The UK Open Textbooks project

The UK Open Textbooks project is underway with the Open University, the University of the West of England, the Open Textbook Library and open publishers OpenStax to investigate the viability for UK Higher Education Institutions to publish open textbooks by testing two models — the OpenStax and the OpenTextbook Network models.

In a recent blog post, David Kernohan and Vivien Rolfe discuss how open textbooks publishing is evolving in the USA and the UK and contextualise how the sector is performing. Kernohan and Rolfe also discuss the UK Open Textbooks project and invite academics and teachers, both from Higher Education and Further Education to complete a survey on the use of textbooks as teaching resources.

Read the full blog post at:



Why should institutions consider publishing open access textbooks

This blog post was written by Lara Speicher, Publishing Manager, UCL Press

Earlier this year, the education publisher Pearson reported a 30% decline in revenue in the fourth quarter, and Peter J. Cohen, president of McGraw-Hill Education’s U.S. education group, said in an interview. “We and the rest of the industry are recognizing that the days of what had been a high-priced textbook is over.” Because of the typical high prices of textbooks, students have increasingly been turning to rental options or the used textbook market, and are able to find more and more resources online. In response, some commercial publishers are adapting their models to provide all-inclusive access options that offer students direct access to textbooks at a far lower price, and some universities report success with such initiatives.

Another interesting response to this situation in the last few years has been the increase in the US of universities publishing their own open access textbooks for provision to their own students and beyond. Among them are initiatives such as Rice University’s Open Stax, the Open Textbook Library and Open SUNY (State University New York) Textbooks. The Open Textbook Library, a growing catalogue of open access textbooks from a wide range of university publishers, quotes from a report from the American College Board that students typically face costs of $1200 for textbooks, on top of their college fees and living expenses, and as a result many are not buying textbooks, and are missing courses or dropping out altogether.

So, will similar developments in open textbook publishing start to emerge in the UK? Two particular initiatives are testing the model: the Jisc Institution as E-textbook Publisher project that this blog is part of and which is due to present its final outputs in summer 2018, and more recently, the UK Open Textbook project has been launched to research the viability of introducing open textbooks in the UK higher education system. It asks key research questions about why it is the US in particular that has developed this model and whether this is about the particular context, such as the relative cost of textbooks, that means funding and interest are higher there. The UK Open Textbook project will research how the UK context differs from the US and what the methods for uptake are that might be transferrable.

Much of this activity in the US has emerged from library activity rather than university’s own presses. This is driven by the increasing role libraries are playing in the delivery of scholarly content, using their budgets to provide resources not just acquire and deliver them. This has resulted in a significant movement in the US and the establishment of such organisations as the Library Publishing Coalition to support and encourage library publishing activity.

As data emerges about usage by students and lecturers of the books published in the Jisc Institution as Etextbook Publisher project, it is hoped that such evidence will kickstart wider interest in the model as a way that institutions can directly contribute to an improved student experience. And with greater information also emerging from the UK Open Textbooks project about what is involved for institutions to publish their own textbooks in terms of cost, skills and resource, the next couple of years could see great strides being made in this area.

Publishing with UCL Press – an author’s perspective

This blog post was written by Gabriel Moshenska, Senior Lecturer in Public Archeology at UCL.

The book is out. It has gone where academic books are supposed to go: a copy in the library, a copy to my parents, one to my former PhD supervisor, and one placed casually on the coffee-table in my office as if to say ‘Oh this? Just my latest with UCL Press’. In these moments of pride, it’s easy to forget the blood, the sweat and the tears, so let’s take a few minutes to look back.

The colourful cover image of Stonehenge is a visual cliché in archaeology, and Key Concepts in Public Archaeology is a textbook example. Public archaeology is a mixture of science communication and science studies focused on archaeology and the ancient world, and UCL has been a leader in research, practice and teaching in this field for decades. The textbook draws on UCL Institute of Archaeology’s undergraduate module and the MA degree in public archaeology, and most of the authors of the chapters are regular guest lecturers on these courses.

Collections of papers by multiple authors are challenging to edit: one or two recalcitrant authors can delay publication and strain professional relationships, while the need to maintain a consistent standard and ‘voice’ requires a considerable effort, particularly for a textbook that needs to be more straightforwardly readable than other academic texts. The finished product, beautiful though it is, is considerably later and marginally slimmer than originally intended, but the Press remained supportive and encouraging throughout.

