I was invited to talk at the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) annual conference this year. The general topic was (hold onto your seats) “Sustainability and the Future of Scholarly Communications.” Presumably after solving this one, we were to go off and plug the floor of the Gulf of Mexico and settle the conflict in the Middle East once and for all.
As I noted in my presentation, I am not a big fan of the concept of sustainability. It implies stasis, as though what we have is what we want to have. For most of the university presses that participated in the conference, it’s hard to believe that the current situation is very attractive, with ongoing reductions in library purchases of monographs and increased pressure by university administrators on press subsidies.
Is this what we want to sustain? I think not.
For this reason, I posited five stages to book publishing and proposed that the way to become “sustainable” (by which, presumably, we mean “economically viable”) was to innovate ourselves into a more attractive position. Thus, from Stage One — the world of legacy print publishing — we move over time to Stage Five, when we begin to publish books on a subscription basis directly to consumers (ebooks, of course) and reap the considerable financial benefits of the subscription business model.
The AAUP has posted the slides for the presentation at SlideShare:
Perhaps my greatest surprise was the response to one of my remarks, which, to be blunt, seems to me to be incontestable: that 5 years from now, the share of library purchases of scholarly materials would be less than it is today. Whether library purchases will decline in absolute numbers is another matter, but as a matter of market share, the diminishing role of libraries seems to me to be a hard thing to take exception to (at least, that is what librarians keep telling us — that they are out of money and don’t have the support of university administrators).
I will be revising “Stage Five Book Publishing” for formal publication in the fall and hope to incorporate readers’ comments.