New Business Models for University Presses

Toward new business models

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The level of creativity and pace of change in scholarly publishing have never been greater, as the experiments outlined above indicate. Yet the experiments are just that: a variety of efforts to take advantage of new technologies, respond to scholars’ wishes to present work in new formats, contain costs, and engage with universities’ changing priorities for scholarly communication. The opportunities are evident, but the means of sustaining those opportunities are not. Publishers find themselves in the position of launching new programs with experimental business models while maintaining traditional modes of publication with their long-tested—if eroding—business models.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The new directions for scholarly publishing may be grouped under three broad headings:

  • 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0
  • a general shift from print to digital distribution, especially for journals but increasingly for books as well;
  • the emergence of entirely new forms of publication driven by the possibilities of digital technologies; and
  • the movement to replace traditional paid access with open access, also driven by the possibilities of technology but even more by the ever-rising cost of scientific journals.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 In all of these areas, we have seen considerable progress in solving the challenges of producing and distributing scholarship. Supporting it financially in ways that can be sustained over time is another matter. If there is one conclusion to be drawn from experiments so far, it is that multiple sources of revenue will be necessary if scholarly publishing is to grow and continue to meet the needs of authors and readers. The point is made clearly by Raym Crow in a study of business models for open access publishing. Focusing on STM journals, Crow defines two basic types of financial support for open access: “supply side” (principally author fees, but also including advertising, sponsorships, and institutional support); and “demand side” (value-added services, print editions for sale, use-triggered licenses and other voluntary fees). He concludes that author fees will be the principal source of support for OA journals, but argues that, in most cases, a combination of sources will be necessary for sustainability.[15]

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 A similar point is made by an Ithaka S+R report on sustaining online academic resources, a category that includes a wide range of projects including reference works, original scholarship, and bibliographic databases. While most of these projects are not open access, they face challenges similar to those confronting OA journals in achieving financial sustainability, because the traditional business models are not necessarily effective or appropriate. The study distinguishes between direct and indirect beneficiaries in identifying potential sources of financial support. Direct beneficiaries include both authors and readers; forms of support include subscriptions, pay-per-use, and author fees. Indirect beneficiaries are primarily educational institutions but also foundations and corporations; support may include institutional support, sponsorships, advertising, and licensing fees.[16] A subsequent study developing these points conducted case studies of 12 successful projects, concluding that each found a somewhat different path to sustainability depending on its particular characteristics.[17]

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 It seems clear that future business models may not look like those of today. We can expect— and we must welcome—new players in new roles, new structures, new types of risk, and new dependencies. The list below proposes some general characteristics of effective business models.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Characteristics of effective business models

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 1. The “business” being modeled should be viewed as scholarly communication. Each new model may address a narrow or specific aspect of this broad system but it will only succeed if it recognizes our ecosystem—the interdependencies among the interconnected partners in the extended academic community (universities, faculty, libraries, presses, scholarly societies, government agencies, foundations, and others).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 2. The model should embrace multiple content types: books, journals, multimedia projects, and evolving new forms of scholarly work. This does not preclude models that address single types of content but it does require their compatibility, if not interoperability, with business models for other forms. In an electronic environment these forms and content types are likely to merge and change in ways that make them less distinct from each other.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 3. The model should co-exist well with other business models. No single model will work for all disciplines or all institutions. The model may usefully focus on one access objective, one audience, one payment and/or one funding model, but it will not be effective if it requires an exclusive commitment from the sponsor, reader, or user.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 4. For sustainability, the business model should depend on financial support at reasonable cost to its funders (universities, foundations, and others). This requires a balance between avoiding the expense of redundancies and not putting too many eggs in one basket.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 5. The business model will provide for ongoing capital investment (either internally generated or from long-term funding commitments) to support its own technological improvements as well as ongoing operating expenses.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 6. It should anticipate future revision or succession. Life cycles are especially short in today’s scholarly environment where technological and social trends are making rapid changes in how scholars work. An effective business model should anticipate its own evolution or demise with appropriate flexibility.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 7. The effectiveness of the business model should be measurable in order to support meaningful resource allocation decisions across the system. New concepts of measurement may be needed; for example, to evaluate the impact of open dissemination or the significance of rapid consultation of individual pages or paragraphs.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 The challenges of transition to new business models