Public archaeology is grounded in a philosophy of openness and sharing scholarship, so the opportunity to publish an Open Access textbook with a Creative Commons license was extremely welcome. To combine this with the high editorial and production standards and the prestige of a University Press was a unique and brilliant opportunity. As chapter authors dragged their feet the Press decided to take advantage of the open, digital publishing format to launch the volume as a ‘living book’ to which additional chapters could be added until the final version appeared in print, pdf and a variety of other digital formats. This willingness to innovate was a significant part of the pleasure of working with UCL Press.

The print-runs for many academic books have dipped from the hundreds into the tens, while their prices have gone in precisely the opposite direction, and production values have apparently fallen out of somebody’s window. In contrast to this, UCL Press have produced a high-quality textbook that is improbably, gloriously free to download in pdf (as more than a thousand people have discovered), and very reasonably priced in print. From an author/editor perspective the process has been exemplary, and I very much hope to work with UCL Press again in the future.

Gabriel Moshenska

Copyright in publishing: author rights and licences, and the use of third-party material

This blog post was written by Lara Speicher, Publishing Manager, UCL Press.

With contributions from Chris Holland, Copyright Support Officer, UCL, and Alison Welsby, Editorial Director, Liverpool University Press


Copyright is an area that many seem to find daunting, but although it is undoubtedly complex it’s not that difficult to grasp the basics of copyright in a publishing environment and it’s something anyone working in any area of public dissemination needs to know about. This blog will attempt to describe how author rights are managed in publishing, and the rules for clearance of third-party copyright for re-use in books. These rules apply to any book or other publication, whether textbook, scholarly monograph, art book etc.

The rules of copyright

In brief, copyright is a legal right that resides with the person who has created a work – whether that is writing, art, music or any other creative form – for the duration of the legal term of copyright, which is during the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years after death for literary works (for other types of work, different lengths of time apply). This means that the creator has exclusive rights for the use and dissemination of their work, and has the right to control whether and how their work, or parts of their work, is used by others. Copyright laws vary from country to country, although some aspects of national copyright laws have been standardised through international copyright agreements. See list of sources of further information on copyright at the end of this blog.

What this means in the simplest terms is that no-one else is permitted to use or reproduce someone else’s work in any way without the express permission of the creator or their representative. This applies to any reproduction of a work, whether found in print or online. I will go into this in more detail in the section on use of third-party copyright.

Agreements between authors and publishers

I’m going to tackle author copyright and publishing agreements before third-party copyright as I believe it’s essential for authors and publishers to understand this before they can fully understand third-party copyright in this context. When an author and a publisher reach an agreement for the publisher to publish that author’s work, a contract is drawn up by the publisher outlining the rights, roles, responsibilities of both parties and the terms of the publishing arrangement. Effectively, the author is granting the publisher the right to sell or disseminate their work on their behalf. In return, the publisher invests time, resource and money in reviewing, editing, typesetting, designing, marketing and selling the book.

Assignation of rights

In publishing agreements, the publisher will ask the author to assign certain rights to them. This includes a range of models including: author assigns copyright to the publisher for the term of copyright, author assigns exclusive rights to the publisher for the term of copyright, or until the work goes out of print, author assigns non-exclusive rights to the publisher for the term of copyright.

If the author assigns their copyright to the publisher, it means that the publisher is free to publish their work for the duration of copyright, without needing to ask the author’s permission. Usually, in a scholarly publishing environment, it will be made clear in the contract that this right only applies to publication of the work in its original form, and any changes such as rewriting, for example, would not be permitted without the author’s agreement. Specific arrangements for translation rights are usually the subject of a separate clause in the contract, which usually states that the author allows the publisher to make arrangements with other publishers for translation of their work, and specifies the share the author will receive of any sales income from translations.

When the author assigns exclusive rights to the publisher, they usually retain their copyright in the work, but they are not permitted to publish or disseminate their work elsewhere or they will be in breach of contract. If the publisher receives requests from others who wish to use the work, in full or in part in another work or in any other public form, the publisher will need to seek the permission of the author (unlike the scenario in which copyright has been assigned to the publisher). Often, the publisher will manage author rights on their behalf, so any requests for reuse of elements of the work will be handled by the publisher, who will usually have standard arrangements and fees depending on the amount of text that someone wishes to quote. Any revenue raised from such activity will usually be split with the author in percentages agreed in the contract.

When the author assigns non-exclusive rights to the publisher, which is common in the open access and digital book publishing environment, the author is allowed to disseminate their work on other platforms, but is usually restricted from simultaneous publication with another publisher for a certain period, especially if it is a new publication. This kind of arrangement is most common for mission-driven, not-for-profit publishers, who are often subsidised and do not therefore need to protect their commercial activities in order to recoup their investment in full or make a profit. It is also very common for works being published on online platforms that have previously been available in print. Under non-exclusive open access arrangements, the author or publisher will agree a form of Creative Commons licence that describes the re-use rights in that work by others. (Full details of Creative Commons licences can be found here: While OA books are free to read and share, different forms of CC licence identify whether or not the work can also be used commercially or adapted. Some funders providing grants for OA publication require certain forms of CC licence, usually the least restrictive CC-BY licence.

