subway busker
A potential funding mechanism? Image by Alexander Farley.

The arguments for open access (OA) monographs are many and varied. There is, of course, the unchallenged commonplace that OA makes the world a better place, which is coupled with the teleological argument (common among computer types) that OA is inevitable, so why not go to the head of the line? (One might inquire: If it is indeed inevitable, why is it necessary to work so hard to make it happen?) There is the Public Goods argument: since much of the funding for the creation and publication of monographs comes from the public trough (salaried academics at public universities, purchases by libraries from the same quarter, etc.), it’s piggy to make the public pay a second time. There is the Pent-up Demand perspective, which states that since all the world, even at the rolling hills of Duke or at Stanford’s Palm Drive, is starving, even a penny for critical scholarship is simply too much: Make it free and watch usage soar! Then there is the Economic Tough Times argument: library budgets are stretched to the breaking point by the avaricious pricing of a few journals publishers, leaving only crumbs for the publishers of monographs: better a book were OA then left to molder on the shelves of a warehouse. We have some megatrends analysis, too, as in “universities are not investing in the humanities, so the monograph, which primarily supports humanities research, is collateral damage.” Concerning the failure of the monograph to prosper in the traditional marketplace, my observation is simply that librarians, their trade associations notwithstanding, are very, very smart people and are getting better and better at identifying what their constituencies want and have become skillful at satisfying these needs with great efficiency. The monograph, in other words, is not collateral damage but the primary target of the expeditionary force.

Whatever the reason, the OA monograph is very much with us now and, I think, is almost certainly going to be a bigger part of scholarly communications in the next few years. Whether it will continue to grow hinges upon the all-important matter of sustainability. Here the outlook is cloudy, though one sometimes is surprised by a shaft of sunlight even in a Nordic winter.

Which brings us to the ticklish question of how OA monographs can make money. Remember, these are books written by scholars for other scholars and thus have little marketplace demand and must be supported in other ways. Among the candidates:

  • Some variant of Gold OA. In the journals world Gold OA is supported by Article Processing Charges (APCs) paid for out of research grants or by the authors themselves, but books occupy a different economy where research funds are scarce and the cost of publication ($10,000-$35,000) would exceed the means of all but the best-heeled academics. The emerging candidate to fund the OA monograph is thus the provost, who would create a fund to support scholars on campus. It’s an interesting question why a provost, who may simultaneously be cutting the budget of the conventional university press, would pay for books that the librarian on the other side of the quad will not. Some philanthropies may step up to this, however, at least in the early days, but ongoing support is probably the duty of an author’s own institution and no one else. Or there is the possibility of the federal government taking over this responsibility, as many people advocate and expect. Presumably this would be an amendment to a bill passed by an enthusiastic Congress to provide free college tuition to one and all.
  • The tip jar. In its most sophisticated form this is known as “the NPR model,” where motivated people chip in and unmotivated people do not. Unlike NPR, with its large national audience (not to mention other forms of support), scholarly monographs seeking donations are likely to struggle. And there is a matter of dignity, is there not?, when scholars are reduced to the level of buskers on a subway platform. On the other hand, we have seen some significant successes with this strategy. Exhibit A is the physics arXiv at Cornell, which is in part supported by library donations. The question for monographs is whether this model is replicable.
  • Value-added services. The idea here is that you can give a digital version of a book away, provided that you find other things to charge for. So, for example, one can aggregate audiences to sell to advertisers; or perhaps a superior edition of a work can be sold (with audio and video enhancements, for example). This is also the world of print on demand, about which more in a moment.

Let’s also consider a related item, the potential to reduce the cost of publication sufficiently to lessen the financial requirements of sustainability. The problem with this point of view is simply that the presses have been assiduously working on it for years now, and it truly is galling to hear people with no or little publishing experience talk about significant reductions in costs as though this were the easiest thing in the world. Proponents of the radical cost-reduction theory usually begin with the assumption that university presses don’t know their way around the digital publishing world: Get rid of print and work exclusively with digital editions and the cost of publishing will drop to a level that perhaps even the tip jar could support.

