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.
There are countless proposals for a new “system” for scholarly communications, but such plans are typically top-down and overlook all the creative initiatives by individuals working independently.
Popular discussion of the enduring popularity of print often obfuscate the business issues of managing a company that is transitioning from print to digital.
Publishers have to distinguish between features, products, and businesses. Not all features can become full-fledged businesses. Sometimes the best business case for a feature is to link it to an established business, where it adds value to assets that are already in place.
A look back at some of Rick Anderson’s insightful pieces on the economic realities of journal prices and library budgets.
There will never be a “Netflix for books” if by that term one means a comprehensive collection. Book aggregations must serve the overarching needs of the publisher to generate revenue and are thus best viewed as simply one channel among many.
At some point book publishers will begin to copy the Netflix model of selling by subscription. This changes the nature of the business from one where products are sold to one where publishers attempt to monetize readers’ attention.