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Is the nature of university publishing about to change?

Textbook subscriptions: Is the nature of university publishing about to change? Source: Free-Photos (via Pixabay)

By Bethany Handley

A young, London-based startup company called Perlego is aiming to make academia and academic texts more accessible to students by reducing the cost of obtaining textbooks. Perlego is a start-up subscription service which provides academic textbooks from an array of publishers, and some are speculating whether the nature of university publishing is beginning to change and beginning to catch up with the modern age.

For a monthly fee of £12, Perlego grants students access to academic textbooks from various publishers, branding themselves as offering ‘unlimited reading for less than the price of a single book. Moreover, rather than providing scanned textbooks, Perlego provides subscribers with interactive texts that can be annotated and highlighted.

Some believe that this service offers exciting benefits to students. Firstly, it arguably aims to democratise academia by making 200,000 titles available to every subscriber. It also saves students the agonising price of core textbooks when library copies are limited, whilst allowing students to easily read texts from multiple genres and academic disciplines.

However, the reaction from students is mixed. Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC) student Iris said, “I believe an online subscription service for textbooks would help me study better, as I would have easier access to all the course material and wouldn’t have to use money to buy all the books separately when the library only has a few copies.

“The standard price for Netflix is £8 a month,”’ she added, “giving us almost unlimited access to films and series. Doesn’t sound too bad if we could do the same for books!”

On the other hand, French and Spanish Translation student, Ellena, acknowledged that whilst Perlego would reduce the money she is forced to spend on textbooks which the library does not stock in great quantities, she believes that a textbook subscription service could discourage niche reading and the pursuit of creative sources.

“The subscription fee would encourage loyalty to the site for your reading and therefore discourages extended reading where you pay for access to niche subjects in addition to the core textbooks.”

Whilst Perlego seems to have revolutionary potential for students, the benefits for published academics can also be questioned. Perlego’s business model mirrors that of Spotify’s, with subscriptions allowing the consumer direct access to the contributor’s work without the middle party. However, this may pose challenges to the academics whose work is being accessed, with some questioning whether academics will be reimbursed fairly.

What’s more, various academic publishers already offer their own academic subscription services, such as EBSCO and Oxford Academic. It will be interesting to see if Perlego takes off and affects the way students use academic sources.

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