The bad news is that this is not true. The simple truth is that academic publishers make money with print. Yes, every time a print book is sold, about 45-55% of the sum received by the publisher falls to the bottom line. (The figure is substantially higher for ebooks, and if everybody who buys print books were willing to switch to digital copies, publishers would be delighted.) This is because academic books have a high gross margin (what’s left after you subtract the costs of paper, printing, binding, and royalties, if any). The problem with profitability has to do with the cost of editorial operations, which have to be spread across all the copies, both print and digital, that are sold. The fact is that if publishers stopped printing books tomorrow, they would lose more money.

Ironically, print is probably the best value-added service to bring to the OA world. The idea here is that the OA digital version would serve as promotion for a print edition. And there would seem to be an opportunity here, which lies in the preference many people have for print, which almost 10 years after the launch of the Kindle still controls about 75% of the overall book market and a higher percentage for academic titles. (It gives one pause to contemplate how different the ecosystems are for books and journals.) Unfortunately, this model — use free online texts to drive the sale of print texts–has been tried extensively, but the take-up for print after viewing a free online edition is generally quite small — not zero, but small. Thus there is no reason not to do this, but it would be a mistake to expect that such a financial model would support the entire enterprise.

But why stop with print? Perhaps an OA publisher could sell editions with other attributes. So, for example, a book could be put online in a digital format that is hard to read for any length of time. A charge could then be imposed for superior versions, providing some other revenue to complement the print-on-demand service. Alas, this has been experimented with as well, with meager results. Unless a new value-added service is invented, it appears that once a book is posted online for free, there will be few ways to generate revenue.

There is another problem with the strategy of adding value to the free edition, though, and that is that the quality of ebooks is bound to get better even as print more or less remains in place. This is the basic problem with using OA versions to sell other editions: as the digital versions offered in OA get better, there will be less reason to purchase any enhancements. In other words, for OA to help to promote the sale of other editions, the OA version must be created in as inferior a way as imaginable.

Which brings us back to the provost. It seems likely to me that provosts will seek funds to support the publication of their faculties’ books, at least for a period of time. But there are some hard questions here: How many books and at what level of support? Will some disciplines have a clearer path to funding? And what happens in an economic downturn, or even in good times when the heads of important departments lobby the provost for additional support? The authors’ fund can be squeezed a bit, perhaps a bit more.

This is the core problem: if provosts are unwilling to support the current university press world, which earns back about 90% of its costs from the marketplace, why would they, in the long run, be willing to step up to support the very same books but at greater expense?


Joseph Esposito

Joseph Esposito

Joe Esposito is a management consultant for the publishing and digital services industries. Joe focuses on organizational strategy and new business development. He is active in both the for-profit and not-for-profit areas.


43 Thoughts on "The Open Access Monograph"

Joe, I think one answer to your final question is that there are things readers/users can do with an open access monograph that they cannot do with a closed one. Essential to the sorts of digital scholarship humanists are now doing is the ability to text mine, visualize, remix, and generally interact with their sources. While it is true that lengthy license agreements can permit special exceptions for some of these uses for closed monographs, the barriers can be completely lifted in an open environment. Your analysis of the reasons for the interest in OA for monographs also equates marketplace demand with user demand. My experience of “unlatching” monographs is that we see evidence of new readers in developing world countries, more discussion in media and policy circles, and in general a kind of extended use that reassures us that the books academic presses invest so much time in producing are actually of interest to far wider group than just the author’s peer group. In sum, although we still lack some of the platforms and metrics we need to fully realize the opportunity, OA monographs show the promise of being more useful and having more impact. And that’s why Provosts and other right-thinking people invest in them.

Under Gold open access, you say “It’s an interesting question why a provost, who may simultaneously be cutting the budget of the conventional university press, would pay for books that the librarian on the other side of the quad will not.”

I’m not sure what you mean by that. I’m keen on the Knowledge Unlatched model, where libraries (the main audience for academic books) vote with their wallets for the books they want published.

This subtly adjusts the conversation between the customer (libraries) and the supplier (publishers). It moves the payment away from the author, which reduces the risk of predatory publishing and vanity publishing. Discussion of pricing and payment happens openly before publication, which reduces the risk carried by publishers, I think.

