There is absolutely no question about it – the current e-book marketplace needs a fundamental shift to move to a more transparent and sustainable footing.
The sheer frustration voiced through the #ebooksos petition is direct evidence of this. This is not a well-balanced or properly functioning marketplace, but we can work to address this, if we work as a collective.
The perfect time to work together
Right now, we have real momentum. Senior leaders, academics and libraries are all engaged delivering blended learning and considering what the future student experience will be. It is the perfect opportunity for us to work together as a sector, to reshape the marketplace away from the current futures and to define what we require.
At Jisc we have already been thinking about this – testing different business models (as part of our institution as e-textbook publisher project) – some of which have worked and others which haven’t. We have been researching adaptive learning solutions, considering how we can improve the data we need to inform decisions and actively negotiating for new content and software such as AR/VR to support blended learning and teaching.
We want to support the sector’s next move – to help shape a better marketplace – but what is that next move? What are the possible futures?
Reimagining learning and teaching
Whilst there are some immediate steps that need to be taken to support the here and now, we need to situate these in the near term and the longer-term vision – for what we do in the present with e-textbooks and learning content, will have a bearing on what our possible futures will be and vice versa.
The learning and teaching reimagined programme, which was undertaken by Jisc with the sector, examined future scenarios, looked at 2030 visions and defined some of the key sector challenges and recommendations for institutions.
Each institution will of course have their own vision and their own preferred futures. However, there will be commonality across the sector in terms of adopting and embedding blended learning, supporting incentives and rewards for excellence in technology enhanced teaching and learning, moving to digital first strategies, and providing a digital experience to students that exceeds their expectations.
Content forms an important component in all this. Senior leadership within institutions are engaging with the current e-book challenges and academics are becoming more aware of the impact of their reading list and course content choices. Together we can mobilise around possible futures and start to make the cultural, business model and investment step changes needed, to turn the possible into plausible futures.
So how do we do get to a point where we have consensus over the futures we, as a sector, want to see? We think that the way to achieve this could be through three phases: re-balancing, transitioning and transforming.
Phase one: rebalancing
In the rebalancing phase we need to listen to institutions, explore solutions and articulate requirements. We have a good idea of what we need – transparency, evidence, choice, contractual oversight, consistent service provision – but we first need to understand what we, the sector, wants to achieve and from there we can start to look at what good examples are. And then articulate some of the more immediate requirements.
At the end of March, we will be joining the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) forum to work with members to listen to the challenges they have faced, identify the most pressing needs, identify the focus of negotiations for Jisc and to discuss roadmaps to achieve preferred and plausible futures.
Feedback and data analysis on the agreements that we negotiated in summer 2020 with Kortext and BibliU, in response to urgent demand to provide students with online access to textbooks, will feed into that discussion as well as supporting our conversations to improve these agreements.
We are also working with our expert group of highly-engaged librarians to develop a series of briefing documents to support libraries in their conversations with senior leadership teams and academics – with the aim of increasing awareness of the issues and the steps we as a sector need to take to resolve them. The group firmly believes that the sector needs to change tack, moving away from the current trajectory where publishers have all the control, to one that injects choice. Essentially, a move towards open and affordable learning content.
Lastly, we are also joining discussions with Copyright Licensing Agency, the Publishers Association, The library and information association CILIP and sector groups including Guild HE and MillionPlus to ensure we have a clear picture of the drivers on both sides of the marketplace.
We know from the journal negotiations we have undertaken on behalf of the sector, that re-balancing a market takes time. We also know that achieving this is only possible with collective action.
Phase two: transition
In the transition phase we need to commence the diversion from the current futures towards the futures we as a sector wish to achieve. Senior level buy-in combined with a strong negotiation mandate and sector led negotiation objectives, is the avenue to achieve this.
We already have this for research journal negotiations, with the Universities UK content negotiation strategy group governing negotiation strategy, but we need it for learning and teaching content too – especially as institutions will each have their own visions and roadmaps for re-imagining learning and teaching.
In support of this, we are reviewing existing governance structures and exploring how and whether a new governance structure is required specific to learning and teaching and how the membership of the group can best represent the diversity of institutions.
It is envisioned that we would work with the new strategy group and our content experts, to refine strategy and requirements for agreed ‘futures’ and to secure a strong mandate for negotiations. They will also work with us to translate strategy into objectives and consider the practical implementation of agreements.
We are hopeful that open content will play a significant role in the futures institutions wish to see and we will, during the transition phase, continue to explore and pilot models during this transition phase to understand in more detail what is needed to enable open content to be adopted and embedded.
Phase three: transformation
This last phase is about enabling and implementing the transformation. Until we have the agreed futures, it is somewhat difficult to define activity. But we should then be at a point where the current future is one that is driven by sector requirements.
Transformation may mean cultural shifts, changes in academic behaviours, embedding technology enhanced learning – but the work of the previous phases should prepare us for this phase.
The pandemic has been a catalyst. The sector is mobilised at the moment, what we have to do now in order to transform, is take advantage of that opportunity and to do that we need to be coordinated.