eBooks that generally focus on core course content and have been written specifically for students can be thought of as ‘eTextbooks’. Many are simply digital equivalents of print textbooks, though there is an increasing trend for eTextbooks to be born digital and not released in print at all. eTextbooks often include extra features not available with print books, such as:

  • interactive assessments/quizzes
  • lecture slides
  • social media channels, facilitating student interaction

Publishers determine an eBook’s status as an eTextbook, based on their assessment of the title’s application to teaching. Where they have sold multiple copies of a print textbook, any digital version is guaranteed to be deemed an eTextbook. This protects their revenue stream by preserving a sales/usage ratio of 1:1, as opposed to the 1:M (many) ratio facilitated by library lending.

eBooks listed on course profiles are generally classified as eTextbooks by publishers, but in some cases, where the student cohort is small or if few academics have used it with their courses, a title may not be reclassified.

eTextbooks at UQ

UQ Library has an e-preferred Collection Management Policy, meaning we acquire books, journals, and other resources in electronic format, wherever possible. As such, we support the incorporation of eTextbooks into teaching and learning, though, a number of factors do limit the Library’s involvement with eTextbooks:

  • Many publishers do not sell their eTextbooks to libraries, only making them available to individuals
  • Those that do sell to libraries charge according to the number of enrolled students, making the cost prohibitive
  • Funding eTextbook access for every student in a course would mark a fundamental change in Library service levels
  • Buying eTextbooks for certain courses and not others could compromise the Library's role in assuring equity in access for students, under the Higher Education Support Act 2003 Guidelines. Please see UQ's Incidental Student Fees and Charges Procedure and the UQ Library's Collection Management Policy

If an eTextbook is available to libraries, we must also consider:

  • Number of simultaneous users allowed and access periods
  • Completeness of content - some eTextbook content may not be included for libraries, eg. assessment components
  • Download and/or printing limits.

Ultimately, students must weigh up the level of access available from their library and the cost of purchasing their own copy of an eTextbook.

Compliance with the Higher Education Standards Framework 

Teaching staff should be aware that the provision of textbooks and readings should be compliant with the Higher Education Standards Framework.

Select learning resources for your course has more information about the eBook restrictions and barriers that can impact student use. 

Publisher partnerships

Mash-up texts

Sometimes academics partner with a publisher to choose chapters from a selection of books and compile them into a single 'text' for their particular subjects. These ‘mash-up’ eTextbooks are not available to libraries – they can only be purchased by individuals.

Partnerships with libraries

In the Library's experience, publishers do not partner with libraries with respect to eTextbooks. This is also reported by other Council of Australian University Librarians members. eTextbook publisher representatives do not contact UQ Library, instead dealing directly with academics.

In these cases, the publisher's title is listed as required reading on the course profile and will be classified and sold as an eTextbook.

We usually first learn of these partnerships when students report that they are unable to locate their eTextbook using Library Search.

Questions for publishers

The Library suggests academics ask publisher representatives the following questions if approached with eTextbook deals:

  • Is the assessment module customisable?
  • Can my own assessments be included?
  • Is it compatible with Learn.UQ Blackboard?
  • Is access purchased or leased by students?
  • What is the cost relative to the print equivalent? 30%, 50%?

Access to eBooks for courses

eBooks in the Library collection vary in terms of their longevity and conditions of access and this can have implications for academics selecting titles for their course profiles and book chapters for reading lists. These differences are largely a result of how UQ has acquired access to a title.

Subscription or lease

The Library's subscribed/leased services include AccessMedicine and Knovel. Access to these titles is not permanent, ie. a title you used in previous courses may no longer be available this semester. Titles come and go at the publishers’ discretion.

The Library has encountered instances where spikes in usage have brought titles to the attention of publishers or vendors, and those titles have been withdrawn from collections subscribed to or leased by the Library. They later appear as eTextbooks available for purchase by individuals only.

Direct purchase

The Library purchases permanent access to subject or entire year collections from some publishers, including Springer, Wiley, ScienceDirect, OUP, and CSIRO. eBooks purchased directly from publishers have the most flexible digital rights management conditions, typically offering:

  • unlimited, simultaneous access by multiple users
  • full download to portable devices
  • unlimited printing/copying

Access to these eBooks is permanent - you can expect to be able to use them in your courses year on year.

Third party purchase

While access is permanent, eBooks purchased from third party vendors such as Ebook Central and EbscoHost do come with varied and sometimes stringent conditions. These may include:

  • limited number of uses per year, before an additional licence must be purchased
  • limited amount of printing, copying or downloading
  • no downloading to portable devices
  • limited number of simultaneous users, where others are locked out until a 'seat' is vacated

Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA)

With Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA) models, an agreed list of not-yet-owned eBooks is added to the collection. Purchases are then triggered by client usage, such as:

  • opening the eBook, or viewing a specified number of pages
  • downloading
  • printing

Titles on a PDA profile may appear or disappear at the publisher/aggregator's discretion, but once a purchase has been triggered, access to the eBook will be permanent.

Open textbooks

Open textbooks provide an alternative to commercial textbooks and offer many benefits to you, your students and the community. Find out how you can author, adapt or adopt open textbooks

Further information

You can check the publisher, platform, and usage conditions of a title via Library Search or by contacting the Librarian Team.