Open letter calls for ‘investigation of academic publishing industry’

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A group of UK-based academic librarians, researchers, university lecturers and students has called on the government to investigate the academic publishing industry over its pricing and licensing practices regarding ebooks.

The letter states: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic – where students and researchers have not been able to physically visit libraries and access paper books – has brought the many market issues regarding ebooks sharply into focus, as ebooks have become our only purchase option. As lockdown began in March we observed students borrowing as much of the print material that they needed as possible, but as libraries shut academic librarians then did their best to source digital versions. 

‘Due to UK copyright law university libraries cannot simply purchase an ebook in the way an individual can – instead we are required to purchase a version licensed specifically for university use. Public policy to support education and research should support a healthy ebook market, but we in fact see the opposite.’

As reported in Research Information, three major sector bodies representing academic library directors and higher education managers last month warned that a price freeze on journal subscriptions will not be enough to avoid UK researchers losing access to key academic content.

Johanna Anderson, a subject librarian at University of Gloucestershire, who is one of the organisers of the initiative, said: ‘The current situation is not working and it needs to change. Librarians are increasingly unable to provide the resources students, lecturers and researchers need. 

‘We call on all impacted by the deeply flawed ebook publishing industry to add your names to our open letter. In the first instance, with support from Alex Chalk MP for Cheltenham, it will be delivered to the the Chair of the Education Select Committee and we will endeavour to bring the letter to the attention of other relevant government ministers and public bodies. You can help by also bringing it to the attention of your own MP.

‘If you are from outside the UK, please feel free to copy our letter and to use it to lobby your leaders to do the same. This is a global issue impacting us all in the Higher Education sector.’

So far the letter has had more than 700 signatories. Sign the letter at