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Monday, October 01, 2007

More on OA books from Rice University Press

Chad Trevitte interviews Charles Henry about the revived all-OA Rice University Press for the October/November issue of Innovate

From the synopsis:

In this interview Charles Henry, publisher of the Rice University Press (RUP), discusses RUP's rebirth as a fully digital university press. Henry addresses the circumstances that led to this decision, and he further outlines the RUP business model whereby the press will publish its own titles—both digitally and in print-on-demand—while collaborating with other presses to publish works that would otherwise have been deemed too expensive to print. Henry proposes that the digitization of academic publishing will provide more cost-effective ways of disseminating valuable scholarship while simultaneously opening vital new venues for academic writers to reach readers. In describing Connexions, RUP's open-source technological platform, Henry also explains how other presses may adopt this technology if they are willing to allow free and open access to their titles under a Creative Commons license. After commenting on the need for universities to abandon the privileging of print media, Henry discusses the response the RUP initiative has received in the academic community, and he provides further information on upcoming developments at the press.

From the body of the interview:

CT: What are the economic advantages for university presses that may be considering a similar step towards an electronic format?

CH: ...The logic of what we have done is therefore intuitive: We have unbundled nearly every aspect of the print-based model and either automated it or outsourced it....Once the final version [of a new book] has been digitized and released, it will be available either in electronic format or in print format. In turn, all of our printing, mailing, and financial transactions with the buyer are done by QOOP, the print-on-demand company we have partnered with. This outsourcing of production and distribution allows us to devote our resources almost exclusively to editorial tasks. We essentially will retain all the advantages of the traditional publishing model—peer review by an editorial board and quality control by an in-house staff of copyeditors and designers—while minimizing the financial burdens of production.

The challenge for the academic presses is to develop a means to migrate from their current business model to one that can include digital objects and outsourced functions. We will announce next month a partnership with Stanford University Press in the hope that such a transitional process can be achieved and replicated, at a considerable savings of cost and effort. I would like at some point to see the Rice University Press as an agent that supports dozens of university presses....

CT: I see that Connexions is an open source software platform. Does this mean that other academic publishers that are considering digitization will be able to adopt this technology—and thus reduce their start-up costs? ...

CH: Connexions is free for any publisher to use—and more or less usable without assistance—as far as publishing a digital version of a given book is concerned. When it comes to making a printed book from the Connexions version, a publisher would have to work out an agreement with Connexions regarding the distribution of revenues. Meanwhile, the digitized version would be on the Connexions server, accessible through a Connexions portal page that appears on the publisher's site. (For an example, see "Art History and Its Publications in an Electronic Age" [2006], a digital publication currently available at the Rice University Press Web site.) As far as rights are concerned, the publisher/author would have the copyright, but all work published on Connexions is licensed under Creative Commons, thus allowing free reuse and modification for noncommercial purposes as long as the original author or authors are given proper attribution....

CT: So if other publishers wanted to rely on Connexions as their platform—with or without a partnership with Rice University Press—they would need to allow some measure of free access to their publications. In your own digital publications, it seems that you do not anticipate too substantial a loss of sales revenue in this arrangement.

CH: Our thinking is that making the book freely available in digital form will actually raise rather than lower sales. But of course we don't know one way or the other at this point. It's basically an experiment. But the books will be available in printed form at prices reasonable enough, I think, to justify buying them. We're pretty sure that the best advertisement for the book is the book itself—that the more of it people can preview, the more copies we can sell. But as I noted earlier, our business model will take about three years to prove itself, so we'll see. Meanwhile, even for those publishers who are unwilling to take the step towards Creative Commons licensing, the step towards digitization still holds substantial advantages simply in terms of reducing the production costs associated with the traditional print-based model....