The only real difference between an open access monograph and a closed access monograph is the licence. All other costs are the same. Giving up that licence represents potential future value foregone by the publisher. For any given book, that future value is unpredictable. It can, however, be predicted for a future corpus by looking at historical patterns over time. Both publishers and libraries have the data required to predict that value.

Consortiums of libraries that indicate their publishing needs ahead of time also represent a value to the publisher – the value of reduced market risk. In some ways, this is a much more valuable ‘value’, as it represents a clear intention to buy. It is a very interesting method of preordering.

An open access bird in the hand, or a second edition in the bush?

By the way, don’t be so disparaging of the busking option. The Street Performer Protocol (threshold pledging) is an excellent analogy for some of the changes we are seeing now.
Kelsey, John, & Schneier, Bruce (1999). The street performer protocol and digital copyrights. First Monday, 4(6). doi:10.5210/fm.v4i6.673

Under Gold open access, you say “It’s an interesting question why a provost, who may simultaneously be cutting the budget of the conventional university press, would pay for books that the librarian on the other side of the quad will not.”

Speaking as a library administrator with experience pitching budget proposals to provosts, I think there’s a more interesting question at play here: why would a provost give the library money so that it can pay for books that are freely available to the public? Right now, the answer to that question seems to be “Because it’s the right thing to do and provosts are good people who want to do the right thing.” Both of which I believe to be true to some degree, but the problem is that for every one thing that a provost has money to support, there are multiple other “right things” that also need to be supported. For me, this is the biggest concern about models like Knowledge Unlatched, SCOAP3, and the OA Network. When the option of being a free rider is on the table, and when resources are severely limited and are needed for other (good) things that can’t be had for free, it might be very tough to convince your funding institution that spending those resources on free things is the best strategy.

Rick, I hear what you’re saying and I agree that there are challenges with the long-term sustainability of the “tip jar” model (we’re already hearing from librarians that there are too many of these asks emerging, and that it’s hard for many to justify supporting them without a direct benefit to their campus). But do you think this also extends to supporting the direct costs of faculty publication? I’ve heard an increasing number of deans and provosts talking of these as part of future hiring packages for faculty – one that could become a competitive edge for institutions. Perhaps in a competitive market where the incentives are aligned provosts will start to see this differently?

Hi, Alison —

I think the big difference between using library or university funds to support, say, the OA Network and using them to underwrite APCs is that APC funding provides a direct and concrete local benefit. With APCs, you don’t have the option of being a free rider. The only way you get the publishing service is if you pay for it, so there’s a structural incentive to pay for it and a direct reward for doing so. With the “tip jar” or “NPR” model of funding, the structural incentive is to hold back and wait for someone else to pay so you can use your money for something else that’s equally good and important.

That said, underwriting faculty APCs does pose very real challenges as well — but they’re different from the ones that arise from trying to justify the use of campus funds to pay for content that is free.

Rick, it’s exactly the concern you raise about the (original) Open Access Network approach that seemed to shift money away from local priorities that prompted us a few months ago to build into our newest model indirect support for those local OA priorities that support humanities and social science (HSS) projects and publications. As our current briefing document (open for comment at — please do weigh in!) explains, “To acknowledge the investment many institutions are already making in OA publications, projects, and platforms, we have factored into the funding formula [for the OAN] the option for an institution to reduce its annual payment by the (self-reported) amount that that institution already spends on other HSS OA initiatives. (The numerous examples of such initiatives include APCs for HSS articles in fully OA journals, the Open Library of the Humanities, Knowledge Unlatched, Luminos, Lever, campus-published journals, open educational resources, discipline-specific repositories for HSS content, digital humanities projects, and so on.) Acknowledgement of these local OA priorities underscores the importance of institutional support for OA infrastructure whether regional, national, or global.” All so say — we couldn’t agree more that local priorities need to be supported by provosts, deans, and librarians, while at the same time monies can and should be allocated as well for the greater global good.

The easy answer to Joe’s last question is that supporting the university press is supporting the publication of monographs mostly written by faculty at other universities whereas supporting the publication of books by one’s own faculty has a clear and direct benefit to one’s own university. This was not always the case. E.g., the University of California Press started as a service agency to publish just the works of UC authors. In that case, there is a difect benefit, as there is with some of the new library publishing services, which generally focus on serving the local faculty’s needs.

