Tag Archives: publishing

Sustaining Scholarship

As Jennifer Howard of the Chronicle reports, collaboration between libraries and presses was a theme at the most recent meeting of the Association of American University Presses, but there seems to have been some heat generated over library/press relations and the open access movement.

One option is the “Michigan Model” in which a press becomes a part of the library’s operations, sharing a common vision, but having to adapt to library culture or risk marginalization. For some presses, this probably sounds like “resistance is futile. You will be absorbed.” But Michigan is not the only press to be aligned with the library’s operations. As reported by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed, Penn State University Press is also part of the library division, and according to Patrick H. Alexander, that means adjusting to very different experiences.

Presses, he said, “look outward” and are “very much concerned about professors at other institutions, relationships with external vendors — we work largely with people outside the institution. That is not the perspective of the university library,” he said. University presses must be constantly thinking about revenue, while libraries, he said, are focused on service. At a university press, he said, the motto must many times be “just say no,” as editors turn down book proposals they can’t publish and must do so all the time. The library, he said, is much more of a “yes we can” place, trying to satisfy the faculty and students of the campus.

Maybe through this cultural collision we’ll both learn something valuable.

Doug Armato of the University of Minnesota Press criticized the “polarizing and self-serving rhetoric” of the open access movement. This year’s president of the AAUP, Alex Holzman of Temple UP, predicted that the electronic revolution for book publishing is about to take off and change everything, though he doesn’t see open access as the future of university presses.

But Michael Jensen of the American Academies Press (whose books have been browsable for free online for years) had a different prediction.

In the conference’s final plenary session, “Directions for Open Access Publishing,” Michael J. Jensen, director of strategic Web communications for the National Academies Press, made an extreme version of the adapt-or-die argument for incorporating open access into scholarly publishing. Mr. Jensen entertained the audience with a description of his longtime obsession with crises that threaten life as we know it. Then he went for the Darwinian kill and linked print-based culture with global warming.

“C02 must be radically curtailed,” he said. “Print is CO2-heavy.” How about a business model that would rely on 50 percent digital sales, 25 percent print-on-demand books, and 25 percent institutionally funded open-access publishing? “Open access in exchange for institutional support is a business model for survival,” Mr. Jensen advised, all joking aside.

“If we fail to make these changes, we will be knowing participants in the death spiral,” he warned. “The print book must become the exception, not the rule, as soon as possible.”

Inside Higher Ed has further coverage of the debate over open access and different possible models for long-term sustainability.

More immediate threats to presses facing closure were also on the agenda. Take, for example, LSU Press. They have a terrific list, books that have won Pulitzers and become bestsellers as well as scholarly books that might not find a home elsewhere. Check it out – maybe you’ll find some books that fit your curriculum that should be on your shelves. And maybe it will help sustain a valuable press while together we figure out the best way to disseminate scholarship in the 21st century.

Local Food (for Thought) Movement

LJ Academic Newswire reports that U Penn is the latest to offer scan-on-demand with quality print output. Emory uses the same Kirtas machine to offer a curated collection of books relevant to Emory and to the South, unique in their collections. UMich, which has a rich collection of books scanned through their own efforts and with the Google project, has an Espresso machine standing by reading to instantly print copies. Cornell sells thousands of scanned books printed on demand through Amazon’s POD company.

And Boston Public, in a partnership with the Open Library that seems to have gotten far too little press, will digitize a public domain book of your choice within a matter of days, letting demand drive mass digitization. All you have to do is press a button in their catalog. How cool is that?

It’s interesting how these efforts are described. “An ATM for books.” “Library as Bookstore.” “Library as publisher.” “Amazon partnership.” We’re not quite sure what to call this effort – which is making public domain books available in multiple formats to as many people as possible while recovering costs. Basically, it’s interlibrary loan of non-returnables that happen to be book-sized and often go direct to the patron. It’s a terrific development. But . . . you knew there’d be a but, didn’t you?

