Cost to publish an e-textbook

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

Opting to produce bespoke learning content over buying-in something off-the-shelf is, in these rather austere and unpredictably inverse times, certainly a daunting prospect. You may have the planning and writing process down to a fine art, it might even be the case that most of your content is already written and edited, but unless the time you’ll take is accounted for from your standard working hours, you’re going to discover, rather quickly, that the first time you produce your own book for students is content creation is expensive.

Initial costs lie in setup. Let’s consider that you have a rough outline – a plan – that you know the theme of the book – medicine, commercial law, sports science. Because of this, you might already know your audience – your own students. Or perhaps you see the audience as more broad – as we did in for eTIPS’ first two eTextbooks – a combination of our own students, and the millions of Kindle readers across the globe. Consider, then, that you already have in place a few individuals whose roles in producing the eBook are clear (though whose time is not entire in producing it – they have other projects, too). And consider that you do have most of the content already, albeit rather more cobbled together than in a coherent form, and only the writing – nothing visual, interactive, or otherwise ‘ready-to-go’ at this stage, a little from lecturers’ notes, and from the one or two conversations you’ve had as a group.

Those costs of setup reflect the creation of four key strands of work which continue through a bespoke eBook project – commissioning (the book theme), distribution (the audience), collaboration (the production team), and creation (the content). Arguably, the more efficient one is in commissioning a title, the more streamlined the strands that follow are.

Ongoing costs lie in staff time. As you move through an eBook publishing project, the collaboration and creation strands will require most from your budget. Consider the time and effort required to outline what content might look like, how effective distribution streams may be established, what points of accompanying interactivity, images, tables and multimedia the eBook may have, and who manages the process to the point of (and beyond) publication. There are likely countless meetings between the academic and the instructional designer and, if content is provided online, where you would place this – the VLE, a website, or somewhere else. Written eBook content may be sourced from existing sources – for example, from lecture notes, conversation with academics, external open-source materials – so that the bespoke nature of content is in its procurement and adaptation, an activity undertaken by a designer. Alternatively, content may be sourced directly (though with some mediation from a designer) from and written by academics, and is therefore entirely original and bespoke.

Importantly, as a group of people learn a method of doing something, and repeat, they improve – and the time they’ll spend doing it, and therefore the costs of doing it, will go down. Taking a stance toward continual improvement and careful accounting of costs across strands of activity will help to limit unnecessary spend in successive publications, and build towards a workable process of production and distribution.

What is the point of your eBook? Establishing your ‘return-on-investment’ is important. Are there opportunities to recoup costs? Is it internal only, dovetailing to your institution’s strategic objectives around publication, research, learning and teaching, digital resource management, open education agenda? Are you seeking commercial opportunity through Amazon distribution, creating paperback versions of your publications to broaden appeal?

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