Paul Courant, former provost at Michigan and now head of its library operations, has made the argument (with which I agree) that the simplest and most straightforward way to fund OA monograph publishing is to increase the size of the grants already given to tenure-track and tenured faculty. Universities, he points out, already invest many hundreds of thousands of dollars in a faculty member’s career over his or her lifetime, so adding another $50,000 to fund publication of a couple of monographs is a relatively minor additional expense. And it has the advantage of not requiring a whole new bureaucratic procedure to implement. Moreover, it is a good way for universities to compete against each other for the best and brightest faculty, as universities now do for the best athletes.

Joe’s assertion about the small revenue from POD sales does not match the experience we had at Penn State during the years I was director there when we published a series of OA monographs in Romance Studies. Compared with the revenues generated by its predecessor print series, sales were not much different overall–which isn’t to say that the sales were sufficient to recoup all expenses either. The series lost money in its print version, but didn’t lose much more, if any more, in its OA/POD version, while the latter achieved a vastly greater distribution of the scholarship.

A consortium of libraries agreeing on a need. I would rather herd chickens!

One of the problems with book publishing is time. Authors tend to take lots of time to produce a book and then their is the time it takes to review, rewrite, read proofs, etc…. Thus, any attempt to see into the future is fraught with the intervention of time and things, well things just seem to change quicker than author write.

The Provost is about to become the arbiter of who gets tenure and or promoted. No need for the committee it will become a rubber stamp. The Provost says the history department gets X dollars and the English department Y dollars less. How foolish the department head of English was to make a comment on my tie or height of my hem!

A better system would be to put monopoly money in a box and for each department head to stick his/her hand into the box and pull out what they can grasp – that would be the budget. The divvying up of the budget – well that depends on who divvies and just how good of a schmoozer a faculty with an idea for book is.

Lastly, why would one think that a librarian or a group of librarians have any idea as to the future needs (that time problem) of faculty in a given department. They know their collections and the holes in it but to be arbiters of market demand…. Well that is stretching it.

No need to sneer, Harvey Kane. Your post is unfair to librarians, who are the academic peers of university professors and researchers. LOUIS, the academic library consortium in my state, explores and meets the needs of its member libraries, who contribute funding to make our work possible.

pbrown: I did not intend to sneer at librarians. I have the utmost respect for librarians and for what you do. I was pointing out that you are being put in an untenable position if you are to be the arbitrators of who gets published, who does not and guessing what will be needed some 3 to 5 years down the road.

An acquiring editor is a soothsayer, who risks money by betting on the future needs or reading habits of a very fickle audience. It is for that reason that so many books fail and/or are priced so high.

Joe points out that the costs of book publishing are indeed high with paper, printing and binding but a small part of the costs. Would you want to be the person or a member of a committee that after a few bad guesses is all of a sudden called on the carpet to justify your call(s)? After all three books is from $45 to 100K! You could defend your position by saying at the time the books were deemed important by our reviewers but who could know that by the time it/they came out it/they were considered not that important because the field had moved on, or some other events occurred that impacted on the importance of the work.

I think the big difference between OA articles and books is twofold 1) immediacy and 2) cash flow. OA articles pay for themselves up front and books don’t! In fact, you can be busy agreeing to publish a number of books and then a number more and then they are late arriving. Now what do you do?

Are you as a librarian prepared to run a business? Do you want to run a business? Can you identify for me which Universities are successfully running a business. If memory serves universities have spun off their business enterprises because they were not good at running a business.

Nonetheless, librarians and department heads will be tasked with doing just that. Why, because someone who has never done it thinks publishing is easy.

Many thoughtful observations and questions here, but I think that the honest answer for many is: we don’t know yet. In terms of motivations, we’ve found that the primary ones that resonate with this community are (a) a desire to be read rather than just published; and (b) a recognition that scholarly debate and discourse now take place heavily online, and the print monograph is not only excluded from that (which of course doesn’t necessarily mean that people don’t also want print), but is increasingly unable to capture the output of that research. Underlying all of this is the nasty little truth that the vast majority of monographs published lose (a lot of) money.

