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New Business Models for University Presses

Publishing e-books for sale

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 4 Within the past two years, most university presses have begun selling their books in electronic editions, primarily through third-party vendors. These arrangements fall into two categories: stand-alone e-books sold as individual titles, primarily into the retail market; and collections of titles sold as packages, primarily to institutions. Amazon’s Kindle editions dominate the first category, which also includes many smaller vendors in the US and abroad. The recent introduction of Apple’s iPad and the forthcoming launch of Google Editions are likely to change and expand this market considerably. The second category includes both general collections such as those offered by NetLibrary, ebrary, and Questia, as well as subject-specific collections such as the ACLS Humanities E-book Project and the collections offered by the Alexander Street Press. In addition, library wholesalers are now offering e-books to their customers.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The advantages to university presses of working with outside vendors are evident. Working with e-book retailers replicates the familiar business model for selling print books, where the vast majority of sales are through third parties rather than direct to consumer. The biggest challenge in making the leap to e-book sales, beyond evaluating and negotiating agreements with the ever-expanding group of players, is developing systems for file creation and transmittal to those vendors, each of which has somewhat different requirements. A growing number of presses are solving this problem by working with yet a different set of vendors, who are developing the business of digital archiving.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Mimicking the print world in selling e-books is only part of the larger picture, however, as e-books lend themselves to new forms of distribution: selling collections of titles, breaking down the concept of the “book” in favor of packaging “content,” and selling access to collections rather than individual downloads. Here too, university presses have found it necessary to work through third parties, for two main reasons: as relatively small operations, individual presses have limited capacity to invest in new business ventures, and few control enough content, even in specific fields, to create marketable collections on their own. Oxford University Press is a notable exception, having pioneered the concept of digital collections of books in specific subject areas with its program, Oxford Scholarship Online (http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/oso/public/index.html). The e-Duke Books Scholarly Collection from Duke University Press is another exception: it uses the ebrary platform for hosting but is sold as a separate package of nearly all of Duke’s current titles (http://www.dukeupress.edu/Libraries/collectionDetail.php?collectionid=2).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The financial downside to selling individual e-books—consumer expectations for lower prices— has already been noted. In addition, if libraries begin to purchase e-books instead of print— and there are indications that this is already happening—there might well be further erosion of revenue. Libraries may be willing to pay print prices for e-books, but may purchase only a single copy, where they might formerly have purchased multiple copies. In addition, easy use of e-books in libraries might discourage both faculty and students from purchasing their own copies. Selling e-books, or e-content, in collections presents its own set of financial challenges. The financial terms for these collections are structured in myriad ways, but in general publishers receive very modest returns because their titles are grouped with those of so many others. As a consequence, university presses are beginning to look for alternatives for selling e-books, especially to institutions.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Four projects deserve mention, not least because they represent nonprofit alternatives to commercial business ventures: a university press e-books consortium under development by the Presses of NYU, Rutgers, Pennsylvania, Temple, Nebraska, and Minnesota; Project MUSE, a digital journals collection managed by the Johns Hopkins University Press, which is now planning to add books; an extension of Oxford University Press’s Oxford Scholarship Online to include additional publishers; and JSTOR, which is planning to add e-books to its content collections.

  • 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0
  • The university press consortium began in June 2009 with a research and feasibility grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to study whether it would make sense for a much larger group of presses to combine their efforts to sell e-books to academic libraries, with an eye toward eventually expanding the enterprise to include sales to faculty and students. The four presses presented the results of their research and a business feasibility study at the 2010 Association of American University Presses (AAUP) meeting, the latter outlining a possible scenario that would not only replace lost print sales to libraries, but offer some degree of insurance against possible cannibalization of course adoption sales. The presses currently expect to launch the initiative with as many presses as possible in fall 2011.
  • Project MUSE, operated by the Johns Hopkins University Press, provides full-text access to online journals content from over 440 titles representing nearly 110 not-for-profit publishers. In response to the needs of these publishers and library customers, Project MUSE is developing an e-book distribution service that will expand access to and discoverability of book-length scholarship, and provide a mechanism for publishers to distribute e-books. Project MUSE and JHU Press staff conducted library customer research, technology research, and feasibility analysis in 2009 – 2010. Project MUSE expects to launch an initial collection of frontlist e-book titles in 2011. Eighteen publisher partners have confirmed participation in the Project MUSE Editions program.
  • Oxford Scholarship Online will expand into University Press Scholarship Online (UPSO) in spring 2011, with the addition of content from other university presses. This new portal for monographic content will allow presses to retain their individual branding and searchability within the press, while also allowing users to search across the entire database. The UPSO platform will include both backlist and frontlist content from partner presses, all in XML format.
  • JSTOR plans to build on a new platform set to launch in 2011, which will serve publishers selling their current journal online subscriptions alongside JSTOR’s traditional archival collections, with a common navigation and search capability. Four university presses (Chicago, California, Illinois, and Indiana) are among the publishers participating in the initial launch of the new journals platform. Chicago, California, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Minnesota, and North Carolina are the pilot presses for the books project.
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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/sustaining/new-approaches-to-scholarly-publishing/publishing-e-books-for-sale/