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Reading Lists: Ebooks and etextbooks


Purchasing academic ebooks is not as straightforward as one might think. Models that people might be used to, for example Kindle ebooks, are not available for academic institutions. Below are some key points regarding the purchase of academic ebooks.

  • The library relies on four aggregate suppliers to purchase ebooks. The ebooks will then be hosted on their own platform (such as Ebook Central) or on the publisher's platform (such as Cambridge University Press).
  • Not every book is available to purchase as an electronic book. This is normally down to the publisher allowing or not allowing its electronic publication. Some publishers simply don't want to make their texts available electronically, in order to preserve their physical collection.
  • Some publishers will only allow access to ebooks as part of a wider package deal. This can lead to libraries purchasing these packages to get access to some relevant content while the rest of the package may not align with the institution's research and/or teaching.
  • If an ebook is available to purchase there are a number of licenses/access models that we must pick between. Not of all of these models are available for an individual title so sometimes we have no option but to pick a more restrictive model as that is the only option available to us. The models that exist are:
    • Unlimited access - allows any number of concurrent users for an unlimited period. This is our preference but tends to be the most expensive model of access.
    • Limited concurrent users - will only allow a certain number of users to access the ebook at one time, normally one or three user licenses. This means we need to buy multiple copies of the ebook to allow multiple access especially for large courses. We have had some ebooks that are over £1,000 for a one user license so this is sometimes not a viable option.
    • Credit based system - an ebook will have for example 400 credits. Each time a user logs in to view that ebook, a credit will be used (unless the same user accesses the ebook again within 24 hours). In theory, if a course has hundreds of students, they could all log in to view the book in one day and use all of the credits.
    • If there is no ebook available we rely on our digital copies service to provide a section of the ebook which is compliant with copyright restrictions. The link to the digital copy can then be added to the Talis Aspire Reading List. This does not allow the whole book to be scanned, normally it is around 10% of the book or a single chapter.
  • Another key point to bear in mind with ebooks is their accessibility. Some platforms are much easier than others for screen readers to accurately read the content for students. However if there is an ebook that is only available on these less accessible platforms we have no choice but to purchase them despite the issues that they might present that are beyond our control.


To a user, an e-textbook is very much the same as an ebook, but the purchasing model for this resource is very different and typically is much more expensive. The cost of an etextbooks is usually calculated using a basic cost, which is then multiplied by the number of students expected on the module(s) the book is to be used on (e.g. if there were 100 students on a module and the basic cost for the book was set at £30, then access to the etextbook would be £30 x 100 students = £3000). This is an annual fee and we do not own the content.

In some instances we can investigate the option of obtaining an etextbook if a standard ebook is not available. This is not as straightforward or as quick as purchasing a standard ebook. 

If we cannot obtain an ebook for your course we will annotate your reading list to indicate this. Please contact your Information Consultant if you wish to explore the option of an etextbook for your course.

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