What’s exciting to me about the current flourishing of new models are attempts to address not only the sustainability issue but also the readership and access issue. Our first 9 months with Luminos have made a few things very clear: our losses on OA monographs are dramatically lower than our average loss on a traditional monograph; there is still a strong appetite for a reasonably priced print edition (in our case, that means selling at least as many as we would have done without a free digital version); there is an audience for these titles well beyond the few hundred wealthy western libraries that can still afford them; and there are many stakeholders (authors, dean, provosts, librarians) who support and are willing to fund change. As you point out, Joe, this will all evolve, probably significantly, but the positive results from many new programs suggest that this is more than a passing fad.

Allison: for how long can you continue losing money? How much money can you lose? Are you considering raising fees to publish?

In short, is the model viable?

Harvey, like all university presses, we are a non-profit and a fundamental part of the university press mission is to serve as a channel for scholarship and knowledge that commercial publishers, for the most part, are not interested in. Although its form is beginning to evolve and new forms of scholarship are emerging, the monograph remains a vitally important vehicle for communication in the humanities and social sciences. While I can’t speak for all presses, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of us would say that, in aggregate, we lose money on scholarly monographs. But that doesn’t mean that we all lose money as a business – here at UC Press, we have been in surplus for the past five years at least, and those surpluses are what has enabled us to invest in the digital transition. My own personal view is that monographs will be the non-profit heart of our publishing for some considerable time to come, but if OA provides a way both to significantly reduce aggregate losses and opens up access to a much wider audience at the same time, then that’s a pretty good outcome.

I understand non profit having been a VP at two major societies. It is good to hear that you have confidence in your mission and that you are backed by the University. As you know some are not and are seeking ways to remain an integral part of the university while others have been shut down.

Perhaps the problem needs to be resolved at the faculty/institution level. With the changes occurring in academia, perhaps the “monograph” need not be the default weighting factor for all faculty, regardless of rank as some universities move to put more tenure-track academics into the education function. The same might also hold for journal articles. Perhaps academics need to rethink how they assemble and curate their materials other than via encrusted tradition blindly mapped from bricks into clicks. Pub/perish may not retain the sinecure for the publishing industry.

Or, perhaps, one plans for the inevitable, the arrival of AI capable of much of the research and even narrative (I don’t think the argument holds that this will not happen to knowledge work, at least not at the scholarly level?). And the same argument might enter the publishing domain.

Meanwhile, the arguments here, from creation to distribution seem to be a struggle to ascertain how to retain a craft industry


Publishing is a business and not a craft. Maybe book binding was a craft but machines do that now! As for publishers relying on academic books for survival, maybe in your mind, but not in the publisher’s.

One clear and emergent strand is that whatsoever incentivises provosts and senior institutional managers to support OA monographic initiatives in the US, the chances (sadly) of such initiatives being replicated (in resource terms) on this side of the Atlantic, and especially here in the UK, are currently not much more than zero and are about, with the probable impact of the Teaching Excellence Framework, to lessen yet further. The excellent UP Redux event at Liverpool made the resource divergences between the US position, exemplified by Charles’s happy experience at Michigan, and those of some of the new UK start-ups, trying to function with perhaps 0.6 of an FTE and operating budgets of $30 000 per annum, starkly clear. Only UCL, with strong support from two senior OA-supporting officers within the institution, has made any kind of sustained and truly substantial financial commitment to such a program. Rightly or wrongly (and to paraphrase Alison above), the number of stakeholders in the UK (authors, deans, provosts, librarians) who support and are also willing and able (my italics) to fund change remains tiny, and this may paradoxically be one amongst many reasons for the continued vitality of the UK commercial non-UP monographic sector (the enduring importance of which is graphically brought out in publisher data arising from the most recent UK Research Excellence Framework exercise, as all UP Redux delegates will have seen).

Alison’s point about newly-emergent hiring incentives is a very interesting one. I may have misunderstood, but given that monographic publication is massively important to non-tenured and early career researchers, there does seem at least a potential danger of supporting with such incentives the already-published and well-established, to the possible detriment of those less favoured, precisely the scholarly cohort upon whom the prevailing monographic nexus is always presumed to impact most malignly…?