In the case of textbooks, publishers commonly also ask not just for the copyright in the work but also for renewals, revivals and extensions to the full legal term of copyright in order to ensure that further editions and any accompanying handbooks or supplementary information can be produced. Another clause that is common to most author contracts but particularly important for textbooks is a ‘competing text’ clause to say that the author must not for the duration of the contract write a competing work for another publisher. While it is unlikely that an author would write a competing scholarly monograph, for example, since they are unique works, a competing textbook would be possible.

Reversion of rights

There is usually a clause in author-publisher contracts that specifies the circumstances in which the rights can revert to the author. This is usually when the work has been out of print for some time and the publisher has no plans to reprint it. The increase in use of print-on-demand technologies, means that some works effectively never go out of print. For some publishers, when the work is only available in print-on-demand form, this is treated in the same way as if the book was out of print for the purposes of author rights.

Third-party copyright

If an author or publisher wishes to use images or text extracts in a book from material that has been created by someone else, and if that material is still in copyright, they will need to seek the permission of the copyright owner. As mentioned earlier, the copyright in such works is often managed by a representative, whether a publisher, an agent, an image library, or another institution. Many larger publishers have rights departments devoted to this activity. In scholarly publishing the responsibility for clearing rights for the use of third-party material and the payment of any associated fees will usually be the author’s, and this will be reflected in the contract. The contract will also clearly state that the author is liable should they fail to clear the appropriate permissions and the copyright owner decides to pursue legal redress. Publishers will typically ask to receive copies of the permissions letters from the author for reassurance that the author has cleared the appropriate rights. Whoever clears the rights will usually have to provide certain details to the copyright owner such as the print run, the territories required, the size the image is to be used at and whether inside the book or on the cover, or details of the text being quoted, whether the publisher is commercial or scholarly/not-for-profit, and the language and territories the book will be published in. The copyright owner must be attributed in the book, often using very specific wording that they provide.

There is here a very specific problem for digital publishers, especially those who publish open access and who mainly publish print-on-demand. Since it is almost impossible to predict the number of downloads that a book might attract, there is no print run in PoD publishing, and the book is available globally since it is published online, the traditional means of calculating the fee by print run and territory simply don’t apply. Further, if the download figure for the free OA edition was used in lieu of the print run, this could add up to a significant expense, since in scholarly publishing print runs are very low, often in the hundreds, whereas download figures can be very high, often in the thousands. Some copyright owners will now accept a fee for online publications based on a similar arrangement to permission for website use, for example. And many organisations accept a lower fee or no fee for not-for-profit scholarly publishing. Nevertheless, the clearing of third-party rights is still an exercise that involves considerable time and, potentially, cost and confusion.

Dramatic works and music

So far, I have only referred to the use of quoted text and images, but some digital works also use music, film and recordings of performances and those have to be cleared in the same way as images and text if they have been created by someone else. These can be more complex than image and text rights, because in a single piece of music, for example, copyright can be claimed by both the composer and the recording artist or artists.


All the above applies equally to textbooks. Some textbooks have very high print runs therefore the copyright charges for the use of third-party material in such cases can easily mount up. Many textbooks, particularly in STEM subjects, have numerous images, charts and diagrams. It is often easier and cheaper to have artwork redrawn in such cases than to try and find examples from a wide range of sources. This also has the advantage that the diagram can show exactly what the author is describing, and the diagrams have a consistent look to them. When clearing third-party copyright for textbooks, most commercial publishers will clear rights for all languages and all territories, as well as all future editions so that the publisher can easily negotiate translation deals or special editions for certain geographical areas.


Anyone who is producing and disseminating work, whether an established publisher or whether a university department outputting resources for the use of its students, for example, needs to grasp the basics of copyright. This needs to be understood both from the point of view of the rights retained by the original author and the licences under which they agree to publish their work, and from the point of view of any third-party material the author or publisher intends to include in their book. As with any law, claiming that one didn’t know or didn’t understand the regulations will not stand up in a court of law!

Further sources of information on copyright law:

Further information on publishing contracts:

Clarks’ Publishing Agreements 10th ed, edited by Lynette Owen (Bloomsbury, 2017)

The eTIPS Project Evaluation: Understanding Competitor Analysis – Price and Ranking

This blog post was written by Laurence Patterson, Edinburgh Napier University.

