Monday, March 26, 2012

Future of Academic Publishing

The Association of American University Presses in March 2011 published Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University Presses. For a summary see an earlier posting on this Blog.

Their paper begins by defining the role of the scholarly publisher and makes a very convincing case against self-publishing by scholars. For the authors the likelihood of existing in the “marketplace of ideas,” is improved by the intensive kind of stewardship by a publisher. More importantly the publisher is there in future to coordinate the migration to new publishing formats.

Their paper mainly deals with the challenge of change over from print publishing to part-digital publishing. While extra ordinarily useful in identifying the challenges it is short of specifics as to what to do next.

It is mainly written with the view to persuade Presses’ parent institutions to invest money in filling the “funding gap” in the transition process to new formats and business models.

University Presses benefit from the advantage of their host institutions’ brand as well as implicit subsidy (such as free web hosting, HR support etc.). They are now asking for more. I doubt if they would get more in the current climate. So how should they proceed if extra funding does not materialise?

In future posts I shall address ways that an independent academic publisher is managing to deal with the “funding gap” by addressing some of the major disadvantages of University Presses:

· They take a long time to publish which frustrates their authors.

· Their cost of origination is higher which means they need to earn more per book to break even.

· They are too broad in their subject coverage so they do not benefit from the focus on niche communities of scholars.