select titles is important to customers. Long-term relationships with quality content are important.

Robert TIessen, Collections Librarian, University of Calgary said that even before pandemic, book buying was getting crushed because of the exchange rate between the Canadian and US dollars (the Canadian dollar lost 23% in a year, and 85% of library collection expenditures are in US dollars), budgets unable to keep up with rising costs, and preferences for e-books. They have not recovered from the exchange rate woes.

On March 16, 2020, the university’s main library closed except for staff doing some essential things, and the next day all classes were shifted to online. The library was closed until August 9. For the fall semester, 20% of the courses will be held in person; all the others will remain online. No print books will be purchased for this academic year (very small exceptions will be made for graduate students), and there will be no print reserves.

The library budget is shrinking; digital is by far the preferred format for books. The question is whether print will come back and by how much.

Arielle Lomness, Collections Librarian, University of British Columbia asked if they were really e-preferred, even though their policies since 2013 said they were. The pandemic forced them to see whether that was true. Most monograph purchases were as part of joint packages. Some branches buy print when it is explicitly requested. All proposals from publishers were reviewed; many of them were declined. Here are the results from their actions. E-books are tied to specific courses so there is no collection development being done.


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