Our eTextbooks are published to the Amazon Kindle store. Despite any degree of moral opposition, this wasn’t a difficult decision to make. After all, Kindle offers a massive amount of international distribution, within three hours of a touch of a button, as well as an impressive assortment of sales statistics, for those interested, and the ability to play around with metadata and promotions tactics, in order to try to stimulate sales.

Across the duration of the eTIPS project, we’ve been looking at elements of Kindle eTextbooks that we believe are similar to those we’ve published there, and to ascertain trends and commonalities across the eBook market aimed at under and postgraduate students undertaking a research project. Our work involves discovering trends in two groups of eBooks. Each week we record the changing price and chart position on of over twenty-five eTextbooks that share something in common with ours – a cross-over of themes, keywords, title, and we would add four or five titles to our list every six month or so. We also work with about eight or so titles that we believe are direct competitors to our own – they are being used by academics teaching research modules at the two Universities partnered to eTIPS – UHI and Edinburgh Napier. We’ve been keen to benchmark cost and chart movement across both groups, and to understand commercial versus self-published success. Ultimately, we wish to know the degree to which the Amazon Kindle store represents a viable option for educational eTextbooks, and to understand why some eTextbooks are used in learning and teaching.

There’s no better time to buy a Kindle eTextbook. Our numbers show that, successively over the last three years, consumers will receive more bang for their buck – as titles that address research projects have progressively become cheaper and, overall, a bit longer. There are a couple of good reasons for this. First, that commercially published titles from the likes of SAGE, Pearson and Springer have realised and capitalised on the mass-market appeal of Kindle, taking a strategic approach to pricing them down, comparatively, from what they were five years ago. Second, the ease by which an individual can self-publish through Kindle has, in the same five years, permitted an influx of non-commercial titles to the marketplace, the pricing of which tends to be set low. We know that overall competitor prices have fallen across by around 25%, between 2014 and 2016. Are we entering into a consumer-facing learning resources marketplace, fuelled by lower prices, where students are motivated to purchase a title, rather than borrow it from their University or College library?

eTIPS’ own Kindle titles are available for £1.99/$2.99 each (Figs. 1 & 2). At our most recent point of comparison, (that shortlist of eight or so), these are the cheapest available overall, and 11% of the cost of the most expensive. In fact, only two of the titles on the list are priced at around the same point of ours. The average across the whole list is available for about £14.

Figure 1 - Performance of eTIPS eTextbooks (in **) against direct competitor titles – those used in Edinburgh Napier University and UHI (rankings taken from on 30th October 2017)

Figure 1 – Performance of eTIPS eTextbooks (in **) against direct competitor titles – those used in Edinburgh Napier University and UHI (rankings taken from on 30th October 2017)

Figure 2 - Prices from the beginning of the study and the prices of those same titles today.

Figure 2 – Prices from the beginning of the study and the prices of those same titles today.

We’ve reflected on the changing rankings, on, of our direct competitors, over the previous few years and, almost without exception, seen them fall in their genre charts. When a Kindle title is first published and achieves a sale or two, it will reach the dizzy heights of the top 10,000 but, over time, will see it slide into the 100,000s and further, where no readers make a purchase. Comparatively, eTIPS titles have jumped up and down quite a bit, and we believe that this follows periods of marketing, promotion, and price change – we have offered the titles for free on a number of occasions. Exploiting this opportunity afforded by publishing to Amazon is likely to benefit ranking position and keep titles visible and active.

Visibility and activity is also helped by the metadata added to a Kindle title and, in working through our competitive analysis, we’ve taken some time to understand the data indicated by factors other than price and ranking, bringing that understanding back to eTIPS’ own records (Fig. 3). Some is unavailable to use – for example, the keywords added to a Kindle record.

Figure 3 - listing for How to Write a Research Dissertation – eTIPS’ first published eTextbook

Figure 3 – listing for How to Write a Research Dissertation – eTIPS’ first published eTextbook

Some, like the title, description and author information, can be seen and interpreted. Across our larger competitor list, many titles display what appears to be a standard book description, often quite lengthy and formal and listing the lead author, but failing to link this through to an Amazon Author Central profile. We believe that there is a strategy to improving the visibility of Kindle titles, and of understanding the reading habits of customers (Figs. 4 & 5), that few in our lists have discovered.

Figure 4 - ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ display for the first eTIPS eTextbook

Figure 4 – ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ display for the first eTIPS eTextbook

Figure 5 - What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item? display for the first eTIPS eTextbook

Figure 5 – What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item? display for the first eTIPS eTextbook

In a future blog post, we’ll provide further detail about the methodology of our competitor analysis, and what else we feel this has allowed us to understand about Amazon Kindle, and those eTextbooks currently used by our students.