Richard, you raise an excellent point here that is of concern this side of the pond too. While relatively well-off public and private institutions might be able to add $20-30k to hiring packages for tenure-track faculty if so motivated, there are plenty of institutions that would not have the resources to do so. And even at wealthier institutions, it’s not clear whether adjunct faculty (whose numbers grow each year) would be eligible. But while there are very real questions about the sustainability of business models, I think that we’re learning a lot from these new programs (for example and as Charles notes, that there really is a wider audience for much of this scholarship).

What about Open Book Publishers? A spinoff from CUP. You do have to come up with some costs in such a business, but not all that much is taken from authors, and some of the staff members also work as academics, from which they draw a salary .
In addition, my view is that I do editorial and publishing duties as part of my academic job. So our journal is free of charge to readers and authors. Editorial services are provided free,by us the editors. We are paid by our universities to teach and research. If we wanted to roll out an academic publishing operation from the base of our completely free journal, we could. I don’t see where all the publisher ‘costs’ mentioned in the article actually are (professional editor fees perhaps? Salaried staff? we don’t need either). I receive a manuscript. I referee and edit it. It is placed on a university server. People read it. The cost is my time, which is met from my university salary. I , like many social scientists, bring in more money than I cost in salary, because my classes are full. Basically, if academics take back publishing and stop treating it as a business, we can do it all – if we consider publishing as part of our jobs.

Seems to me the article misses the whole point. Authors want to write monographs, and libraries want to make them available, but neither has much money. The point of OA is to enable monographs to be published more cheaply, cutting out the profit the publisher creams off. That’s a good thing! The last thing we need is for publishers to work out ways to extract more money from the system. We want the system to be more economical – publisher profit is just wasted money.

Profit isn’t really a cost of production that can be removed. OA does not magically make the very real costs disappear. As Alison notes in her comment above, “While I can’t speak for all presses, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of us would say that, in aggregate, we lose money on scholarly monographs.” Given that there is little to no publisher profit to cut out of the system, this is not a solution.

Incorrect, See my comment above. My journal has published about 160 articles in a decade, without paying anybody anything. You are thinking that publishing is a discrete enterprise where people have to be paid, separate or largely separate from people on academic salaries. For books without massive chasing of copyrights, or hugely complex layouts or bibliographic work, I don’t agree. A professor like Brian Martin in Australia publishes many books – these are essentially text files that a tiny publisher in Sweden tops and tails, checks, and publishes at no or minimal cost. Where are the ‘very real costs’ of getting his work out?

You are flat out wrong! What has happened is that the cost has been transferred to folks working for free, they could be doing something else. Your argument is like saying being a mother has no cost.

The value of a volunteer hour was up 52 cents to $23.07 last year, about 2.3 percent more than 2013, according to the latest estimate released today by Independent Sector (IS).Apr 14, 2015
Volunteer Value Hits $23.07 An HourThe NonProfit Times…/volunteer-value-hits-2…The NonProfit Times

I could argue that you are cheating your institution. Why aren’t you developing better tests, tutoring students who are having trouble in your class, writing an article ? Instead you have decided to be a copy editor whom gets paid substantially less than you do.

Professor Batterbury I don’t know how to say this any clearer, there is no free lunch!

See what I said above. Handling a PDF and publishing electronically is neither expensive nor difficult. Salaries have little to do with it – hardly anybody is well paid (anymore).

If you consider 98,000 for a newly minted tenured prof not well paid and if you consider that every moment you spend on producing a journal instead of doing what you are paid to do, then I guess you are publishing for free!

Academic Staff Annual Salary Rates
Academic Level Salary Step As from 12/04/2008
Level C (Senior Lecturer) 1 $98,667
Level D (Associate Professor) 4 $103,035
3 $106,525
2 $110,017…/academic-professional…/s1-acade…Monash University

You don’t understand Australian unionised payscales properly. ‘newly minted’ is level A or B. And convert them to US$ from A$, makes it seem far less. And have a look at the professional staff payscales to compare at the same university- not too different.

Writing a Word document based on research is within any academic contract. So is checking it to make sure it is correct. Again, if is is then published as a PDF by an OA publisher, where is the abuse of an academic job description by taking work from an ‘editor’?

