The e-textbook market is in search of financially sustainable models, as libraries gradually depart from print copy pricing as a reference model toward e-content ranging from premium to cost-free price levels. In this respect, course-level reading lists can feed into growing costs, if the former are wide-ranging and uncoordinated cross-curricularly. As universities and libraries accumulate data on content usage levels, that can allow for striking a balance between content package selections and their acquisition costs.
In this respect, open educational resources (OERs) can play a significant role in reducing overall title licensing fees, even though OER deployment likely requires cross-departmental communication and reward structures for content authorship and adoption. This particularly applies to core curriculum titles used in introductory courses, as these form the bases for course development, reading assignments and exam questions. At the same time, in recent years the global textbook market has exhibited relatively low growth rates, such as 2.8% between 2017 and 2018, with some leading multinational English-language textbook publishers demonstrating flat or negative growth rates for this period, such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company (0.0%), Pearson plc (-1.8%), Cengage Learning (-3.4%) and McGraw Hill Education (-7.6%). For these global publishers, this has also entailed market share reductions in 2017-2018, also for those players that have demonstrated positive growth rates, such as Oxford University Press (+1.0%).
In this environment, publishers increasingly seek to transition to the content leasing model in the closed-access sector. This, however, adds to library-level purchasing and subscription costs, which drives interest in OER development and utilization. Yet, OERs need to be competitive in terms of quality with their commercial, closed-access counterparts, especially in the fields of medicine, economics and business, which oftentimes offer additional online content and activities, to provide a viable alternative in the long term. In other words, OERs can be expected to require investment for material redevelopment, supplementary resources and state-of-the-art expertise.
In the post-pandemic period, as higher education institutions will likely continue to provide blended learning options, academic libraries might, thus, be optimizing their e-textbook spending by integrating OER offerings into their subscription and expenditure budgets, so that OER adoption can drive sustainability. In this respect, both existing OERs might need to be integrated into education plans and new, bespoke coursework texts in Open Access may have to be developed, in order to integrate OER portfolios into library purchasing models, while increasing their sustainability in terms of unit and licensing costs.
By Pablo Markin
Featured image credits: West Norwood Library, London, England, UK, May 21, 2010 | © Courtesy of John Blower/Flickr.
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