Surveying authors on resourcing university-led e-textbooks publications

This blog post was written by Mafalda Marques and Graham Stone, Jisc Collections.


The survey for resource profiling towards project embedding was developed by Errol Rivera and Laurence Patterson as part the contribution from the University of the Highlands and Islands/Edinburgh Napier to the institution as e-textbook publisher project.

The survey was described by Rivera in a recent blog post as “a tool meant to enable the embedding of a viable and sustainable model for the publication of e-textbooks by a university”. The survey invites authors to answer to questions on four areas of interest:

  • Skills set
  • Time spent writing e-textbooks
  • Appropriate compensation
  • What department or other institutional structure is better suited to manage the publication of e-textbooks.

The survey was completed by those who contributed to the e-textbooks published by UHI/Napier. However, we thought that the survey results would provide a benchmark for other institutions seeking to embark on this journey and as Rivera puts it, want to know “how much did it really cost” to produce as e-textbook? Therefore, as part of the institution as e-textbook publisher project we have invited all the e-textbooks authors to complete the survey, so that we could look for common themes across the projects.

Who completed the survey?

The survey was completed by the e-textbooks authors/co-authors (40% responses), editors (20% responses), editors and authors (20%) as well as by support staff, i.e. administrative and marketing staff (20% responses). Our authors/co-authors/editors skills set varied. Some contributed solely to authoring one or more e-textbook chapters, while others combined this with managing the “whole process from conception of book, content page, peer review, liaising with all authors, communication [with the] publishing team for delivery of book chapters, [coordinating the] external review and promotion of final book”. Support staff tended to provide more ad hoc support during a specific stage of the project.

Time commitment

In order to understand the time commitment involved in writing the e-textbooks, the survey asked how much time authors/co-authors/editors allocated weekly to the publication of the textbooks.

Answers from support staff ranged between three hours per month to 35 hours for the whole project. However, it is more difficult to quantify the time commitment from authors/editors/co-authors. For many, the time spent on the project depended on the particular stage of the e-textbook production process. One author reported that ‘[w]eekly allocation does not accurately reflect the time spent on the project. Book publishing was staged process and thus on some occasion[s] I have to only work on this project to ensure delivery of objectives on time’.

Some of the authors were able to estimate a weekly allocation ranging between 0.5/1 day per week and 12 hours per week. Nevertheless, some of these authors also stated that projects went through stages of requiring more or less time. Therefore, their time allocation could change depending on the workload. This highlights how difficult it is to estimate the real costs of producing a textbook.

We asked authors to give a rough estimation on the total time spent working on the most recent book since its production began. Answers ranged from months, 0.5 to 1.0 day per week, 10% of their time over two years, 120 hours or three weeks or between 250 and 322 hours. This shows just how different the experience can by depending on the type of book being written, the discipline and the size of the team.

One author suggested that it would have been useful to have developed a “guideline to estimate the time allocation required for the production tasks – such as proof-reading, formatting”. In hindsight this is something that would have helped enormously.

For support staff it was easier to estimate the time spent on the project as their contribution included fewer but very specific tasks – between 35 and 40 hours.

Looking to the future, we asked respondents to estimate the amount of staff time required to meet a production schedule of one e-textbook per academic year. Half of our authors answered that it would take them 1-2 days or 10-20% FTE per week, or 2-3 weeks. One editor replied that he would need “[o]ne day a week, but […] would also require one research day a week, which would only leave three days for teaching commitments”. Another valuable comment was that the time commitment would depend “on how much material I would need to generate from scratch”.

Support staff said that they would need 3 hours per month or 17 hours per book. The latter responses show that there is a variation in terms of time commitment depending on the type of contribution these staff make on the publication of e-textbooks.

Allocating costs

The survey asked that, if another member of staff took over the author’s role, what the appropriate compensation would be (£/hour). Half of the respondents were not able to estimate this. However, one author suggested that if an e-textbook would be specially commissioned, “the rates of pay and workload would equate to the existing salary of the commissioned member of staff […]”. Moreover, this author suggested that “a more useful figure would be the cost of the time required by the technical staff to proof, format, and manage the various production stages of the publication”.

