Magazine article Information Today

University Presses Gear Up for Transition

Magazine article Information Today

University Presses Gear Up for Transition

Article excerpt

Technological progression can be intimidating, especially if you're a scholarly publisher. In today's marketplace, "The future of academic publishing is uncertain," according to the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) in a recent report titled "Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University Presses."

The report details the vital components involved in university publishing and offers suggestions on business models to help presses switch their focus from print to digital. Its solution: creating a hybrid business plan that's resilient enough to endure the transition. But that's easier said than done.

For the members of the AAUP's Task Force on Economic Models for Scholarly Publishing, the bottom line is that change is necessary, though there isn't an obvious path to follow. Rather than being a step-by-step solution manual, the report functions as a foundation for future action. It sketches the map, which lacks a definite route, placing a question mark where the X should be.

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However, the report clearly emphasizes the reality afflicting print monograph sales: "The dominant business model for scholarly publishing over the past several decades is no longer sustainable."

As print book sales become increasingly unreliable, the AAUP urges presses to come up with an alternative business plan. Though revenue from print books still makes up the largest percentage of publishers' income, the major industry trend is shifting toward digital publishing. The report also points out that throughout the shift, customers will keep buying print books "out of habit, utility, and training." The best business model now seems to be a collective offering of both digital and printed content.

These hybrid models come in a few forms; some publishers offer free online digital books and sell print-on-demand (POD) editions. Others offer digital editions of older titles for free but still charge for the newer ones. Some bundle a print book and a digital edition together to give customers the best of both worlds. But the report cautions that these options offer shaky financial support. They are simply transitional models rather than lasting strategies to carry publishers through the technological innovations around the corner.

University presses are looking for a business plan that will sustain digital publishing independent of print sales, offering the flexibility and consistent financial support necessary to maintain and update digital content. …

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