Monday, May 16, 2011

Future Business Models

The Association of American University Presses in March 2011 published a paper entitled, Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University Presses.

The paper defines the role of the scholarly publisher as

➢ Selection processes - selective acquisition, peer review
➢ Editorial engagement - even the best writers can become overwhelmed by their own engagement in a topic
➢ Presentation (Design) - rare is the book that is not a visual improvement over a manuscript.
➢ Advantages of scale – Printing gets cheaper with scale.
➢ Marketing - promote scholarship long after it’s fresh
➢ Metadata - to be discovered within the hundreds of thousands of books published every year, year after year
➢ Rights and licensing - Translation rights, distribution arrangements, excerption permissions
➢ Distribution - time-consuming details of physical distribution and sales
➢ Multiple formats - build quality assurance, in multiple formats, in a way that will be able to evolve along with the reader, browser etc.
➢ Long-term availability - likelihood of existing in the “marketplace of ideas,” is improved by intensive kind of stewardship, migration to new systems

These are useful pointers to give to potential authors why to choose a publisher instead of “self publishing”.

The paper then presents what is new:

• For at least the next ten years scholarly communication will be conducted using a variety of media, on an array of platforms, funded from a range of sources, employing a variety of business models.
• Downward pressure on print prices from e-book prices being lower or even free.
• Rapidly increasing number of e-book options taking up a great deal of publishers’ time and resources, even while e-book sales remain a small percentage of the total market.
• Digital publishing benefits so much more from scale than print publishing.

The paper then gives examples of experiments being conducted by University Presses as well as a new kind of non profit publisher, The National Academies Press and The RAND Corporation. These are called “mission-driven publishing” as they are required to publish all that is produced, without thought of market demand; and they are encouraged by their institutions and authors to be as open as possible. NAP and RAND’s authors, and institutions, want dissemination, influence, and impact; their authors are jockeying neither for tenure nor windfall royalties.

These new Presses’ approach is similar to intellect’s mission. However, they benefit from substantial financial support from their host institutions. The paper argues that traditional University Presses don’t. The link between a university press and its host institution is looser as it only may publish in the region of 10% authors from that institution and is expected to be self-funding.

The paper then presents some suggestions that may assist University Presses to deal with the uncertain future.

➢ build lists in specific scholarly arenas, focus their publishing programs on specific fields
➢ “author fees,” although they are typically paid not by authors themselves but by research grants or other institutional funds (Since there is no tradition of fee-based publication, scholars tend to equate the model with vanity publishing.)
➢ working with large group of digital vendors
➢ selling collections of titles, breaking down the concept of the “book” in favor of packaging “content,” and selling access to collections
➢ take advantage of the full range of features made possible by digital technology.
➢ born-digital titles
➢ launching new programs with experimental business models while maintaining traditional modes of publication with their long-tested—if eroding—business models
➢ a portfolio of multiple business models (each new business model is actually a new business startup, with all the accompanying business issues and risk)

The paper concludes by saying

… it seems likely that the mix of revenues, once derived primarily from the marketplace, will shift such that a greater share of revenue will come from the producers of content, whether in the form of publication fees or institutional support of other kinds.

This is the kind of “little and often” business model which has sustained my company, Intellect in the past few years. The question for me is where to go from here if others plan to do the same.