Open Voices: #ebookSOS and the frustrations of inconsistent ebook access

In this post we are hearing from Ronán Kennedy, Head of Collections in University of Galway Library about the very current #ebookSOS campaign and its background.


 #ebookSOS began in 2020 as a movement in the UK when Librarian Johanna Anderson consistently encountered obstacles when trying to provide ebook access for a new course at her institution. Momentum quickly gathered throughout the UK and internationally as more and more institutions were encountering the same issues across the academic publishing sector. A very brief explainer on YouTube can be found here.

The main aim of #ebookSOS is a call to investigate the provision of and pricing of titles in the academic ebook market. The current poor business practises from publishers create bad faith and a lack of trust and confidence among stakeholders such as libraries, patrons and faculty.
The campaign has gathered significant support internationally, with libraries, universities, academics, student unions, and many cross-sector groups and organisations publicly supporting it.

The problems

One of the key tenets of the #ebooksos campaign is the ability to crowd source data from different institutions to analyse pricing of titles across the sector. This comparative analysis highlighted a range of concerning issues - including pricing, licensing, inconsistencies and attempts at market manipulation.

During the COVID lockdowns, institutions and public libraries had to quickly pivot to provide electronic access to many titles that would have been available to patrons in hardcopy previously. Over the following months, many of these problems began to acutely affect libraries’ ability to provide patrons with the content they needed.
Some of the problems can be found below:

·         Libraries were finding consistent differences in the price of an ebook and the hardcopy equivalent via third party platforms. The ebook is usually multiple times more expensive, and can be as much as 20 times more expensive than the hardcopy.

·         The crowdsourced data showed that different institutions were being charged different prices for the same ebook with the same license conditions

·         Publishers were deliberately targeting Schools and Colleges with pricing offers for titles, and restricting access to small cohorts rather than the democratic ‘available for all’ ethos of libraries and institutions.

·         Many core titles were being made available, but only with restrictive terms and conditions such as ‘exploding licenses’ (the book is only available for a fixed time period before auto-deleting)

·         Ebook packages being sold, but with sets of titles unpredictably and arbitrarily removed. See here for an example. The risk of title removal makes content provision unpredictable, and very difficult to use this content in a teaching setting.

·         Some ‘high-value’ ebooks were not available to purchase individually and instead were exclusively available via bundled packages with many ‘low-value’ titles, at considerably more expense.

#ebookSOS in Ireland

A call for action was published and endorsed by the Library Association of Ireland, the Consortium of National and University Libraries, the Irish Universities Association Librarian’s Group and the Higher Education Association Librarians’ Group.

The call advocates for copyright law reform, sustainable ebook pricing and licensing, discount models where hardcopies have been purchased, and other issues. The call also looks for ‘More government support for the creation and use of Open Education Resources (OER) and the associated curation infrastructure to ensure sustainable access’.


The future

The campaign is continuing to gather momentum and support internationally. The original #ebooksos open letter has gathered over 5,000 signatures (we would encourage you to sign and show your support if you haven’t done so). It has received much media coverage both nationally and internationally, and meetings have been held with various Irish government departments to help explain the situation further. In 2021, Knowledge Rights 21 was established to advocate for copyright law reform and a more progressive approach to open access across education and research.

However, progress will not just be made at an institution or policy level. We have an opportunity to investigate and foster alternative routes to high quality academic content for teaching, learning and research.

Open Educational Resources (OER), controlled digital lending, and Open Access book publishing are all tools that can be hugely beneficial in this area. They offer opportunities to provide sustainable access to key content while reducing our dependence on a publishing model lacking in clarity and confidence.

For more information, see:


 About the author

Ronán Kennedy is Head of Collections in University of Galway Library and is a member of the ebookSOS Ireland Steering Group. His role as Head of Collections and previously as E-Resources Librarian has allowed Ronán to closely follow developments and trends on the ebook landscape since 2004.