Dear eText List Colleagues,
I've noticed a few trends lately that I'd like to call out for possible discussion on this eTexts list. In the decade-long evolution of paper textbooks into digital options (plus adaptive tutoring systems, etc.), we are now beyond "the end of the beginning" and into the next chapter of refining the economic relationship between students, faculty, institutions, publishers, and authors.
One clear signal of this transition was at the 2018 EDUCAUSE annual meeting in Philadelphia. For the first time, I saw that many of the major publishers on the exhibit floor had signage and were trying to drive the eText model (sometimes branded as Inclusive Access, Day 1 Access, All Students Acquire, etc.). While there are a lot of important details to consider, and many have been discussed on this list, the core of the new bargain is this:
If each student will pay for the digital materials through bursar billing, the publishers can dramatically reduce the cost to students and while still growing both their revenue and profits over the traditional paper book model.
The precise terms of this new bargain are still being sorted out, and now is a critical time for institutions to give very careful attention to these shifting terms and pricing. Institutions are an essential part of this bargain if our real goal is to enable the lower prices for our students among the other favorable attributes of digital. The bargain is made possible through our unique ability to enable direct bursar billing for each registered student in a course section (of course, there are opt-out options). Institutional Bursar billing is the enabling element that makes the new bargain work.
From an economic perspective, you could fairly argue that institutions are essentially "renting" a non-substitutable service of bursar billing in each eText course section in exchange for obtaining the best prices for required course materials on behalf of students. Again, this service is the essential element that makes the bargain win-win for both students and content creators.
For the most part, industry trends in this new chapter are very favorable for win-win terms. The major publishers, many with somewhat recent leadership transitions, have moved quickly over the last 18 months to embrace the new bargain for eText models. To repeat... this is a very rational behavior to lower digital prices AND get paid by each student as it is a win in revenue/profit to the publishers and is also a lower cost to the students. At IU and through the Unizin Consortium, we have seen a string of increasingly favorable win-win terms that are enabling our faculty to make choices that drive volume in digital. Our numbers continue to grow in significant ways every year including over $4M in real cost avoidance to IU students this year.
YET.. not all trends are favorable, and thus my warning note to our institutional community today. We have also seen some publishers chase only half of the new bargain. They (understandably) seek an eText/Inclusive Access model to get paid by each student, but they are going the wrong direction in pricing. Their offers exceed the reasonable alternatives that students can find in the used book market and through other substitutes.
While there can be great variance across disciplines, in general, in 2009 an IU internal study concluded that any eText pricing to students in excess of 35% of print list (e.g., 65% discount off of print list) would be disadvantageous to our students. Early offers to us, and sadly, some even today in this new chapter want to assert a high price and still get bursar billing for all students in a section. IU did not then and does not now accept those terms for participation in our eText model as such terms are not in the interest of our students. Most are much more favorable by 2018.
Thus as we accelerate into the next chapter on the path to digital course materials, I strongly urge deep diligence at each institution that assesses all the options to reduce the cost of required course materials (including OER). I applaud those many, many publishers who are innovating with fixed or tiered pricing at very reasonable levels as one favorable step, and to those who are sharpening the bargain to further win-win pricing and volume deals where those meet the choices of faculty.
The worst outcome for students would be for institutions to sign on to (near) compulsory purchases for required course materials at prices that are structurally unfavorable to students. In other words, don't accept only half of the new fair bargain. I look forward to continued innovation in product and economics by content creators, faculty, institutions, consortia, and students as this chapter unfolds.
P.S. Some of these thoughts and more will be shared next week in a Chronicle of Higher Education Webinar on Tues, 24 April, 2p EDT. Stacy Morrone and I will share a few insights and respond to questions in advance of the release of eText 101: A Practical Guide that is a collection of authored chapters on this topic and edited by IUPUI Dean of Libraries (Emeritus) David Lewis.
Participation and subscription information for this EDUCAUSE Constituent Group discussion list can be found at http://www.educause.edu/discuss.