What does HE want from publishers?

Whilst colleagues were at the MDR SIG meeting on Tuesday, I was in another room in London at the annual Publishers Association conference to see what the answers(s) to the above question might be. Books, was the answer and I guess a simplistic, semi-accurate summary would be “anything else we can get for free” – but this has to be qualified by meaning free at point of access.

Actually I was quite depressed at various points during the day. Not least the at the start when we were shown part of a video vox-pox of students and staff at Manchester discussing how, why, where and when they used textbooks. We were then told we could buy copies of the DVD for £15 – they had some there and a form we could post back to them. Why weren’t the PA putting chunks of this on their website, YouTube and/or TeacherTube? That just seemed to me to encapsulate the differences between educators and publishers – particularly those of us interested in producing and sharing learning materials.

Perhaps I was a bit of fish out of water in that the majority of the audience were librarians and or publishers. But I don’t really find listening to someone lamenting over what a terrible breed of people his generation has created now that “four out of five (music) downloads are illegal”, particularly inspiring, helpful or even controversial.

However on a slightly more positive note, there did seem to be a recognition of a need for changing business models to allow the development of text books/ebooks which met the changing needs of educators, students and the publishing industry. However there was no concensus as to what form any such model would take.

There were interesting presentations from the OU about OpenLearn and from the JISC ebooks observatory project. It is looking like the ebooks observatory is going to provide significant data on use of ebooks as already they have had nearly 20,000 responses to their initial baseline survey. However both these projects although providing access free at point of use, rely on not insignificant funding which is (probably) not sustainable. Whilst there have been great strides in opening access to e-journals the same can’t be said for ebooks or learning resources. How we can learn lessons from the former really didn’t get addressed yesterday.

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