About the project
Between 2014 and 2018, Jisc Collections ran a national pilot project funding four project teams from UK higher education institutions (HEIs) to investigate the viability of publishing their own e-textbooks.
- Publish two e-textbooks each
- Apply business, licensing and distribution models of their choice
- Collate information on the processes, challenges and technologies chosen
- Report back on the benefits to their students and their institution
The project, developed in direct response to the unsustainable models and high price of e-textbooks being made available to institutions, has been exploring alternative ways to create learning materials for students.
Lara Speicher from UCL Press explains that:
“Textbooks are very expensive for students to buy on top of their fees and living expenses, and buying large numbers of print textbooks is increasingly challenging for squeezed library budgets. And now these issues are starting to bite as textbook sales are in decline”.
There are now clear signs that an alternative approach is underway. In the US, OpenStax, developed by Rice University, is an innovative open access textbook platform and SUNY Open Textbooks, developed by the State University of New York Libraries and launched in 2012 has published over 20 textbooks with more forthcoming.
The latter is very much a community project and it is hoped that the outcomes of the institution as e-textbook will kickstart a similar approach in the UK leading to fresh approaches and sustainable models textbook publishing.
Furthermore, the advent of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) provides additional incentive for HEIs to raise the topic of institutionally produced textbooks higher on the agenda.
You can see the eight e-textbooks published:
Scope and aims of the toolkit
Developed by the project partners alongside Jisc, this toolkit is an instrument to provide practical help and support to universities wishing to start or that are already in their initial stages of e-textbook publication.
The toolkit can be read as a whole, or appropriate sections can be consulted as appropriate. Links are included between related sections. We have kept the wording in the sections to a minimum for ease of reading. Each section includes links out to more information produced by the teams as part of the project.
It is aimed at all staff who may have an interest in this fast-developing area. Staff roles may depend on the size of the operation in an institution. Specific sections will of use to:
- Information professionals (librarians)
- University press staff
- Learning and teaching advisors
- Educational technologists
- Academic staff (both as authors and teachers)
- Senior university staff (module leaders, heads of department, PVCs for teaching and learning)
Before embarking on the e-textbooks journey, all four teams have written a reflective piece, which looks at the lessons they learned along the way. When thinking about e-textbook as a project, it is well worth bearing these lessons in mind.
Liverpool emphasize the importance of building the right team and warn against relying on enthusiasm alone. As part of team building, communication is key when looking at schedules and deadlines. Having a plan B is also important – publishers over commission for a reason! Financial incentives for authors won’t always solve issues, whereas buying out time and sabbaticals may be a more practical approach. Finally, Liverpool emphasize the need to exploit academic networks in order to spread the word.
UCL look at the similarities and differences between monograph and textbook publishing. The processes from finding an author to publishing the work are very similar for both. However, the way e-textbooks are commissioned and marketed can be very different. For example, e-textbooks need to meet the needs of particular courses in mind. Successful marketing results in course adoption at some level. Therefore, goals must be clear from the start of the process.
The UHI/Napier project shows that you do not need to have a university press to set up an e-textbook publishing operation. eTIPS is based in the educational development unit at UHI, and this is seen as a cost-effective alternative to commercial publishing, which uses digital learning resources and expertise to make it possible for the team to publish and distribute e-textbooks effectively. In addition, UHI/Napier believe that there is an opportunity to strengthen the university’s profile regarding open education practices. The opportunity to showcase the university to the rest of the world far outweighs any potential income.
Furthermore, all four projects have discussed their plans for the future and have committed to continue to publish e-textbooks. In conclusion, Alison Welsby, editorial director at Liverpool University Press noted in an earlier blog post on scaling in-house e-textbooks publications at Liverpool:
"The institution as e-textbook publisher project has shown us the possibilities that lie within digital humanities, especially as we reflect not only on what the academic book of the future will be, but also the textbook of the future. This projects marks the beginning of LUP’s digital humanities publishing programme, and we gratefully thank Jisc for putting us on this path”.
