Earlier this month the University of North Carolina Press (where I am director) received a nearly $1 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to lead an OA pilot among multiple university presses (UPs). During the three-year experiment we will utilize web-based digital workflows to publish up to 150 new monographs. We intend to transform how university presses might publish their most specialized books while validating the legitimacy of high quality scholarship delivered in digital-first formats.
I have argued that there are two interlocking reasons why OA hasn’t taken hold in university press monograph publishing. UPs are optimized for the creation of high quality print and so we are unprepared to publish in ways that maximize digital dissemination and use. And without a viable digital model with clear deliverables and accountability, there is no durable funding source for OA monographs.
But despite these obstacles, UPs must find a new way to publish their most specialized books. The current cost-recovery model, which works pretty well when sales are in the thousands, is falling apart when net sales number in the few hundred. We are incurring significant debt to create bespoke products available to a privileged few. And more and more books are fitting into the latter sales pattern. But these are vital volumes that are critical to the advancement of scholarship.
What we have proposed is a solution that requires a dramatic uncoupling and resequencing of our workflows. We need to take the book publishing process apart in order to ensure we’re focusing primarily on creating high quality digital editions that will be widely disseminated and used. A switch away from high-quality-print-with-trailing-digital and toward digital-first will have some disruptions, but it should also lead to lower costs. It requires that our surrounding ecosystem embrace digital—where the digital editions of record will be the ones getting reviewed, winning awards, and being considered in promotion and tenure packages. It is pay-walled print that will be a secondary format, available to those that require (and can afford) it.
Breaking the publishing process apart helps clarify what parts of publishing should be subsidized versus the parts where cost recovery can provide funding. I operate in a state university system where “accountability” is almost always required to secure new funding. Our new paradigm looks to do just that. With streamlined costs, high levels of access, and robust analytics, it aims to ensure the long-term viability of humanities monographs as well as the university presses that are key to their creation and dissemination.
There’s a lengthy post here with more detail about the rationale and details of the pilot.