[Marxism] U. of Michigan Press says goodbye to dead trees
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 23 06:58:03 MDT 2009
(Coincidentally, these are the same publishers who refused to publish
Joel Kovel's book on the Middle East.)
Farewell to the Printed Monograph
March 23, 2009
The University of Michigan Press is announcing today that it will shift
its scholarly publishing from being primarily a traditional print
operation to one that is primarily digital.
Within two years, press officials expect well over 50 of the 60-plus
monographs that the press publishes each year -- currently in book form
-- to be released only in digital editions. Readers will still be able
to use print-on-demand systems to produce versions that can be held in
their hands, but the press will consider the digital monograph the norm.
Many university presses are experimenting with digital publishing, but
the Michigan announcement may be the most dramatic to date by a major
The shift by Michigan comes at a time that university presses are
struggling. With libraries' budgets constrained, many presses have for
years been struggling to sell significant numbers of monographs -- which
many junior professors need to publish to earn tenure -- and those
difficulties have only been exacerbated by the economic downturn. The
University of Missouri Press and the State University of New York Press
both have announced layoffs in recent months, while Utah State
University Press is facing the possibility of a complete elimination of
Michigan officials say that their move reflects a belief that it's time
to stop trying to make the old economics of scholarly publishing work.
"I have been increasingly convinced that the business model based on
printed monograph was not merely failing but broken," said Phil Pochoda,
director of the Michigan press. "Why try to fight your way through this?
Why try to remain in territory you know is doomed? Scholarly presses
will be primarily digital in a decade. Why not seize the opportunity to
do it now?"
While Pochoda acknowledged that Michigan risks offending a few authors
and readers not ready for the switch, he said there is a huge upside to
making the move now.
Because digital publishing is so much less expensive -- with savings
both in printing and distribution -- the press expects to be able to
publish more books, and to distribute them electronically to a much
broader audience. Michigan officials said that they don't plan to cut
the budget of the press -- but to devote resources to peer review and
other costs of publishing that won't change with the new model.
Significantly, they said, the press would no longer have to reject books
deemed worthy from a scholarly perspective, but viewed as unable to sell.
"We will certainly be able to publish books that would not have survived
economic tests," said Pochoda. "And we'll be able to give all of our
books much broader distribution."
Teresa A. Sullivan, Michigan's provost, said she saw that shift in
approach as particularly significant. "What we hope is that if a scholar
has a wonderful but quirky idea, that book could still be published
electronically by us if you don't have to worry about: Do you have to
publish enough copies to break even?" Broadly, she said that she would
like to move to the idea that a university press should be judged by its
contribution to scholarship, not "profit or loss," which has become too
central as the economics of print publishing have deteriorated.
Sullivan said that she believes university presses have been
"marginalized" by their economic challenges and the realities that
traditional print publications have such limited reach. (Many presses
considered a few hundred copies sold a success for a monograph.) "We
want to put the emphasis on dissemination. And we want acquisition
editors to feel that they can take risks that maybe they couldn't take
The shift is not designed to save money, but to make better use of the
money being spent on the press, Sullivan said. No jobs will be
eliminated -- although duties will probably shift for some employees.
The university also said that all current contracts will be honored, and
that some of the non-monograph publications will continue in print. For
example, the University of Michigan Press is a major publisher of
textbooks in English as a second language, and those publications are
expected to continue in print format.
Sullivan said that Michigan has been a leader in making print-on-demand
technology available, and she wants to continue an emphasis on
appropriate use of technology to promote reading in a variety of
formats. She also stressed that the university remained committed to
rigorous peer review and scholarly oversight of publishing -- using
standards identical to those of print operations.
In terms of pricing, Sullivan said that Michigan planned to develop site
licenses so that libraries could gain access to all of the press's books
over the course of a year for a flat rate. While details aren't firm,
the idea is to be "so reasonable that maybe every public library could
The use of the site license for university press books is also being
explored by Duke University Press, which just stared e-Duke Books, which
provides digital access to all the books published for a one-year period
at a flat rate, based on Carnegie Classification. The Duke project,
however, is not at this point replacing print versions of the books, but
is providing another way to gain access.
Other presses are experimenting with making small portions of their
lists or individual series available primarily in digital form. Since
2006, the Pennsylvania State University Press has released a few books a
year in its romance studies series in digital, open access format. All
chapters are provided in PDF format, but half are provided in a format
to download and print, and half in read only. Readers may pay for
Sanford G. Thatcher, director of the Penn State University Press and
past president of the Association of American University Presses, said
that if this effort succeeds, it may be expanded to other series. He
said that the economics of the series are about the same as when the
books were published primarily in traditional print form. But he said he
sees the works in the series gaining readers. "Some scholar in China who
wasn't going to buy it can call it up," he said.
Thatcher is skeptical of the site license approach for university press
books. "How many libraries are going to license a small number of
books," and do so in arrangements with many presses? he asked.
Nonetheless, he applauded Michigan for adopting a new model from which
others may learn. "We all need experiments," he said.
— Scott Jaschik
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