University Press Redux 2018 – some themes

Redux 18 wordcloudThe second University Press Redux Conference was held at the Knowledge Centre at the British Library 13-14 February 2018, in association with UCL Press and the ALPSP. It was again a sold-out event, with 250 delegates from across the global scholarly publishing field including university presses, commercial scholarly presses, librarians, funders and service providers. See

Topics covered by the speakers (as summarised on the conference website) were: Academic-led presses; Author engagement; Digital publishing; Distribution and industry supply chain; Higher education policy; International sales; Journals publishing; Library – collection strategies and library supply; Media and publicity; Open access monographs; Production and printing; Relationship with parent institution; University publishing – history and new university presses.

The presentations and discussions were wide-ranging and stimulating, and some common themes emerged. Here is my personal take on the key themes from the conference.

Themes that stood out for me:

Funding – This was the question which seemed to dominate, especially after HEFCE’s Steven Hill stated that HEFCE wants its funding to incentivise academia to share content, and that this may not involve publishers (it’s not HEFCE’s role to fund publishers). The 2027 REF is likely to include an OA mandate for monographs. This seems to take no account of the findings of the Academic Book of the Future project, which highlighted the particular funding challenges for monographs, and it will have a potentially huge impact on the traditional scholarly book publishing model, especially in the humanities. Jane Winters told us that her entire departmental budget for OA was £10,000 a year. Sarah Caro from Princeton UP asked who would publish mandated OA monographs without funding. Who is going to pay? Is this, as Sarah Kember contends, part of a deliberate ongoing dismantling of state support for the arts and humanities, taking public funding to pay for research outputs purely to benefit private commercial interests?

The importance of copyright – Richard Charkin reminded us that a publisher’s commercial worth is its intellectual property assets, not its annual profit (Bloomsbury has JK Rowling). Aileen Fyfe stressed the importance to learned societies (and their ability to fund and support their field) of the income they receive from journal sales – income that relies on people having to pay for the content. So far, publishers have not noticed a decline in sales of paid content which is also available as open access. However, that links in to discoverability for OA content – if you don’t know a book is OA, you’ll probably buy the priced version. Which leads on to…

Discoverability for OA content – Michael Jubb highlighted the complexity of the supply chain for books, and the intermediaries who supply information and sell books to both institutional and trade buyers. There is no commercial incentive for these intermediaries to promote OA availability, which is therefore nearly invisible in the supply chain. However, there are signs that this is changing. For example, JStor has been very actively adding OA content to its platform (and removing the priced version of the same titles). Currently only 5% of academic book are published OA, so libraries expect to pay for most content and may not seek out OA alternatives, but if OA becomes more prevalent (and discoverable) surely fewer libraries will carry on paying for the content.

A pivoting back towards the institution – Amy Brand of MIT Press asked whether we are seeing a pivot back to the academy, with universities getting more involved in communicating their mission, and their value to society. Lisa Bayer of the University of Georgia Press stressed the political necessity of embedding the press into the university. Aileen Fyfe reminded us that scholarly publishing has not always been commercial. In its early days there was no expectation that money could be made from the circulation of highly specialised knowledge, and over the past 160 years scholarly publishing has been non-commercial for a larger chunk of time than it has been profit-led. Institutional resources such as IT expertise mean that library-based presses like Michigan have more scope to develop major projects such as collaborative platforms for sharing content in multiple formats.

Collaborative platforms – Pierre Mounier of OPERAS exhorted the humanities and social science communities to stand together – “United we stand!”. Sarah Kember asked us to think about the possibility of a publishing network that is properly, publicly funded, rooted in the university and rooting for the future of AHSS as well as STEM. Fulcrum (based at Michigan) is a values-based publishing platform, which is a collaboration between several US campus-based presses.

I took extensive notes at the conference and have put them together into a 32-page document, which I am making available for a nominal £15 (once purchased, I am happy for you to share the notes with your colleagues or students). This document has been created from my personal notes at the event and covers all the main sessions as well as three of the parallel sessions (Media, Authors and their Publishing Experiences, and Europe). It is available in Word or pdf format. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please email me:

Please note: Official slides and audio from the conference are available for free at See also  and for a storify of the tweets (available until May 2018). The Twitter hashtag was #redux18. UP Redux information can be found on the ALPSP website at My notes are intended as a useful complement to these resources.

