:sync: Myth-busting “Inclusive Access”

Authors: Hailey Babb, Winni Zhang
Institution: SPARC
Countries: Canada, United States

Topic: Global Collaboration, Strategies, & Policies in Open Education
Sector: Higher Education
UNESCO Area of Focus: Inclusive OER
Session Format: Presentation


After three decades of driving up the cost of textbooks into a veritable crisis, the textbook publishing industry is now pushing a new subscription-based model that is widely known as “inclusive access” that purports to answer the very problems created by the same companies that now seek to offer solutions. Leveraging its own outrageous pricing schemes for traditional print books, publishers market “inclusive access” as an affordable, day one access course with a fee-based subscription that is automatically billed to students upon enrolling in the course. However, those are just marketing tactics, and we spent over two months with a community coalition to analyze institution contracts and marketing materials to uncover the truth behind inclusive access.

The industry has been widely successful at marketing “inclusive access” deals to institutions which offer the appearance of immediate cost savings. Moreover, the negative associations with traditional publisher prices have not yet carried over to “inclusive access,” so in many cases institutions and faculty may not question the long-term implications. The risks of widespread adoption of “inclusive access” are manifold. On a very basic level, it is setting higher education up to repeat the same history of unsustainable prices by leaving publishers with vast market power to dictate prices. On a broader level, the expansion of digital subscriptions is also setting textbook publishers up to siphon up vast amounts of student data, leaving institutions exposed to possible legal, reputational, and financial risks of losing control of this important information.

The best way we can establish open as the default is to equip community members with knowledge on what “inclusive access” truly is and the threat it poses to open education. We hope to continue to work with the community to identify best practices for stopping the textbook publishing industry from eliminating the rental/used textbook markets and decreasing affordability along with choice for students.


Inclusive Access, Publishing, Student Experience