- Alison Fox, marketing and distribution manager, UCL Press
- Jacky MacMillan, head of educational development unit, University of the Highlands and Islands
- Alistair McNaught, subject specialist - accessibility, Jisc
- Laurence Patterson, former lecturer at the department of learning and teaching enhancement, Edinburgh Napier University
- Errol Rivera, PhD candidate, Edinburgh Napier University
- Lara Speicher, publishing manager, UCL Press
- Steve Stapleton, senior project manager, University of Nottingham
- Emma Thompson, education lead, University of Liverpool
- Alison Welsby, editorial director, Liverpool University Press
2. Why publish textbooks?
When considering the high costs of buying textbooks for both students and libraries, it can be tempting to think that institutional publishing, particularly of open access textbooks, could solve many of the issues. While this is true up to a point, and there are undoubtedly benefits. It would also be unrealistic to think that the institution could easily replace all required textbooks with editions it has produced itself.
So when undertaking the research into such a venture, and considering the costs, scale and resource needed, the institution will need to consider carefully what it hopes to achieve in order to establish its overall strategic objectives which will inform carefully researched costs, plans and workflows. The toolkit sets the scene for this critical stage of research and planning, and explores the potential benefits and the challenges of embarking on textbook publishing, while also providing some practical guidance on different ways this can be achieved, either by individual institutions or collaboratively.
3. Publishing process
This section of the toolkit firstly considers the commissioning stage, what it entails and how it should link back to the reasons for establishing a press. It addresses the need to establish clear and formal external and internal review processes for all titles to follow at pre-contract and pre-production stages, and the importance of establishing any house-style or submission guidelines for authors.
Managing submission delays is covered along with a summary of the production process prior to publication (either print or upload). Finally, costs are discussed, providing a summary on the cost-bearing activities of the publishing process as well as the running costs of a publishing company.
4. Support for staff
Support for publishing staff can take a number of different forms depending on the circumstances of individual institutions, regardless of whether they already have an established press or whether they are coming to publishing for the first time. In the context of institutional publishing where authors are often fellow colleagues - academics at your institution - support for authors also needs to be considered. While they will receive support from the publishing team during the publishing process, other forms of support might be needed, such as time away from academic duties.
The key to providing adequate support for staff is to ensure that your textbook initiative is well planned, that the resources, skills and time required for the job are well understood and provided for, and that there is wide buy-in for the idea at the institution. This planning work is described in more detail in the ‘Why Publish?’ section and along with the considerations described in detail in this section, such planning can help to avoid unexpected situations or problems for staff along the way.
The section looks at how technologies played a part in four areas of the production cycle:
- Authoring – the process of the author creating the manuscript or content
- Developing – the process of turning the manuscript or authored content into an e-textbook format or formats
- Publishing – the process of making the e-textbooks available to the world
- Promoting – the process of disseminating the e-textbooks to a local, national, and international market
This section would be useful at the outset of the production phase as it is useful to consider what technology choices are available when commissioning titles and briefing authors before they begin to write manuscripts or content. Technology choices can influence other variables throughout the production cycle, such as pedagogy, publication and dissemination approaches, so it is very useful to define the technology approach at the outset of the project.
A variety of technologies were explored and used by the project teams. A summary of them is provided to help you think about which might be a good starting point for you.
6. Marketing and distribution
This section describes general marketing practices for books that can be applied to e-textbooks and is followed by some textbook-specific marketing practices that will also need to be incorporated to provide exposure of your e-textbooks to the right audiences, depending on your chosen market.
7. Measures of success
This section of the toolkit will consider the following:
- The development process, through observation and reflection, including e-textbook authoring, technical activities, publishing process and ongoing promotion. We reflected on the impact of the process for those involved in it
- Feedback from stakeholders through survey, dialogue, and data
- Impact on learning and teaching, of the publications, through observation, and anecdotal discussion with students and teachers
- Challenges of evaluation, with an overarching reflection on how evaluation may contribute to improvement and streamlining of future e-textbook developments
- The tools for evaluation, in order to better understand the range of data, feedback, dialogue and outcomes from the project
8. Students as authors of e-textbooks
This section looks at why we should publish student work and highlights the benefits to the student, institution and wider community that can be gained from publishing generally and more specifically in e-book format. Digital publishing whilst potentially increasing readership also opens publications to more scrutiny. The considerations of ownership, quality, ethics, support, contracts and selection are all discussed and guidance given on navigating these areas.
This section is very much drawn from UHI/ENU experiences of publishing student work and to an extent is forward looking. There are very few references to this topic in the existing project outputs other than in one blog post and in a conference paper written by Laurence Patterson and others from the eTIPS team. However, to mitigate this and to enrich the content we will draw from existing literature from out with the Jisc project.