By now some of you will have twigged to the fact that partnering with Amazon – particularly for POD fulfillment – is going on my “hey, wait a minute” list. Amazon is a hugely successful company that is able to set terms because it is so big. Their strategy is vertical integration and ownership of every piece of the industry that can be integrated. The only POD company they support is the one they own. The only e-book format they will sell is the one they bought – MobiPocket (which also fuels Kindle). They are the Microsoft of books. Don’t like the way we do things? Tough, ’cause we’re the biggest. You go through us, you get the audience, but you play by our rules.

The more we partner with Amazon, the bigger it gets and the harder it is for local independent bookstores to survive. It’s the same Faustian bargain libraries stuck with Google to digitize books, but it’s harder to argue it’s totally win-win. Independent booksellers lose. That’s a choice we make.

I suggested an even more radical partnership partnership in Library Journal last year, but so far no takers. I’m not really surprised, since it would require regional library consortia having a new-generation machine and expanding delivery of print-on-demand books to local booksellers. But a partnership of publishers, regional library systems, and the local book trade could lead to a greener, more reader-driven supply of books to borrow or buy – and a healthier local community.

I recently caught a blog posting from a bookseller who said of hard times “it’s Mardi Gras over there at the library!” We’ve all seen the news stories about the surge in library use. We have the mojo to refresh a broken book culture using new technologies and new ideas, but before we fashion ourselves as publishers, we should think about what that means to our communities near by.

I know a lot of indie booksellers, and they are dedicated to connecting people to books because they believe that connection matters. They aren’t getting rich. They aren’t trying to boost their profit margin. They’re just trying to pay the rent and stay open. My own campus bookstore is one of the few that isn’t outsourced. It’s an independent bookstore, and I’m proud of that.

If we’re going to become part of the book business, let’s think about how to do it in a way that doesn’t screw over our local partners in connecting books and readers.

The Paperless Dorm Room

It’s always good to start the day with a good laugh.

Joseph Storch has an idea (behind the Chronicle’s pay wall) to deal with textbook piracy – have all publishers put their books on a common electronic platform and let the colleges negotiate a subscription on behalf of students and dole out royalties to publishers based on use. Students will be fine with it because online is where students are at, and if a few students insist on printing content, well, even so “the system could save considerable paper.” And publishers might even start creating some digital content to supplement textbooks. What a concept!

Evidently Mr. Storch, an assistant counsel in the State University of New York’s Office of University Counsel, knows something about intellectual property law, but hasn’t paid much attention to the textbook industry and the masses of expensive online content they bundle with books, or to how students prefer to read. I don’t know about your students, but at our college most students print any online content that they want to read with care. Like most of us, they hate reading long texts on screen and even those suffering from ecological guilt prefer reading, marking up, and (if they’re on the ball) bringing their materials to class so they can refer to it. Professors want students to refer to texts under discussion, but are not universally delighted to face a classroom full of students with their noses buried in laptops. Not all students have laptops. Not all classrooms have wireless access to handle all those laptops at once. (I won’t even touch on the silliness of an ecological argument that landfills full of printed textbooks are a bigger problem than landfills overflowing with electronic junk, heavy metals and all.)

I applaud any attempt to improve the situation for students who have to spend so much on textbooks, but solutions should be proffered with some rudimentary research done beforehand. Libraries have subscribed to bundled electronic content on behalf of students for a long time, and while it means more content is accessible, it doesn’t make it cheaper – nor does it mean students will use more content. And so far, having all content through one platform may be the dream of some of our ambitious vendors, but it’s not likely to happen – or save anybody money.

I also had to laugh that he mentions Harvard Business Review – the outfit smart enough (or should I say greedy enough?) to have licenses with their content bundled into library databases spell out that it cannot be used for courses. For that, you pay more.

[Whoops – as Steven points out in the comments, I read that wrong. It’s Harvard Law Review. I did notice something else, though, that I hadn’t before – the copyright statements on full-text articles in Academic Search Premier vary from publication to publication, and a lot of them specify articles can be downloaded “for personal use.” It makes me wonder if that’s to wriggle out of use of these articles in courses, with links in syllabi or e-reserves systems. But that’s a paranoia for another day . . .]

A cheaper solution? Nice thought, but I doubt it.

