Digital transformation set to revolutionise academic textbook market

A new three-year agreement between digital textbook and learning platform Kortext and university ICT provider Jisc will deliver access to e-Textbooks – both online and offline – from thousands of publishers, covering over one million titles. The partners will work together with universities and publishers to better understand student engagement, learning patterns and behaviours, as well as return on investment for e-Textbooks.

With access to libraries restricted due to COVID-19, and universities providing a blended learning environment, the ability for students to access affordable digital textbooks is acute.

This new agreement follows a free student e-Textbook programme that the partners launched in March 2020 in conjunction with 150 UK and Irish universities. As a result, a significant number of UK and Irish universities began exploring how they could provide all core textbooks digitally.  

“For the first time, UK universities have worked together to coordinate their expenditure on e-textbooks through their university libraries, leveraging that collective spend from across the UK to pilot new models seeking to make more textbooks available, to more students, on a more sustainable financial basis,” comments Caren Miloy, Director of Licensing at Jisc.

Ellen Wilson, vice-president, higher education services at Pearson says: “We have been working with Jisc and with Kortext on creating long-term sustainable models for universities to be able to provide access to digital textbooks for their students.” Wilson adds that universities increasingly want to personalise the student experience and provide learning analytics data back to academics to support student progress.

Middlesex University has been working with Kortext for a number of years and has already seen improvements in both student engagement and progression. “The value to students of having their own digital copy of their textbooks available anytime, anywhere and connected to their fellow students and their academics has been a strong driver in outcomes in student experience and satisfaction,” comments Matthew Lawson, director of libraries at Middlesex University. He notes that this is reflected in a 20% improvement in National Student Survey Scores since Middlesex began its e-Textbook scheme.

Omnisperience’s view

This initiative has the potential of being transformational for academic publishers as they seek to overhaul their business model for the digital era. In particular, it is vital that the approach to content licensing is renewed for the digital era – ensuring it is sustainable for publishers and authors, and affordable for readers. This means exploring new monetisable services that could be offered around the core text to add value to student learning experiences.

While universities have been thinking about how to incorporate more digital technologies into learning experiences for some time, these initiatives have been accelerated by the coronavirus crisis. At the same time, students have expectations of both a more digital and more personalised experience, which is acting as a catalyst for change in universities. This will have a similar effect on businesses as these young people enter the workforce.

The move by Jisc and Kortext points to how other library services could be transformed. Local authorities are advised to consider how learnings from this project could be extended to schools and colleges, and beyond that to lifelong learning programmes in communities.