The Wall Street Journal today reports that Rice University is relaunching its university press, on hiatus for the past ten years – as a completely online venture.
Although the new press will solicit and edit manuscripts the old-fashioned way, it won’t produce traditional books. The publishing house will instead post works online at a new Web site, where people can read a full copy of the book free. They can also order a regular, bound copy from an on-demand printer, at a cost far less than picking up the book in a store.
an online library of networked content that will allow instructors to pick and choose best-of-breed instructional materials. Experts around the world will develop and contribute modules of information specific to their own expertise. These modules â€” which may take the form of individual chapters, or even smaller sections of chapters â€” will act as a giant, constantly evolving library of information that can be tweaked to any given instructor’s satisfaction.
The WSJ seems a little puzzled about the business model behind giving free access to scholarly e-books, and how “open source” could apply to book publishing, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Certainly, allowing full-text access to books published by the National Academies Press has not had an adverse impact on sales of their books – and the idea of letting a POD publisher handle print orders makes more sense than guessing at a print run and crossing your fingers. The editorial costs will remain a large ticket item, but Rice appears willing to absorb it.
The Book Standard has an interesting wrinkle not mentioned in the WSJ story – according to their version, Connexions also envisions being able to produce textbooks with an under-$25 price tag.
Today, Rice also announced an on-demand publishing agreement between Connexions and QOOP Inc., a POD publisher. Through the deal, QOOP will produce textbooks for under $25, and Connexions will get into the open-source textbook-publishing arena.
â€œOur decisions to revive Riceâ€™s press as a digital enterprise is based on both economics and on new ways of thinking about scholarly publishing,â€ said Charles Henry, Riceâ€™s vice provost and university librarian.
While the university has not released financial details, including a start-up figure or specifics for how royalties will be handled, Henry said, â€œAnnual operating expenses will be at least ten times less than what weâ€™d expect to pay if we were using a traditional publishing model.â€
Interesting stuff – and a new model to watch as scholars, librarians, and university presses find new ways to operate together.