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Monday, March 23, 2009

U of Michigan Press moves to digital + POD

Two stories on the University of Michigan Press:

(1) Jennifer Howard, U. of Michigan Press Reorganizes as a Unit of the Library, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2009.  Excerpt:

The University of Michigan Press will be restructured as an academic unit under the aegis of Paul N. Courant, the university’s dean of libraries. The idea, according to statement released by Michigan on Friday, is to position the press “to become a pioneer” in digital publishing—to make it a more direct collaborator in the central mission of spreading research “as widely and freely as possible." ...

Such sentiments have taken on a higher profile of late. In mid-February the Association of Research Libraries, the Association of American Universities, the Coalition for Networked Information, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges issued a joint "call to action" that exhorted universities to ensure the "broadest possible access" to scholarship....

(2) Nevertheless, the Michigan monographs will not be OA.  For details, see Scott Jaschik, Farewell to the Printed Monograph, Inside Higher Ed, March 23, 2009.  Excerpt:

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 university press....

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." ...

The shift is not designed to save money, but to make better use of the money being spent on the press, said [Teresa A. Sullivan, Michigan's provost]. No jobs will be eliminated -- although duties will probably shift for some employees....

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 acquire it." ...

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 print-on-demand versions....

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.

Update (3/24/09). Also see UM's press release.