Wiley withdraws 1,380 ebooks from ProQuest Academic Complete, causing consternation in academia

The ebooks, many of which were already incorporated into course syllabi worldwide, disappeared from ProQuest at the end of August, which marked the beginning of the school year for many institutions of higher learning.

The abrupt withdrawal of the Wiley ebooks sparked outrage among librarians and faculty alike. Libraries had paid for their ProQuest subscriptions, assuming they would have access to the content that existed there before Wiley chose to remove its titles. Students who relied on free access to etextbooks were suddenly confronted with only a few options. They could buy the ebooks directly from Wiley, rely on second-hand copies (which were in short supply if not impossible to obtain), hope their professors found an alternative textbook, or do without. It is Wiley’s policy not to sell directly to libraries.

Libraries might be able to find one copy to put on reserve, but if a class had hundreds of students, this is not a workable solution. An example given in an article by Susan D’Agostino in Inside Higher Education cites a geography text used at George Washington University in a class with 269 enrolled students. She quotes Geneva Henry, GWU’s dean of libraries and academic innovation as saying that ProQuest notified the library during the summer about the situation. However, that was insufficient time to plan since many instructors plan their courses and write their syllabi in the spring, not anticipating the sudden removal of ebooks.

The official announcement from GWU to its faculty and students was condemnatory towards Wiley, stating “This situation highlights how the behavior of large commercial publishers poses a serious obstacle to textbook affordability.” The statement continues: “By withdrawing those electronic editions from the academic library market altogether, Wiley has effectively ensured that, when those titles are selected as course textbooks, students will bear the financial burden, and that libraries cannot adequately provide for the needs of students and faculty by providing shared electronic access.”

Wiley told D’Agostino that it had notified ProQuest in June 2020 about the proposed withdrawal, claiming that was plenty of time for ProQuest to notify its customers. At the time of publication, D’Agostino had not heard from ProQuest. Henry said that she was told by ProQuest that it had asked Wiley to delay the action until August 2022, which it apparently did.

The Library Association of Ireland (LAI) said the “abrupt” move by academic publisher Wiley caused high levels of disruption at the beginning of the new academic year, according to an article by Jess Casey in the Irish Examiner. Deeming the action “abrupt”, the association also criticized the new subscription business model of Wiley, which is to sell individual etextbooks with “exorbitant” prices based on class size. Ciara McCaffrey, deputy librarian at the University of Limerick, said: “This is a disgraceful action by one of the largest publishers in the world with annual revenues in excess of $2bn."

Library Association president Cathal McCauley said the move by Wiley underlines the need for legislative change. “Unfortunately what Wiley has done is yet another example of the behaviours that the #ebookSOS campaign has been highlighting.

A post by Yohanna Anderson, a co-founder of the #ebookSOS campaign, included quotes from several academic librarians, all expressing outrage at Wiley’s actions and indicating that, unlike Henry at GWU, they had no advance notification. They only discovered the ebooks were gone when students reported they couldn’t access them.

Universally, librarians are appalled at the behavior of publishers who put profit above students’ financial situations, harming their well-being, and who thwart the educational mission of institutions of higher education. 

Update: On 5 October 2022 Wiley issued a press release saying it would reinstate the blocked ebooks, according to reports in Inside Higher Education, InfoDOCKET, and Market Screener .

In the press release, titled “A Statement from Matt Leavy, EVP & GM, Academic & Professional Learning for Wiley”, Leavy wrote:

“We sincerely apologize for any disruption this may have caused students, instructors and libraries,” Leavy wrote. “We are reviewing the process of updating collections to avoid similar situations in the future.”

However, they are slated to be removed again in June 2023, so this is only a temporary fix.