With Brexit now done, whether you wanted it or not, all that is certain is life will continue to change. Change can be a little intimidating, especially when it is forced upon you, but with change comes opportunity.
It’s a similar theme at Kortext. In the 5 years that I have been with the company there has been a tremendous amount of change within the company growing and expanding into new markets whilst developing new services. Most has gone to plan and some decisions have been tougher than others, but we’ve always sought to embrace changes that keep us relevant in the market.
Yet the market we seek to serve hasn’t changed too much over the same 5 years. The provision of individual copies of content has been welcomed by some, whilst many university libraries continue to favour access to the widest collection of content, even if only on a single user license. I understand the drive to expand library collections to support research and teaching. However, having the widest collection of content doesn’t always provide students with the books they want, or access when they need it, as discussed in the recently published Against the Grain.
From many of the conversations that I have had, the underlying reason for this focus on access almost always revolves around cost. I’ve been told that providing content on a 1:1 basis is too expensive and when compared with providing 1 copy of a title for 100 students to access individually, then yes, a 1:1 project will cost more. However, only looking at the purchase cost is misleading.
When you look at library refurbishment with costs running into tens of millions of pounds that also seems expensive when viewed in isolation, but it is the value derived from the investment that is most important and likewise for a 1:1 etextbook project.
It is vital that when deciding to invest in a 1:1 etextbook project the university is clear on what they want to achieve. What value does the university want to gain? Is it to improve learning gain, the student experience, reduce student drop out or simply to provide data that helps support curriculum review. Having a clear goal allows you to measure the value.
It is interesting to see that new providers to the market speak about providing Spotify type models for textbooks and making access to content cheaper. This messaging will always attract interest but ultimately the thinking behind the approach is flawed because the focus is only on cost and seems one dimensional to me.
Personally, I don’t believe that universities only want low cost content. There are plenty of Open Educational Resources available for staff to enhance and use, yet there are few OER adoptions in the UK. There remains a role for commercially published textbooks because of the value this content offers lecturers and students in terms of quality, peer review and supporting resources.
Are textbooks expensive? Yes, especially in certain subject areas. Should it be easier to purchase the parts of textbooks actually needed? Yes. So how do we ensure that the etextbook projects are affordable for the university purchasing the content but at the same time allows the publisher to continue investing and developing the content selected?
Part of the answer is that etextbook aggregators like Kortext have to change. We have to ensure universities are provided with the best most detailed insight into usage. This data can then enable deeper understanding of the value each etextbook provides. Likewise, we have to better inform publishers about the needs of those using their content. After all, publishers want to invest and improve their titles.
Etextbook provision has to be affordable and sustainable for universities that choose to fund this type of project. Given that Kortext are the chosen partner for the majority of UK etextbook we believe we are in a unique position to make the costs involved more transparent and allow more universities to provide etextbooks to their students.
To help make a project affordable Kortext has begun to offer concurrent user access alongside 1:1 and B2C models. This means we can now offer access to leading educational resources in a range of models ensuring that every university, and student, can benefit regardless of budget and university libraries can widen access to content via the library catalogue.
The more universities that are involved in these projects, moving away from replicating what existed in print access to gain advantage from digital capabilities, will allow for increased interaction with publishers to shape new models of access to meet student need, and also define the content available in the future.
With the new SUPC etextbook framework discussions due to start in the coming months I’m hopeful that all those contributing will seize the opportunity to embrace what’s possible tomorrow whilst solving the problems of today.
By Kevin Watt