Stages of eTextbook Creation – the eTIPS project

This blog post was written by Laurence Patterson, Edinburgh Napier University.

Between 2014 and 2016, we created and published, from scratch, two eTextbooks, aimed at helping students that were undertaking their research dissertation and research project, as well as their academics. Over that time, we crafted the ideas that began with a small group of academics, to blend with the professional work of editors, designers and educational specialists. We worked with in-house resources, and an evolving knowledge of tools and techniques, and structured a workable and accurate timeline of the stages we went through together. This is the story of that timeline.

We proposed a project timeline at the start of the eTIPS project (Fig. 1). This was more useful, with hindsight, as an indicator of the stages of the project itself, than of the production of eTextbooks, but it did offer us a visual representation of the series of activities through which colleagues would be required to work in order to bring publications together. It also permitted us to propose what the overall output from each activity would be, from a summary document, to be taken forward, to a proposed design, and to the final eTextbook. We understood that stage outputs would offer feedback to previous stages – for example, that peer review and proof-reading would inform content – and wrote this into our initial timeline.

eTIPS Project Timeline – April 2014

Figure 1 – eTIPS Project Timeline – April 2014

On reflection, this initial timeline indicated a broader range of activities, and was limited, in part, due to our understanding of the requirements of our distributing platform – Amazon, as well as our knowledge of our main production tool – Calibre. You’re going to need to know exactly what a proposed eTextbook is about – to define its scope – before you should even think about hiring an editor, commissioning cover artwork, or slapping an ISBN on the item, ready for Amazon’s Kindle marketplace. If you’re eTIPS, you’re going to need to spend at least two or three months doing this – but if you’re a College or University commissioning work from your teaching body, your submissions process will look to capture as much information as it possibly can. Granted, your creative work – design, editing, and so on, can probably be tasked alongside the later editing stages of the eBook, but provide sufficient opportunity for the academics to present fully-formed thoughts about what the eBook will be about, and the team running the publishing side will feel clearer about what’s to be achieved.

In late 2015, just as work began on the second eTIPS eTextbook, we created a production timeline (Fig.2) that we felt more would accurately reflect the work carried out, and which defined in further detail the stages to publication. The timeline was added to and revised as we went along. The new timeline can certainly be mapped to the old one, but it also offers further detail. It now recognised our understanding of the tools and the distribution platform required for our work. Importantly we were now able to assign stages to individual project members, and indicate the approximate time required for each stage up to publication. This permitted us to look at cross-overs, where an author might have been involved in a design stage and vice-versa, and where stages might have occurred simultaneously. We are able to reflect on this, to understand the resource implications of the complete process, and to tighten these as we move forward for future publications.

eTIPS Timeline – January 2016

Figure 2 – eTIPS Timeline – January 2016

Our writing of content for the second eTIPS eTextbook required a structured approach. The publication would assemble written content from a handful of academics (whereas our first eTextbook was largely the work of just two), whose schedules made it difficult to meet and discuss. Our progress summary document (Fig.3) iterated chapter themes and content, assigning authors, and setting deadlines for completion. We worked with a simple, but effective, green/amber/red system to indicate and update chapter progress. Through the coming months we continued to collaborate, the development team and authors, to the point of publication. Our artist made notes on possible illustrations for each chapter (Fig.4) and shared for discussion and, as the authoring of the publication reached its peak, cover artwork was discussed with authors, a mindmap of ideas created (Fig.5).

Figure 3 - Progress Summary – Writing the second eTextbook - January/February/March 2016

Figure 3 – Progress Summary – Writing the second eTextbook – January/February/March 2016

Figure 4 - Defining chapter illustrations for the second eTextbook – February 2016

Figure 4 – Defining chapter illustrations for the second eTextbook – February 2016

Figure 5 - Planning Cover Artwork for the second eTextbook – March/April 2016

Figure 5 – Planning Cover Artwork for the second eTextbook – March/April 2016

We’re proud of what we achieved over a small amount of time, our second eTextbook truly a collaboration of efforts, with a growing knowledge of technologies and techniques required for publication. The timeline has become an invaluable tool for us, and will continue to offer a structured narrative to our project work.

How to fund Institutions as publishers: Survey for Resource Profiling towards Project Embedding

This blog post was written by Errol Rivera, Edinburgh Napier University.

Yeah…but how much did it really cost?

Like a lot of funded projects, we bid on ours. Jisc wanted to see if university staff could produce a high quality e-textbook. So we did what responsible bid winners do: We figured what our expenses would be, justified them, and made a plan that we could stick to.

