1. Introduction to the toolkit

1. About the project

Since April 2014, Jisc Collections has been running a national pilot project and funding four project teams from UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to investigate the viability of publishing their own e-textbooks. The overall objective of the institution as e-textbook publisher project is to assess whether the textbooks created assist in the aims of providing:

  • More affordable higher education costs for students;
  • Better value for money than commercial alternatives;
  • An improved, more sustainable information environment for all.

Four project teams – from the Universities of Liverpool, Nottingham, Highlands & Islands with Edinburgh Napier University, and University College London – received funding for a period of four years (April 2014 – June 2018) to:

  • Create two e-textbooks each;
  • Apply business, licensing and distribution models; and
  • Report back on the impact, value and viability of the models chosen

Lara Speicher at UCL Press, summed the project up perfectly in one of her posts on the project blog:

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. Last autumn, three major textbook publishers, Pearson, Wiley and Barnes & Noble Education, all reported sharp falls in textbook sales in the US, attributed to students’ greater awareness of textbook rentals and ebooks, students buying textbooks when needed rather than at the beginning of the year, and campus bookstores keeping their stock tight due to a bad year of returns (unsold books being returned to the publisher) in 2015 (Financial Times, 2016). Unsurprising that students are turning to other options when textbook prices are reported to have risen by more than 800 percent in the last three decades (University Business, 2014)

Clearly it is going to take a major shift to overturn the current model entirely since textbook publishing is big business, requiring significant investment and generating significant profits. However, there are clear signs of change and innovative approaches underway. OpenStax, developed by Rice University in the US, is an innovative open access textbook platform, published in the form of ‘pages’ that can be compiled into different collections and components. SUNY Open Textbooks, developed by the State University of New York Libraries, launched in 2012 and has published 18 textbooks with several more forthcoming. This is very much a community project and while it offers publishing services for authors, and editorial support, it does not appear to offer remuneration, relying instead on educators who want to provide an alternative model for the greater good.

The Jisc Institution as E-textbook Publisher is kick-starting thinking and experimentation in the UK and the hope is that it will lead to fresh approaches and sustainable models for further development. The advent of TEF provides another incentive for HEIs to raise the topic of institutionally produced textbooks higher on the agenda.

2. Aims of the toolkit

In 2017, as an alternative to a series of final reports from each project, the partners decided to pool resources and create a digital toolkit. What you are reading is the first draft of the toolkit, launched in June 2018. We will develop the draft as we receive comments over the next few months, before producing a final version, which will be available on the Jisc website in autumn 2018.

The toolkit can be used as an instrument to provide support to universities wishing to start or that are already in their initial stages of e-textbook publication. It provides practical help from the partner institutions and is aimed at all staff who may have an interest in this fast developing area; information professionals (librarians, university presses etc), learning and teaching advisors, educational technologists and academic staff.

The toolkit can be read as a whole, or the appropriate sections can be consulted – each section is linked where appropriate. 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.

Please let us have your views – and best practice!

Over the coming months we will be adding additional material from the project teams previous reports and will address any questions we recieve.

3. The project teams

University of Liverpool

The main contacts within the Liverpool team are Emma Thompson, Education Lead at the University of Liverpool Library and Alison Welsby, Editorial Director at Liverpool University Press. The authors are Dr Jonathan Hogg, Senior Lecturer in History, University of Liverpool (general editor and contributor for Using Primary Sources), plus with 26 contributing academics, and Jason Laws, Deputy Head of Department for Economics, Finance and Accounting, University of Liverpool (author of Essentials of Financial Management). In addition to these people, the e-textbooks would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and commitment of the following: Patrick Brereton (Head of Production, Liverpool University Press), Paul Catherall (E-Learning Librarian, University of Liverpool Library), Emily Felton (Marketing Executive, Liverpool University Press), Heather Gallagher (Books Marketing Manager, Liverpool University Press), Jenny Higham (Special Collections & Archives Manager, University of Liverpool Library), Catherine McManamon (Liaison Librarian, University of Liverpool Library) and Karen Phair (Finance Assistant, Liverpool University Press).

University of Nottingham (forthcoming)

University of the Highlands and Islands with Edinburgh Napier University

eTIPS, the collaborative project between Edinburgh Napier University and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), created and published two core e-textbooks, primarily for students, on the subject of Research Preparation. The texts were accompanied by online resources, that linked authors videos and additional written materials, to chapters of the publications. Where possible, the team used existing resources, free or inexpensive tools, and collected content to create. Through the experience of the project, eTIPS is proud to continue to embed its model across the institutions, with UHI  set to publish a third title in 2018.

UCL (forthcoming)

4. The textbooks

You can see the 8 textbooks published so far:

5. Teams reflection on the project

We will be adding a reflective piece from each team here at the end of the project. This will set out what each team set out to do, what they have achieved, what are their reflections on the work done / process

6. Contents

  1. Introduction

This section of the toolkit!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 here, such planning can help to avoid unexpected situations or problems for staff along the way.

  1. Technologies

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.

  1. Marketing and distribution

This section describes general marketing practices for books that can be applied to textbooks, followed by some textbook-specific marketing practices that will also need to be incorporated to provide exposure for your textbooks to the right audiences, depending on your chosen market.

  1. Measures of success

This section of the toolkit will consider the following:

  1. 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.
  2. Feedback from stakeholders through survey, dialogue, and data.
  3. Impact on learning and teaching, of the publications, through observation, and anecdotal discussion with students and teachers.
  4. Challenges of evaluation, with an overarching reflection on how evaluation may contribute to improvement and streamlining of future e-textbook developments.
  5. The tools for evaluation, in order to better understand the range of data, feedback, dialogue and outcomes from the project.
  1. 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 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.

  1. Conclusion

We’ll add a conclusion once we have produced the final version of this toolkit.