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E-Books: eTextbooks

An overview of eBooks and eTextbooks in NUS Libraries

Introduction and Overview

The definition of eBooks and eTextbooks depends solely on the publisher. Generally, eTextbooks are titles that have been adopted by course instructors for class use, which are then usually recommended as library RBR titles. Many of these titles have new editions due to their popularity. 

With the popularity and frequency of eTextbook publications, publishers have created the category of eTextbooks which are different from how the library normally purchases eBooks and how they are accessed. While eTextbooks are usually sold as personal/student copies, in recent years publishers have made the institutional or library version available but with access restrictions compared to the personal/student version. These restrictions are imposed by the publisher either due to copyright, or likely to 'encourage' students to purchase the personal version instead.

While most eBooks are accessible either via the publisher's own platform, e.g. SAGE Knowledge, or on vendor platforms such as EBSCOhost eBooks and ProQuest eBook Central, eTextbooks are mostly available on eTextbook platforms. NUS subscribes to eTextbooks via the VitalSource platform.

Differences between eTextbooks and eBooks

The way eTextbooks are acquired and accessed are different from normal eBooks. Below are the main differences.

Description eTextbooks eBooks
Pricing model and access period

Annual subscription per title based on the number of users times the eTextbook unit price

For example:

  • Unit price of eTextbook = $100
  • Class size = 200
  • Library annual subscription to this eTextbook will be $100 x 20 students = $20,000 for the entire class to access the eTextbook at the same time. This would be the cost for every year that the eTextbook is required.
  • Once we cancel subscription, the eTextbook is no longer accessible.

One-off purchase and accessible forever (same principle as paying once for a book and owning the copy forever)

Number of users who can access the eBook at the same time

Very limited due to the annual subscription cost of eTextbooks

As a general guideline, the library can only subscribe to a maximum of 5 users per eTextbook, just like the number of print RBR copies that can be purchased based on class size. We may consider subscribing for more users on a case-by-case basis.

Unlimited as far as possible

Some publishers charge eBooks by number of users as well — for such cases, we will purchase eBooks for at least 3 and above users.

Some publishers allow only one user to access an eBook at a time due to copyright restrictions. If it is for course use, we will inform the course instructors who may decide whether to remove the eBook as a required text, or opt for the print version instead. You may also consider uploading one chapter onto LUMINUS.

Access duration

2 hours

To mitigate the high cost of eTextbook subscriptions and their popularity, access is restricted to 2 hours like print RBR books to maximize access to students as far as possible.

No limit, unless there is some period of inactivity which may cause the eBook session to end automatically

DRM (Digital Rights Management) restrictions No downloading and very limited number of printable pages

Usually none

Some publishers may impose DRM restrictions, such as printing and downloading limits on certain eBooks due to copyright.

Instructor / Desk / Inspection copies Instructor, desk, or inspection copies are not available at the library as they are normally restricted only to course instructors. If you'd like to obtain such copies, you may contact the publishers directly, or email the library Acquisitions team for us to connect you with the respective publisher representatives. N.A.

We regret that any copyright or DRM restrictions are entirely at the publishers' discretion which the library is unable to control.

Information for Accessing Library eTextbooks

The Library subscribes to only a few copies or few concurrent accesses for each eTextbook. This means that only a few people can access the eTextbook at the same time. 

To help ensure that everyone is able to access the eTextbook, we would recommend doing the following:

  1. No VitalSource Bookshelf account is required to access the eTextbook. The Bookshelf is only required for a personal VitalSource account. 
  2. If you have finished using the eTextbook before the 2-hour limit, click on the Back arrow at the top left corner of the VitalSource platform, and then choose Return. This would end your session and allow the next person to access the eTextbook.
  3. Library eTextbooks on the VitalSource platform cannot be borrowed, downloaded, or printed. There is usually no copying and pasting either. These are copyright restrictions imposed by the publisher. 

Resource Librarian

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Raven Sim
NUS Central Library
Phone: +65 6516 2018
Subjects: Humanities