As assistant Evaluator on the UHI’s bid for the project, my job is to put my research skills to work, as a kind of third party that observes and reports on the project to Jisc and the academic community. Since I’m not part of the production process, I can be more objective about how successful that process is. When I report what I observe, I call on my background in pedagogic research and the literary publishing industry to back up my observations. It’s more like a kind of ethnography than anything else.

Like a lot of bid projects, the real outcome wasn’t the thing that was made – that was just a proof of concept. That’s the thing about bid projects, they’re less about the product and more about the process. This bid wasn’t about producing e-textbooks. It was about producing A WAY TO MAKE e-textbooks. The goal was to do something financially sustainable – a model for publishing e-textbooks that institutions like the University of the Highlands and Islands or Edinburgh Napier University, could carry on under their own steam once the Jisc money ran out.

Of course, that sort of thing is up to senior management. If they’re going to embed any kind of model for publishing e-textbooks (let alone a good model), and make that process part of the university’s regular activities, they need to be able to understand the benefits to their university. And you can’t understand the benefit unless you know what kind of resource you’re committing. Academic idealism is great, but it doesn’t pay for anything.

Understanding resource commitment isn’t just about money, though. Paying a world class chef £1000 to make dinner for you and a friend tonight is a bit excessive. But paying £2000 in several instalments over the course of a year to feed a whole family? That might sound a bit more reasonable to some people – and it’s also why the wedding industry survives. You have to think about the skills and knowledge you’re employing, as well as the time involved.

The challenge for us is that The Institution as Publisher is a relatively new concept with regard to e-textbooks. So judging all the costs and benefits gets that much harder. Innovations are lost when innovators make poor work of contextualising what they’re offering benefactors. Senior management need to be able to quickly understand the diversity and range of skill required in order to make their production model sustainable. They also need to know how much those skills cost, and the time on task that affects those costs over a financial year.

So we did what any responsible researchers would do… we made a survey.

This survey is a tool meant to enable the embedding of a viable and sustainable model for the publication of e-textbooks by a university. Unlike other pedagogical innovations which happen ‘in the wild’, this eTIPs publication process started out with a bid. And what is a bid, if not “initial resource”. That means people, money, and time specifically ear marked for the project. The upside to this is obvious: It allows the production process to take shape in optimal conditions. Theoretically speaking, you’ve got everything you need from the start…


There’s another problematic word in there too, ‘optimal conditions.’ Most of the time, when it comes to conditions, optimal might as well mean ‘artificial.’

Teams like UHI can work diligently to provide a realistic bid which seeks to outline a plan for the resource to be used, but even in the most optimal conditions, these projects are living things. People get excited, busy, new creative opportunities arise, and ‘the plan’ often changes in the interest of the project. The project may be a success, but often the actual work turns out to be more innovative, more challenging, and more exciting – and the bids and plans don’t do them justice. This means that when the time comes to permanently support initially funded projects, a project team’s success can ironically undermine future endeavours, even with an accurately reported budget.

Now that multiple books have been created using our process, we the project evaluators, Laurence Patterson and Errol Rivera, can look back on ‘the real work’ that was done. Or least, we can try.

The Survey and the Information it Gathers

The survey (I)








The survey (II)








We start by making sure the survey covers 4 basic concepts which we felt had the most direct effect on a project’s resource.

  1. The Skills used
  2. The Time Spend
  3. The Appropriate Compensation
  4. The Place in the University’s structure.

Then we focus on the work done on the project, asking questions that overlap these four concepts, in order to ensure that responders aren’t thinking about their answers in the abstract, or worse – guessing. Questions about ‘time spent’ were asked in the context of ‘appropriate compensation’ or ‘The skills used.’ The survey is then distributed to everyone who worked on the project.

Their full answer is filed under the appropriate question (bold). Then their answer is broken down into the constituent concepts (italicised).


2. How much of your time per week is allocated to tis project? Does that weekly allocation accurately reflect the time you spend on the project? If not please elaborate. If you were responsible for advising a more realistic estimate time allocation, what would it be and why? Currently Weekly Allocation Per Book/Regardless of which book


4. If someone took over your role, and had the minimum amount of expertise to preform it, what £/hour would you feel is appropriate compensation. Please explain your answer if you can. Recommended Skill Set Recommended £/hr

Adding up all the respondents’ answers from questions like Question 2 and 4 gives us a realistic reflection of time spend on task, as well how much that time was worth in retrospect for each respondent, based on their idea skills required. Adding up the answers from all respondents, can give a project-wide view of budget, human resource needs, and work load allocation. Asking a two-part questions like Question 4 is crucial – it gets the responder thinking about things in relation to each other, which ensures a response that reflects reality more than an ideal.