The remaining authors/co-authors/editors highlighted that a minimum level of expertise would be required for someone to undertake their role and pointed that the compensation should be between £15 and £100 per hour, or between £33k-£40k per year (i.e. the starting salary for a full-time lecturer/assistant professor).

Institutional structure

The final set of questions focused on understanding what department or other institutional structure is best suited to manage the publication of e-textbooks. When asked if their responsibility on this project reasonably fell under the purview of the department authors/co-authors/editors currently work for, 90% of respondents (including support staff) said yes. In addition, when asked if there would be another department or structure within the university that should manage the publication of e-textbooks, 70% said that there was not another structure better suited to manage e-textbooks publications. One respondent went further, saying that they were “setting up a digital humanities centre, which could eventually take responsibility for leading projects like this”.

When asked if e-textbooks publications should exist as an independent department (i.e. a university press), 50% said yes, 30% were not sure (20% of these respondents were support staff), and 20% did not answer the question. For those that answered yes, one comment was that the current service “could warrant its own unit [and] benefit from being stand alone as it could focus primarily on publishing ebooks”. Others suggested that it could evolve into a press and “be at least partially student ‘owned’ through explicit connection to digital media courses”. Another respondent said that the service could evolve to “an online publication strand to the work of the [current department, and it could benefit from the already existing] processes for learning design management and production”. One respondent who was not sure answered that it depends on the available time and resources, both human and financial.

Other issues

The survey concluded with an invitation to discuss any other aspects not covered in the survey. Specifically areas that upper-level management should consider when determining resources for future university-funded e-textbook production.

Authors/co-authors/editors highlighted issues such as increasing collaboration between early career and senior staff, authors’ compensation (e.g. financial compensation, academic promotion, taking time off from teaching), providing support on ethical and copyright issues, increasing in-house support (e.g. use of internal proofreading services), and making funds available for specific areas (e.g. providing funding for illustrations). In addition, suggestions were also made about supporting the development of new authors within the institution, further developing and harnessing open educational approaches and exploring the potential to engage students in the sharing and publication of their work and as contributors to public knowledge.


We believe that, although inconclusive – we didn’t get a simple “it takes X hours to write a textbook” answer, these are valuable insights into the authoring and research process for an e-textbook and could be used by institutions considering funding this area. Particularly around author rewards, e.g. buying out teaching time etc. and this is an area that Jisc would like to take further in due course.



The author’s view on e-textbook publishing: The Textbook of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

This blog post was written by Deepak Kalaskar, Lecturer in Cellular Engineering, UCL.

Writing a textbook was never on my agenda and thoughts of editing one had never crossed my mind. However, when I got involved in the postgraduate course delivery of the MSc in Burns and Plastic Reconstructive Surgery at UCL, I increasingly realised as an academic the need for a textbook which delivered teaching in this subject area at postgraduate level. Students and even lecturers still scan hundreds of books and make notes to understand over 40 different topics. Why not convert those refined and useful notes into one comprehensive textbook? This is where my journey into editing the book started.

It was by no means a trivial task. Overseeing the organisation of a multi-contributor volume that was reviewed by a senior plastic surgery consultant was an arduous journey. I spent hours editing and discussing chapters with the author team to ensure the content was appropriate and they were of high quality. However, the most interesting aspect I would like to highlight is not the writing or the editing, but the publication of the book. There are many books in plastic surgery but access to them is limited for obvious reasons, their cost! Even if a student wants to expand their learning the price is prohibitive. Also, one is never enough; you always need more as you expand your knowledge in this field.

What we achieved with UCL Press is revolutionary, we have created a textbook Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery which is available to the masses. Being the only postgraduate programme offering of its kind at UCL, the MSc in Burns, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery attracts students from all around the world. This textbook fulfils the academic needs of these students and beyond. Now, the textbook is available via the UCL Press website and has become the first seminal textbook for the course I am running.  The EPDF can be freely downloaded on most electronic devices making it even easier to access. The book has been downloaded more than 20,000 times in 152 countries. This textbook rightfully earned global engagement for both our team and UCL Division of Surgery. This is an excellent example of collaborative work, which aligned very well with UCL’s connected curriculum and ‘UCL 2034’ educational strategy. We are already in the process of preparing the second edition.

The Stages of E-Textbooks Creation

This blog post was written by Jaimee Biggins, Managing Editor, UCL Press.

