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iFind Reading: Ebook availability

Mae'r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg

Why can't the Library buy an ebook of my resource?

Whilst we make every effort to find an electronic version, like all academic libraries, we find that some books are simply not available electronically, or not available for libraries to buy, even when a version is available for an individual to use.  Some ebooks are also very expensive and so we must be mindful of budgetary constraints.  There are many different licensing models too, and we need to take these into consideration when purchasing.

Below are some of the restrictions we encounter when trying to source material for you:

- Some publishers sell their ebooks to individuals only.

You may come across websites which show an ebook is available, however, these are sold directly to an individual for them to access on their own account, for example, Kindle or Kobo ebooks. 

Libraries can't buy these ebooks as they are licensed to the individual who purchased them, and can't be shared with anyone else.  

The Library needs to buy ebooks where the publisher has licensed them for Libraries to share with their users. These are available to Libraries from a range of suppliers, and the model of access varies for publisher to publisher.  Unfortunately not everything which is available for an individual to buy will be licensed for a Library to buy.  

Some publishers don't license their ebooks for sale in the UK.

An ebook may be available, but the ebook hasn't been licensed for libraries to buy in the UK.  It may be that the publisher will release the ebook for distribution in the UK at a later date, not at all, or may have agreed to sell the ebook using the eTextbook model in the UK.


The price of some ebooks, especially etextbooks,  is determined by the number of students registered on a course or module.  These are only available to students registered on a particular module(s), and access is purchased for a specified time period, normally 1 year.

No-one outside the module(s) the e-textbook has been bought for will have access to it.  When the time period expires there is no access to the e-textbook, unless purchased again.

There are three main suppliers who offer this model, BibliuKortext and Vital Source.  Kortext and Vital Source also sell directly to students.

This access model tends to be very expensive, and because the University loses access to the resource after the time period of the purchase, we have to consider the sustainability of the model carefully.

Some licensing models just aren't practical or useful.

There are a wide range of licensing models which publishers offer which place restrictions on how an ebook  can be used.  All ebook licenses, with the exception of DRM-Free (Digital Rights Management Free) licenses will restrict the number of pages which can be downloaded or printed for later use.

Single-user license/3-user license

Both of these restrict the number of people who can access the ebook at any time.  Restricted user licenses are okay if only a few people will need to access the ebook at a time, but aren't useful for large groups who will need access to the ebook at the same time.  If a class of 100 students all need to read a chapter from an ebook in a week, and there is only a three-user license some students won't get access when they need it.

Credit models

Each time an ebook is viewed a credit is used.  Some ebook suppliers work exclusively on a credit model, supply 100 credits or more.  Credits can be used up very quickly if a large number of people need to use the ebook, or a smaller number need to use the ebook frequently.  If a class has 100 students, and they all use an ebook with a 300-credit license, all 100 students can access the ebook at the same time (using 100 credits), but once the 300 credits are used no-one will be able to access it, unless additional credit is bought.

Unlimited and DRM-Free licenses

Some publishers will sell Unlimited licenses which will allow any number of people to access them as frequently as they want.  Others offer DRM-Free licenses (Digital Rights Management Free) which allow the same access as an Unlimited license but also allow someone to download and save as much of the ebook they want, great for offline reading or for those who prefer not to read from a screen.  Unlimited and DRM-Free Licenses can be more expensive.

All of these model variations need to be considered when purchasing ebooks.

Ebooks can be very expensive.

You may see an ebook available for an individual to buy for £30, but the price the Library pays will almost always be more than the price an individual pays.  Some ebook titles can cost hundreds, and even thousands of pounds.  Unfortunately there's no formula which can be applied to guess at what a Library might have to pay to get access to an ebook.  Publishers do this to protect themselves against loss of revenue, working on the basis that if the Library buys an ebook, they won't be able to sell a copy of the book to students or University staff.

Some ebooks aren't available for Libraries to buy as a single title

Some titles are only sold as part of a package of ebooks.  These packages could be a subject- based collection, where the Library has to buy the whole collection, or occasionally a custom collection can be created, but the Library would be required to purchase a specified number of ebooks from a collection in order to get access to a specific title.  

These collections can prove to be useful, but the cost of buying them can be significant.  The Library will only buy collections when it is clear that all the ebooks included in the collection are likely to be well used.

Requesting an ebook

We are always happy to investigate the possibility of an ebook purchase so please do contact your Library Subject Team with the details for us to look into for you. (

Library staff will check to see whether an ebook is available, what it will cost, and any restrictions on access. 

Please ask if you have any questions.

[Adapted with kind permission from St Andrew’s University Library:]