5. If you were asked to perform your role again, producing a book once every academic year, what percentage of your time would be required to meet this production schedule? Recommended Weekly Work Allocation
6. Does your responsibility on this project reasonably fall under the purview of the department you currently work for? Is there another department that would be better suited to performing your duties on the project? Please explain? Current Department Appropriate Recommended Department Justification

Questions like Question 5 and 6 aren’t hard information but utilise the expertise of the respondent to inform important decisions about the future of the project, and its sustainability.

So What Now?

For the responder, these questions promote valuable reflection about the journey or the project, but our real goal is to produce hard numbers from the harder-to-measure aspects of human endeavour. That’s a bit tougher. Beyond that, we want to collect reflections about what would need to be done differently in the future, based on the view of experts who did the work. Essentially we’re asking “Think about what you’ve been doing as if it were part of a pilot project. What would need to change in order to make it someone’s day job?” The benefit to this comes in when Senior Management consider embedding, because it means boots-on-the-ground workers are essentially contributing to what may become university policy.

Of course, some project team members won’t be able to answer these questions as easily as others, from a logistical standpoint. For example, authors don’t put time into the project in the same way an editor or a web designer would. The practicalities of that skill set don’t lend themselves well to ‘clocking in’.

While some team members found this survey easy and straight forward, others found parts difficult to answer, and some found the entire thing impossible. The main challenges in getting this information arise from the following…

  • Being able to calculate the average weekly time spent on the project
  • Placing a monetary value on their own skill set

However, it was discovered that with assisted reflection, many were able to answer the survey with confidence. When respondents answered the questions optimally, the information yielded was invaluable.

This leads the evaluation team to suggest that this method is sound, but rich data like this requires one-to-one support from the evaluator. Respondents often need facilitation in looking at their skills objectively, and some expertise is required in asking the respondent probing questions. However, the UHI Evaluation team has the skillset to provide responders with that support, and even though this data is still being gathered, the benefits have already shown themselves to be worth the effort.

This can be a powerful tool for senior management, as it provides them with more than just information and numbers – it provides them with perspective and expertise, truncated for easy digested, enabling them to make decisions that will better ensure the health and longevity of the embedding and implementation, as well as the satisfaction of the workforce.

The final push – what are we planning in the final year of the Institution as e-textbook publisher project?

This blog post was written by Graham Stone, Senior Research Manager, Jisc

The Institution as e-textbook publisher project started its journey in 2014 and will wrap up in the next 12 months. In that time the partner institutions have published seven textbooks, we have published a number of articles and the teams have presented at numerous events including the last project workshop in Birmingham last July.

As you can imagine, we’ll be ramping up the blog posts and communications this year as the projects move towards the completion of the project. We have an existing list of posts planned, starting with the first of what we hope will be many communications around the evaluation of the textbooks with academics, students and the authors themselves. We will also be looking at issues and opportunities around the dissemination of institutionally created textbooks and how to get them into the library supply chain. Marketing, including social media campaigns will also be featured in future blogs. Expect further blogs around the technology used and information on competitor analysis and benchmarking.

Later in the year, our partner institutions will talk about what they plan to do after the project finishes – they assure us they will all be carrying on with e-textbook publishing and some plan to scale things up considerably. They’ll share their lessons learned along the way and we’ll be hearing more from some of the authors on their motivations for taking part.

We are also very pleased to announce that we will release a toolkit to assist other institutions in starting the own e-textbook publishing. We hope to hold a workshop in the New Year to test the toolkit as a proof of concept with the community, before launching it in July 2018 as a major output of the project – alongside the textbooks of course. More news on that very soon.

Finally, we’ll let the projects tell you some of their own plans over the coming months…

UCL: ‘We are in the dissemination and evaluation stage of the project. As we have now released both textbooks, the next year will be spent collecting data and user feedback. We’ll be running focus groups and undertaking surveys to evaluate the success of our e-textbooks. We’ll also be looking into wider external course adoption of the textbooks and how to compete with commercial alternatives.’