And where does it say, anywhere at any university , that running an academic journal and laying up the submissions is an abuse of contract? It is positively encouraged.

I believe Australian profs live in Australia.

Doing a word document and checking it over is not the same as submitting it for peer review.

I believe your assertions about publishing a journal on university time was addressed in an earlier comment from someone other than me.

You say what you do does not cost anything and I maintain that there is no free lunch.

Colin Day, when director of the University of Michigan Press, long ago chastised universities for the hidden costs of publishing, including using the time of higher paid faculty to do jobs that lower paid publishing specialists could do better. If you want to get a good sense of what the real costs are, check out the recent study about the cost of publishing monographs from Ithaka S+R:

I’d second David’s points above – if monographs actually made a profit, we’d be having an entirely different conversation! The reality is that monographs lose money. Presses have done all they can to reduce costs, and library sales continues to dwindle and losses increase. And before making such sweeping statement, you might also talk to monograph authors about what they value from publishers – as the recent Ithaka study on the costs of monograph publishing established, the most expensive part of the process and the one most valued by authors is editorial development. There are certainly publishers who don’t bother with that, but authors (and P&T committees) continue to express a strong preference for the quality associated with publication by a university press.

Of course, one then has to wonder how commercial publishers do make money from selling monographs, enough not only to stay in business but to make at least a small profit. I work part-time for one such publisher now, Lynne Rienner, who has been doing this for decades. The books she publishes (including those I acquire for her) differ in no material way from the monographs we published at Princeton and Penn State presses where I worked. And unlike Princeton she has no Bollingen Series that rakes in millions in profit to subsidize money-losing monographs, and unlike Penn State, where we made a surplus off our journal and regional book publishing programs, she does neither. There are also much larger commercial publishers like Sage that benefit from economies of scale and can be profitable publishing monographs (though Sage of course also publishes many journals).

You and David clearly state the issue. It is only the subsidized publishers who really want to touch a scholarly HSS book. Even presses like the Free Press, Academic and Rutledge, etc, though seeking academic books, look for those which have a broader market than those most likely published by a University Press.

It seems we have gone from reading books, to magazines, to articles, to e mails to tweets and soon there will be those who just read twits.

I know that I am a bit of a cracked record on this, but the under-appreciation/under-articulation of the European commercial monographic sector on this site continues to puzzle. The massive importance (not least to large numbers of US-based faculty) of (e.g.) Palgrave, Routledge/T&F, Bloomsbury Continuum, Rowman and Littlefield, not to mention specialist imprints like Brill, is reflected both in output statistics and in US library purchasing patterns. To state that ‘it is only the subsidized publishers who really want to touch a scholarly HSS book’ is simply not correct, and for simple proof I would suggest that sceptics go and look round the book exhibit at APSA or MLA or AHA, and examine the size of the commercial monographic presence.

I fully appreciate that by no means everybody likes every aspect of these operations, and Alison’s comment above touches upon some of the editorial issues sometimes raised. An often volume-driven commercial proposition, in which efficiencies of scale and a (relatively) sophisticated POD and e-proposition really matters, runs counter to the bespoke, artisan AAUP approach to publishing (arguably) much the same sort of research content, a divergence sharply reflected in pricing and in very different views of demand elasticities. Nonetheless the commercial monographic sector shows absolutely no sign of going away, and with sales outside the traditional US-UK axis representing anything up to 50% of global revenues in some subject areas, with strong Asia-Pacific penetration, conversations about global monographic futures really ought to be less wholly UP-dominated than is invariably the case (writing as somebody who has himself spent a lifetime working in the UP sector only!).

I agree with you, Richard, as my comment about Lynne Rienner and Sage should have made clear. The further question to ask, though, is whether and how such publishers could make an OA model work for themselves. Frances Pinter, when she headed Bloomsbury Academic, experimented with OA (and later, of course, set up Knowledge Unlatched), so it would appear to be viable to some extent. A lot depends on how universities decide to get involved in supporting OA. If they take the route of just increasing grants to faculty members and allow those faculty to publish where they choose, then commercial publishers can stay in the game. If, however, universities choose to support OA operations directly, either through their own presses or libraries or paying out APCs in behalf of faculty, the results may be quite different, and negative, for commercial publishers.

