UTSA Libraries & Textbooks

Innovative Strategies to Support Roadrunners

Models that Impede Access

Publishers also profit by selling e-textbook access directly to students, bypassing the library. As much as 85% of course textbooks are not available to libraries to purchase as multi-user e-books or in print, giving students no other alternative but to individually purchase digital textbooks or visit the library for short-term checkout of print reserve items.

There are a number of digital platforms selling e-textbooks directly to students. Two popular platforms are RedShelf and VitalSource. RedShelf is the primary digital provider to all Follett-managed bookstores, including the UTSA Rowdy Campus Follett Bookstore. Follet provides access through the RedShelf BryteWave e-book reader, providing direct integration of e-textbooks into Blackboard. 

RedShelf and VitalSource market themselves as “low-cost” and offer features like text highlighting, bookmarking, text searching, note-taking, and study material generation. There are typically restrictions regarding the use of copy+paste and printing imposed by publishers on a title-by-title basis.  


While convenient, there are many drawbacks to these commercial models: 

  • Publishers profit from students and thus limit sales to libraries.

  • Most publishers limit downloading and copying of content to typically 30% max or as little as zero.

  • Students cannot return e-books after reading 10% of the content, and are typically limited to a set amount of time for offline access.

  • There are privacy concerns: publishers collect valuable student and usage data.

  • Inclusive access models involve publishers negotiating one flat rate fee with an institution that is automatically charged to student accounts; in exchange, the institution receives a discount. This ensures a reliable income for publishers and may conflict with Texas 87(R) HB 1027, if charges are made without student consent and without an opt-out procedure.

  • Students rarely have all textbooks through a single publisher. However, there are models where students are charged a flat publisher fee for access to all textbooks from that publisher but still do not have access to their other textbooks from different publishers. Examples are below:

  • Cengage and Pearson have instituted new monthly student access fees.

  • Changing textbook versions require students to purchase new versions, which often vary in content only slightly from prior editions.

  • Unlike print, OER or library-purchased e-textbooks, students do not have access to the e-book content after the semester ends.

Access Codes & Inclusive Access

Definition & Appeal

Some textbook publishers sell access codes that students must purchase in order to complete assignments, take quizzes and tests, report attendance, and access additional required readings and other content. This prepackaged publisher content is available only through the publisher's website with the access code. In order to succeed in class, students must purchase a code if an instructor is making full use of a textbook with one.

Textbooks with access codes are appealing to instructors who teach high-enrollment courses, especially for late course assignments. Their additional features also integrate seamlessly with Blackboard and provide the feel of a tailored course with minimal time investment. Textbooks with access codes can be especially appealing for high-enrollment courses in STEM areas that require more frequent assignments, practice opportunities, and submission of worksheets.


Prior to the use of access codes, students who purchased print textbooks had all that they needed to complete course assignments. The advent of access codes, however, has continued to pose additional barriers, increasing the odds that students will drop, fail, or withdraw from a course.

Access Codes Expire 

Access codes are only valid for a limited time, typically the duration of the course, and then they expire; they cannot be reused. UTSA Student Government Association cites continuous and open access to course textbooks after a course ends as essential, especially for courses within their discipline where content may be needed in jobs they acquire immediately after graduation and beyond.

Students Do Not Purchase

According to Student PIRGs, one in five students skip buying access codes: that is 17% of students. While this is a smaller percentage when compared to the number of students who do not purchase textbooks, the risk of not completing a course is higher since access codes provide access to essential course information necessary for course completion. As a result, 22% of all students surveyed for the Student PIRG "Access Denied" report ranked access code purchase of greater importance than other required course content.

Undesirable Market Impacts

Textbook publishers that incorporate access codes into their product plans impact the alternative textbook market. Access codes eliminate used bookstores, book rentals, sharing with other students, and other avenues for accessing textbooks like library reserves that have historically been paths on which students can rely for their textbook content.

Definition & Background

"Inclusive Access, also known as automatic textbook billing, is a sales model for college textbooks. Digital content is delivered to students by the first day of class, often through a learning management system. Students have a period to “opt out” before they are billed through their tuition and fees. After the end of the course, students typically lose access to the content. Brand names include First Day and Follett ACCESS. "

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), launched InclusiveAccess.org in Fall 2021, a one-stop resource on inclusive access programs (SPARC, 2021). It is important to note that many libraries consider the phrase inclusive access to be a misnomer for these types of programs. Like access codes, inclusive access models impede course material access. Publishers that provide inclusive access  offer these programs at both the campus and academic department levels. Academic departments may agree to adopt a publisher’s textbooks for a single course, an entire degree program, or for courses within several academic departments. More extreme examples involve campus-wide adoption of a single publisher's textbooks.


While faculty are drawn to the bundles of ancillary materials provided with inclusive access models and the attractive price noticeably reduced due to bulk buy-in, these  access programs create a multitude of  issues for students and faculty alike, despite the seemingly  “inclusive” price that seems attractive at first glance.


Faculty: Decreased Academic Freedom

For faculty, the cons of inclusive access programs are many. Inclusive access agreements restrict faculty to adopting materials only from publishers with whom they signed an agreement for a specific course or program. Program faculty wishing to diversify course readings with materials from a variety of publishers are restricted from exercising their full academic freedom. This is problematic due to the limited scope of commercial textbook publisher content and the exclusion of historically underrepresented groups in commercial textbooks: women, people of color, and LGBTQ voices.  

Students: Eliminating the Textbook Choice 

Institutions that adopt inclusive access models effectively remove the textbook choice for students. Inclusive access campuses auto-bill students for e-textbooks on tuition statements with e-textbooks that are accessible on a digital platform, often only for a limited period of time (U.S. PIRGs, 2020). On the surface, costs appear to dwindle, but a closer look reveals that the inclusive access e-textbook price far exceeds the cost of a print used copy of the same text (U.S. PIRGS, 2020). States are passing legislation mandating transparency around inclusive access programs, like House Bill 1027, whose expectations, along wth UTSA and UT System’s work toward compliance are covered in greater detail in the legislation section.

Additional Reading

Inclusiveaccess.org. (2022). "Get the facts on inclusive access textbooks."

Student PIRGs. (2016)." Access denied: The new face of the textbook monopoly." Student Public Interest Research Groups.