University of Liverpool: ‘In the final year of this project, the team at the University of Liverpool plans to upload the outstanding chapters for Using Primary Sources and continue to promote the e-textbook internally as well as nationally and internationally. We will also evaluate the impact of the e-textbook and make decisive plans on how to take it forward. With regard to Essentials of Financial Management, we are still planning to publish the e-textbook within the next year, which would be a crucial text for nearly 1,000 students at the University of Liverpool. However, the content has not yet been delivered by the author so plans are currently provisional. If the content is delivered in the next few weeks, then we will edit, upload, publish the e-textbook, review internally, and disseminate in an Open Access capacity. If the manuscript is not delivered soon or the e-textbook is not published by the end of the year, then we will assess what we could have done differently and write up our lessons learned.‘

UHI/ Edinburgh Napier: ‘eTIPS, the UHI/Edinburgh Napier collaborated project, which saw the creation of two eTextbooks will focus, on its final year, on a number of issues. In the next phase, colleagues will look at student and academics reaction, in our Universities, to the publications and performing comparative analysis with similar texts. Further analysis will be put into describing and annotating the process of creation, authoring, publication and distribution, with particular interest in the efficacy of Kindle Direct Publishing for reaching to readers beyond our institutions. UHI will look to continue some form of e-textbook publishing beyond the end of the project and, to that end, a group will streamline the approach already taken. UHI will, in particular, be looking at the support system for resources and documentation required to be set up to continue publishing.‘

University of Nottingham: ‘As the ROMe project moves into the final stages it is important to refocus efforts on the final tasks to ensure that all benefits of the project and the effort put in by the many people that have supported the project can be realised and recognised. This means that between now and the summer of 2018 we will increasing the amount of communications to external audiences to promote the e-textbooks and also identify any opportunities there might be for the e-textbooks to be used by other HE and FE institutions. We will analyse and publish second and third year student usage and evaluation data; we will contribute regularly to the Jisc project blog so others can learn from our successes and our mistakes; and we will work closely with the other project partners to help design and deliver a toolkit in support of other institutions that wish to move into a self-publication model.’

Survey questions to assess value of e-textbooks produced in-house

Please note that the surveys presented in this blog post were created by the University of Liverpool, the University of Nottingham, the University of Highlands and Islands with Edinburgh Napier University, and University College London.

One of the core objectives of the Institution as e-textbook publisher project is to evaluate the value of the e-textbooks produced among various institutional stakeholders that either contributed to the production of the e-textbooks or that use them as a learning tool.

Each one of the project’s teams have developed and undertaken surveys that assess the usefulness and receptiveness of the e-textbooks in their institutions. Despite the focus of the surveys created by each team being relatively distinct, they all share commonalities and general questions can be asked to assess the value of e-textbooks regardless of the disciplines that they apply to or the institutions where they were produced.

This blog post aims to identify the main topics covered by the various surveys undertaken by the project teams and to list general and institution specific sample questions. These are linked to below. The main topics covered in the surveys include:

  1. Student/reader feedback (including questions on the resources used, views on the e-textbook used, and e-textbook specific questions)
  2. Lecturer/module convenor feedback (including questions on the resources used, expectations, features, improvements, and e-textbook specific questions)
  3. E-textbook author/contributor feedback (including general questions on time allocation, technical knowledge improvements and e-textbook specific questions)

We would like to encourage these survey questions to be used as a template by other universities that have published / are planning to publish e-textbooks and that want to assess their students and academics views on the e-textbooks.

We will also include these survey questions in the proposed Institution as e-textbook publisher toolkit. In the meantime, we would be very interested in receiving comments on these template questions and in hearing of other examples.

A forthcoming blog post will be released based on the original document used in section 3.3.

Exploring the University as an e-Textbook Provider of Scholarly Work

The article ‘Exploring the University as an e-Textbook Provider of Scholarly Work’ written by Frank Rennie, Keith Smyth, Gareth Davies, Scott Connor, Laurence Patterson has recently been published in the Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice.


Despite the growth in the popularity of e-textbooks, there has yet to be adopted an effective model through which an academic institution can easily re-purpose the scholarly output of its staff to allow global and affordable access to students. This paper describes a research project designed to explore effective processes for the university to become a digital publisher of its own academic output. The project produced two e-textbooks, focusing on using Amazon Kindle for distribution, each book with a free companion website of open access learning resources. The use of the e-texts and the websites were then monitored for evaluation. The publication process was documented and will be made publicly available in the final report on the Jisc website. In summary, the pre-publication tasks are almost identical to the production of a conventional printed book, but at publication, everything else changes. The e-textbook system minimises the problems of storage, distribution, pricing, and updating which is faced by the printed book. The companion websites provide a global space with resources complementary to the e-book, which can be updated without the requirement to amend the e-textbook. Several different categories of e-books have been identified, from short handbooks for internal course use, through open-access textbooks, to flagship commercial publications. It is recognised that these e-publications may replace or co-exist with both printed books and companion websites.

The article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License and can be read in full in  (doi: 10.14297/jpaap.v5i3.246).