This summer, Project MUSE announced that it is developing its ability to host and distribute open access (OA) ebooks. Project MUSE’s director Wendy Queen spoke with me recently about this program and some of the broader strategic issues we should be contemplating.
This post presents a case for why publishers would want to participate in a program to sell textbooks to academic libraries. The plan would include a means for publishers to retain their profitability, albeit on a lower sales volume, by taking advantage of digital technology and by “repairing” some broken elements in the current marketplace, e.g., the market for used and pirated books.
University presses are not well positioned to thrive in journal publishing because they have not adopted any of the (relatively few and common) business strategies that are necessary, given market dynamics, for success. I do not put forth this thesis lightly. I have great affection and admiration for university presses, their value — craftsmanship, attention to detail, “getting it right”— and their mission. This is not admiration from afar: I served, in the formative years of my career, at the University of Chicago Press (Chicago), where I learned the tools of the trade and many of the practices and protocols of scholarly publishing still in use today. But after nearly two decades of observing university presses, from within and without, this thesis seems to be inescapable.
Preliminary results on a research project on library acquisitions are now in. They suggest some interesting patterns in collection-building; the data from this project will be useful for other researchers. It is hoped that the full roll-out of this project will take place later this year.
There are many programs now to create open access monographs, but the business models surrounding these efforts do not appear to be sufficiently robust to make the OA monograph sustainable. The problem is that the monograph is something that many people want, but few are willing to pay for.
Although Amazon is a central player in many areas of publishing and media, it is hard to predict where it will head next. This makes it hard to plan to compete with it. On the other hand, Amazon has some typical ways that it behaves when it enters a market and strategic planners can learn from them.
Not only is Sci-Hub pirating STM articles; it also has built a large collection of unauthorized university press monographs. This undermines the argument that Sci-Hub is an activist site fighting against corporate greed, as the university press community typically operates at a deficit. But university presses have many other challenges, and the threat posed by Sci-Hub is not the largest among them.
University presses are enjoying something of a renaissance in the UK, as was evident at the recent University Press Redux conference in Liverpool. Why is this, and how are presses trying to reconcile mission, innovation and sustainability in the digital world? And what can they teach the rest of us?