UCL Press chose Key Concepts in Public Archaeology as its second e-textbook with Jisc as part of the ‘Institution as e-textbook publisher project’. Initially UCL Press had planned for the book to go through the traditional production processes and simultaneous publication of print and online formats. However, during production this was re-assessed partly because of the delayed delivery of some of the chapters in the manuscript – unfortunately a common issue in multi-author edited volumes. As the General Editor had submitted the bulk of the chapters UCL Press chose to follow an online-first model and launch several chapters on the UCL Press digital platform. As Key Concepts in Public Archaeology is an edited collection, with each chapter covering a specific aspect of public archaeology, the chapters can be read quite independently and do not necessarily need to be presented in a linear format.

UCL Press is an open access publisher of scholarly monographs, textbooks and journals. Books are produced in all formats (open access PDF, hardback, paperback, epub, mobi as well as html). The html-based UCL Press digital platform offers an innovative way for UCL Press content to be read. It does this through three different formats – enhanced editions with audio/visual elements, monographs with scholarly functionalities such as the ability to note-take, highlight and share chapters and BOOCS (Books as Open Online Content), which are ‘living books’ with content being added to over time. Public archaeology is an emerging and rapidly growing field of study and therefore there is potential for more chapters to be commissioned in future – these can easily be added to the online version over time, rather than having to wait to produce a full new edition.

The development of the UCL Press platform can be seen in the context of the Academic Book of the Future project. This was a two year AHRC-funded research project (2014-16) run by a core project team from UCL and King’s College London, and led by Dr Samantha Rayner, the Principal Investigator (UCL), which looked at how scholarly work in the arts and humanities will be produced, read, and preserved in coming years and asked key questions such as ‘what is the nature of an academic book?’, as well as exploring new technologies for the book. The project investigated the academic book in its current and emerging contexts, from a range of perspectives (including academics, librarians, publishers and booksellers), and considered a variety of issues – from open access to the REF (Research Excellence Framework), to the future of academic bookselling and academic libraries, and more.

One of the project outcomes was the Academic Book of the Future BOOC, which features contributions connected to the project including blog posts, videos and articles. The discussion remains current and dynamic as articles can be added to the site over time, and the platform allows different ways to explore and share the ideas and discussions. UCL Press plans to expand the BOOC model in the future.

The full report on the Academic Book of the Future project was published in Spring 2017. Among the findings, it identified that enhanced, experimental book formats will continue to grow as a publishing output, alongside print, and by publishing Public Archaeology online, in a format that can be added to over time and that can include multimedia, UCL Press has offered a format that pushes the boundaries of the traditional book.

In terms of production, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology required a slightly different workflow from a standard monograph, and the sequence of production stages had to be re-ordered. As with all UCL Press books we followed an XML workflow and had it tagged by our typesetter with XML codes at the outset (before copyediting). An XML workflow enables content to be multi-purposed and used for a variety of formats such as epubs or html versions. After copyediting the files were passed to our typesetter who generated XML, which was then sent to our digital developer for ingestion onto the digital platform. Once ingested we spot checked the content on-screen to ensure no errors had crept in during ingestion. We then typeset at the very end of the process when all chapters had been delivered by the General Editor, to create a final PDF and book with prelims and index. This differs to the normal process where typesetting and page proofs stages of the book occur before publication, and the author and proofreader do a check of the complete PDF page proof which is paginated and a replica of the final printed book. In the workflow for this book it went from copyediting to XML, rather than copyediting and typesetting of a complete PDF and proofing.

Although the delays on this book were unfortunate it did enable UCL Press to develop a more flexible online-first format for edited collections. UCL Press will continue to develop this model in the future and may proactively offer this route to authors from the outset if a book is believed to have potential to grow over time.

An author’s experience on e-textbook writing by Dr Jon Hogg

This blog post was written by Dr Jon Hogg, General Editor of Using Primary Sources, 2017, University of Liverpool Library and Liverpool University Press.

As General Editor of the open access e-textbook Using Primary Sources: a practical guide for students, I helped co-ordinate this e-textbook project, combining the efforts of academics, librarians, publishers and software designers. The e-textbook is wide-ranging, accessible and practically focused. Over 30 historians from the UK and the USA have written nearly 30 thematic chapters. The first version launched in January 2017, with more chapters being added throughout the year.