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Adopting a new business model for a portion of a press’s program requires a transition from the old way of publishing to the new. Such transitions are often complex, because the publishing business cycle (from content acquisition through publication) is multi-year and there are numerous players involved. If a particular series, for example, shifts from paid to open access thanks to a new sponsor, the publisher must reassess its inventory, pricing, and marketing strategies for backlist titles and titles already in production for the series as well as initiate new strategies for new signings. Any changes must be embraced by the series editors and explained to the authors.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Transitions almost always involve a financial gap of some kind: letting go of one source of support for a program in favor of a less familiar (and perhaps riskier) new source. The process of replacing established marketplace revenues with a reliable stream of subsidized funding almost always entails a period of exposure for the press’s costs. There is a commitment to open access or low pricing that takes effect before new patterns of support are fully in place. Even gradual conversion strategies for subscription journals switching to open access include risk since they rely on setting per-article fees in advance of incurring actual overhead costs for the journal. This financial gap has an obvious solution—bridge funding—but the sources for such transition support are not yet evident.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 In addition, there are important transition issues around author, editor, and reader perceptions of publishing value. If one journal has author fees and its direct competitors do not, a potential contributor may well choose to submit to the competitors. If the model for one low-priced or OA book series is based on saving some traditional costs (offering POD paperbacks or e-only editions instead of hardcover or eliminating some marketing efforts), that may direct some authors to other presses. In some fields, hardcover publication as a tenure requirement is still constraining press’s abilities to make new economic models work. These issues point to the need for discipline-centered efforts to change perceptions and expectations for scholarly publishing programs. University presses would welcome the opportunity to work with faculty and university administrators to forge new publishing norms for specific disciplines.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 The challenges of managing blended and shifting business models

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 University presses are undergoing a fundamental transformation in response to the new environment: making the transition from a single dominant business model to a portfolio of multiple business models. These multiple business models are constantly evolving. Experiments have become a larger part of press activities and are increasingly indistinguishable from “core” businesses. While selling print books to retailers may remain a central activity for presses at this time, it sits side by side with numerous other publishing activities of the press and shares resources with them.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 2 It is a very different management problem to publish with multiple models and with experiments succeeding, failing, or morphing into new experiments. Different revenue streams, pricing strategies, production processes, product concepts, and so forth, are adjacent to each other in the press’s overall program. There are likely many new partnerships for the press to manage. There is certainly a new complication to presenting a coherent picture of the press’s imprint (critical in addressing the problem of hyperabundance) to scholars and other readers when the access models, delivery platforms, and formats of its offerings may differ so widely even within the same subdiscipline. In addition, the university press becomes necessarily more entrepreneurial: each new business model is actually a new business startup, with all the accompanying business issues and risk.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Implications of transition issues for effecting change

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 The challenges of transition for university presses deserve special attention in planning for effective change in the scholarly communications ecosystem. Allowing for sufficient bridge funding and realistic timetables in the adoption of new business models is critical for their success. Transition challenges may direct a new program to start in one organization and then move to another, or to start with a small pilot or be implemented in manageable phases. Understanding the signals of a program’s effectiveness during the transitional phase and revising the program accordingly may be another key success factor. Providing sufficient resources for the outreach to authors and readers should be considered in funding initiatives.

  • [15] Raym Crow, Income Models for Open Access: An Overview of Current Practice, SPARC, September 2009, http://www.arl.org/ sparc/bm~doc/incomemodels_v1.pdf.
  • [16] Kevin Guthrie, Rebecca Griffiths, and Nancy L. Maron, Sustainability and Revenue Models for Online Academic Resources, ITHAKA, May 2008, http://www.ithaka.org/ithaka-s-r/strategy/sca_ithaka_sustainability_report-final.pdf.
  • [17] Nancy L. Maron, K. Kirby Smith, and Matthew Loy, Sustaining Digital Resources: An On-the-Ground View of Projects Today, ITHAKA, July 2009, http://www.ithaka.org/ithaka-s-r/research/ithaka-case-studies-in-sustainability.
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    Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/sustaining/toward-new-business-models/