Getting Your Ideas Out There First

Academic librarians are generally not competitive types. If we were we’d probably have gone to business school. But that competitive spirit may show up when it comes to presentations and publications. Getting a paper or panel accepted for ACRL’s 14th National Conference in Seattle was certainly a highly competitive process with just a twenty percent acceptance rate. Another arena in which we compete is getting our articles and books published. That’s why I found the article in this week’s Chronicle about authors racing to publish books on the same topic of interest. We don’t talk about this much in our academic librarian conversations but I hazard a guess that it is something many of us have experienced. As we write our papers or books on our original ideas we wonder if there is someone else out there who’ll get their manuscript – on our idea – to an editor before we do.

I know I certainly had this in the back of mind as I worked my way through the book I was writing in 2006 that was published in 2007. I believed it was an original topic – for our profession at least. I certainly knew of no other articles written or presentations on the same topic. Yet I really had no way of knowing if someone else out there was writing about the same topic. While I had been thinking during the writing process about starting a blog on the same topic - which is becoming a more accepted way to begin getting your ideas out there and to get comments and feedback while writing – it also struck me as a way to claim my stake to this whole area of study (new for librarianship at least). Think of it as a pre-emptive strike. Of course, that would probably not mean all that much if someone else had published a book on the same topic before my own (by the way, co-authored with John Shank). It turns out I had little to worry about. Only just recently have I noticed a few bloggers mentioning the application of design to the librarians’ work process or the idea of the library user experience. Unlike the batch of competing books about Web 2.0, this book about design has pretty much had the field to itself.

That said, I’m open to more librarians thinking and writing about design thinking. The more librarians that begin conversations about it the more librarians who will think about these ideas more seriously – which is what I hoped to accomplish in the first place. Still, unlike the authors profiled in the Chronicle article, I’m glad that I didn’t experience discovering another author writing a similar book at the same time. No one likes to appear competitive, but when it happens to you it can be pretty distressing.

Now, if your challenge is more specific to problems encountered in trying to write about your ideas then you should give some thought to a good idea discussed in another article in the same issue of the Chronicle. Get yourself a personal writing coach. That’s right. The next time you need help getting started or getting over your writing block, ring up your coach and let him or her help to figure out why you are having trouble – and more importantly get you writing again. Impossible you say. You could never afford it. Well, you may actually be able to get some help for free. Were you aware that the ACRL College Library Section offers a program called “Your Research Coach“. The program, run by the Section’s Research Committee, will connect aspiring writers and presenters with more experienced colleagues (they are actually called “coaches”) who can help with idea formation, methodology, research strategies, etc. Sometimes just talking over a writing hurdle can be a big help. I participate as a coach and I know I’ve been able to help a few folks just by listening to their ideas and then sharing some advice or steering them in a certain direction. The only requirement is that you need to be an ACRL member.

Cheaper by the .pdf, but still . . .

SUNY press has announced an initiative to sell .pdf files of new books for only $20.00 for a title that costs $75.00 in hardcover. And you can browse the first two pages of every chapter absolutely free! What a daring initiative!

Sorry, but I’m undewhelmed. I totally support the mission of university presses, but it’s really hard to imagine that the industry will be transformed by giving readers the amazing opportunity to shell out twenty bucks for a computer file 258 pages long. Twenty bucks is more than the price of most trade paperbacks outside academia – and you have to print it yourself. I realize, we write for a tiny niche audience, but still – if this is the revolution, wake me up later, would you?

And you can see a whole two pages of each chapter? This is progress? The National Academies Press has pretty well proven that free full text browsing is good for sales. And they seem to sell trade paper copies immediately for a price close to the .pdf price. If I were publishing with a university press, I’d want my book affordable on its release, not a year later, and not just as a .pdf.

I realize there are significant costs involved, but this seems so wrongheaded to me. No wonder so many libraries are getting involved in publishing. Maybe our nutty fascination with access is just the counterweight to this kind of innovation the system needs.

Academic Newswire‘s e-mail announcement calls this groundbreaking. Exactly what kind of ground are we talking about?

death's head

photo courtesy of Queen Roly.