From the beginning, we knew that this would be a different kind of textbook. I had been considering for a while the idea of creating a teaching text that offered more practical advice to students than was currently available and was going to propose the book to a publisher when I heard the University of Liverpool Library and Liverpool University Press (LUP) were planning to respond to the Jisc call for projects to explore the ‘institution as e-textbook publisher‘. We quickly put a proposal together for this innovative open access publication and once we learned of the successful bid, we confirmed the team of 31 authors and started work.

It is difficult to give an exact figure regarding how much time was spent on the project. A great deal of time was spent on planning. For example, we decided to create a prescriptive template for authors and their 7,000-word chapters, which ensured continuity of focus, emphasised practical advice and made the long-term work of those involved easier. We also planned and developed a process so that we could work with authors to identify and then digitise library materials, upload materials on to BiblioBoard and then hyperlink chapters to source materials. This sounds like a relatively simple process but, to begin with, it was time-consuming and complicated as our team was learning about the intricacies of BiblioBoard, trying to develop a consistent method of entering bibliographic information, chasing up copyright queries, and making a whole host of design and editorial decisions. Like any edited publication, the submission of authored work has been staggered, which means the work on the project has had to be quite fragmented. Keeping track of the status of all the chapters has been challenging. For parts of the project, it was relatively silent as authors worked on their content; for other times during the project, it became a full-time job as essays and archive material were reviewed, edited, uploaded and embedded.

We worked hard with BiblioBoard to create the e-textbook that we envisioned. They have been very good working partners, helping us to create bespoke features: for example, they created a new type of hyperlink between our chapters and the primary sources and the possibilities that the platform has offered us are impressive. Source materials are fully searchable, with the zoom feature proving powerful and quick, which is especially useful for medieval source materials. We can embed images, music and film, which allows for real visual variety. One great benefit is that we can easily revise, or add to, the e-textbook in the future, so the possibilities are exciting. Sustainability is something we have discussed from the beginning, and we are confident that the software will allow us to achieve this in the years ahead.

One of the biggest things I have learned during the project is that problems that might seem minor and simple to solve are often more complicated than they first appear in digital projects such as this. It is also hard to foresee the breadth of issues that can crop up during a large digital project. For instance, when working with BiblioBoard to create chapters in EPUB format – a file format that is designed to allow users to zoom in and out with ease – we had to spend considerable time thinking about how to present page numbers. Because our technical team liaised with BiblioBoard across a range of issues at the same time, resolving single issues was rarely instantaneous. At any one time the project team was working across many different areas, so keeping in frequent contact via e-mail and team meetings proved essential. With a project like this, the core team needed to know the ongoing status of the project, often in quite a lot of detail, and, as the textbook grew, we became better at foreseeing issues, rather than reacting to issues as they arose.

Would I do it again? Yes. For someone who had not worked on a digital project before, it opened up a whole range of opportunities relating to my work as a teacher and researcher. For instance, I have attended digital humanities conferences as a result, and become involved in a new digital university theme at Liverpool. I would recommend getting involved in collaborative digital projects to any academic who is willing to be open-minded, flexible and committed to a project with a central set of aims that you can be passionate about.

In the coming years, we hope that Using Primary Sources will enhance our students’ learning experience by offering practical, relevant and accessible advice in a way that supports research-led teaching and learning. As a showcase for some of the marvellous archival material held at Liverpool, we also hope that the resource will be used far and wide.

Exploring the ‘institution as e-textbook creator’ has been a long and resource-intensive process, but one that has been hugely rewarding from a professional point of view. Although significant commitment is needed to undertake and sustain these collaborative projects, they encourage innovation and creativity, develop individual and institutional expertise, and foster ideas for future projects.

I often think about how this project originally came about – essentially, by chance. It is safe to say that universities could do more to encourage and fund major teaching projects that are strong enough to attract external funding. Resourcing needs to be generous, with dedicated teams with varied expertise put in place to manage, administer and complete ambitious digital projects, and think of innovative ways to create new digital possibilities for students.

[This blog post is taken from a longer article by Dr Jon Hogg, available here]


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.