A lot depends on how universities get involved. Thus, …universities choose to support OA operations directly…the results may be quite different. However, I do not conclude what you conclude in that I can see the best going to the established publishers be they commercial or society/ association and the lesser efforts going to the local publishers.

What we are talking about is not only tenure but “name” and “reputation” and I don’t think the university can arbitrate that.

I can see the following:

Dean of OA funds: Sally I have heard that you are writing what is being termed as a seminal paper on X. Of course it will have to be OA because of the rules of the granting agencies.

Sally: Yes Dean moneybags and…..

Dean: Of course you will be publishing the paper in our local journal.

Sally: You have to be kidding me! I have been given a publishers grant to cover all costs in the Journal of X which has an impact factor of 99 and is read by those with whom I wish to communicate. Additionally, the paper will be placed in their special section of Journal X called OA access.

Lastly, the commercial/society side of things will make adjustments to continue publishing the best. They can make any article OA they choose. Potentially, they can make a special category within an established journal to do just that.

I was talking about monographs, Harvey, not journal articles. The conversation might be quite different where books are concerned.

I apologize for the length of what follows.

I think things apply to books too. The better books are published by both commercial and non commercial houses. I have competed while working for a commercial house with university presses for a book.

I am not too sure the answer to book publishing is underwriting a project. Lets say there is a $15K grant to publish a book and it is decided to only publish it on line because that covers costs. Alas after a while there is no readership or only a readership of some 150. The cost remains $15K but the question is why was it published? Why wasn’t that money used to publish a different book that would have say 700 readers but was passed up because of the earlier commitment to the 150 reader book. I am sure that at some point someone has to look at the numbers. Even at a major university one looks at numbers. That is why many university presses are in trouble. A book being free to the reader is not the issue, because the costs do not go away! They are only shifted to someone else. In both business and non profit the accountant still says: pay me now or pay me latter but pay me pay me with either readers or money.

The argument is made that third world countries need to have accessibility. From what I read what they need is infrastructure and devices in order to have the accessibility.

I have a marvelous book on a modern Japanese historical event sitting on my shelf. It is 1200 pages long 7X9 and set in 8pt type replete with maps and illustrations. The book is basically useless on a device. One has to flip back and forth to see maps that apply to text. I do not think anyone would want to read that book as presented on a device. Just to read it one would increase the size of the font and now have a book of some 2400+ pages. The book had a subvention.

I would be curious to learn how many scholarly books that are now published solely on line are not just downloaded but read too.

Say the book is downloaded and then printed off. A book of any size would use up a cartridge and the cost of a cartridge will equal the cost of purchase but one does not have a bound book!

Lastly, will an acquisition editors questions regarding to publish or not change because of a subvention. I like the author have a reputation and so does my house and I nor my house are for sale.

A lot of question you ask, Harvey! Yes, publishing in print and online are roughly the same, but unquestionably the online version has the potential to reach a far wider audience. Today the reality is that most monographs are bought by a hundred or so academic libraries, mostly in the US, and hence are not accessible to anyone in most foreign countries. We of course can never predict with any certainty how many readers there will be for an online free version, how many will just read a chapter or two, and how many will read the whole book. But one way of measuring the impact will be to do citation counts, not easy to do right now but in the future no doubt coming our way. You’re right that complicated books, especially those with lots of tables, are not easy to read on some devices, like mobile phones; on the other hand, the kind of enhanced monograph that Robert Darnton championed through the ACLS Humanities E-Book and Gutenberg-e projects can only be read online in their full technological display. And some fields, like art history, can benefit from being able to have many more color illustrations included than would be feasible to include in a printed book. As for acquisition editors being influenced by subventions, in some cases books will be accepted only if subventions are available; this has been true for a long time now, well before we entered the digital era. Most publishers of OA monographs also provide a POD option for readers who want to read the book in print form; they do not have to print it out themselves.

Manchester University Press (where I am CEO now) has over 100 books on Open Access. Downloads average 7000 per title – reaching 205 countries. I’m sure someone will say that doesn’t mean they were read by 7000 people. But conversely, nor do sales of 150 copies tell us the readership is only 150. Impact in the future can and should be measured by a number of metrics.

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