Further reading:

The Academic Book of the Future:

The Role of the Editor: Publisher Perspectives – Katharine Reeve (Academic Book of the Future):

Untangling Academic Publishing: A history of the relationship between commercial interests, academic prestige and the circulation of research – Aileen Fyfe; Kelly Coate; Stephen Curry; Stuart Lawson; Noah Moxham; Camilla Mørk Røstvik:

Why Publish? – Sarah Kember (Learned Publishing):

UKSG Cost estimates of an open access mandate for monographs in the UK’s third Research Excellence Framework:

KU Research Exploring Usage of Open Access Books Via the JSTOR Platform:

Research Consulting: Why are new university presses on the rise, and how can you get involved? – Megan Taylor:

Changing publishing ecologies: A landscape study of new university presses and academic-led publishing. A report to Jisc by Janneke Adema and Graham Stone, with an introduction by Chris Keene:

Open access monographs in the REF – Steven Hill (HEFCE):

The OA effect: new report (Springer Nature):

The Academic Book of the Future Report launch event, 20 June 2017

The end of project reports from The Academic Book of the Future project have now been made available, and were formally launched in London on 20 June 2017. These are my notes from the event, with apologies for any errors or significant omissions (my handwriting is not always fast enough!). The Twitter hashtag was #AcBookReports.

The project reports are available online:

Welcome and introduction:

Caroline Brazier, Chief Librarian, British Library – The project started three years ago, to address what the ongoing rapid changes in the publishing industry would mean for the Arts and Humanities. Marilyn Deegan’s report provides a synthesis of the project and what it has achieved so far. Michael Jubb’s report gives details of the state of affairs in the academic publishing ecosystem.

Andrew Thompson, CEO of the Arts and Humanities Research Council – Having just signed a book contract with OUP, quite pleased to read the report’s finding that the book has a future! The report is conceived not as the end of a project, but the beginning of a discussion. How can our high quality research be more widely shared?

Samantha Rayner, UCL, Principal Investigator, Academic Book of the Future – So, here we are, finished after three years of work. This evening we start to collect the responses. Thank you to Melissa Terras who coordinated the team from behind the scenes. The team gelled quickly because they found they had common ground, and felt a responsibility to respect lots of different views. Fellowship has been essential part of the project. A journalist who read the report thought it painted a bleak picture. Sam rejects this entirely. There are lots of challenges, but this is NOT a bleak picture, and there are talented, practical, and visionary people out there who want to be involved. The project has shone a light on the things that need discussing. Research is becoming ever more politicised, so it is good that policymakers were involved in the discussions. The team managed to speak with a huge range of people. One of the best things proved to be having a pool of money unallocated at the start, which could be made available for mini projects which suggested themselves as the project progressed. This provided useful agility. In putting together the two reports, Marilyn and Michael are both heroes of the history of the academic book.

Academic Book of the Future Reports:

Marilyn Deegan, KCL, Co-investigator, Academic Book of the Future –

Thought this day would never come! The project has been a community building project, with a small project team, but a very large coalition of contributors. Want to mention advisory panel chair Kathryn Sutherland who never let us forget that good scholarship is central. Sam Rayner deserves credit for the decision to cast the net very wide, with events, etc. She was the one who came up with the idea of Academic Book Week, which has been an astonishing success. There was also the first ever UK university press conference, and many other conferences, seminars, workshops, focus groups, talks, interviews.

The BOOC is going live on Thursday 22nd June.



  • The academic book/monograph is still greatly valued in the academy and beyond
  • Print is not dead, and many scholars at all stages show a preference for print for sustained reading
  • The future is likely to be a mixed economy of print, e-versions of print and network enhanced monographs of greater or lesser complexity
  • There are many new exciting forms and formats of academic book…
  • …and new publishers and publishing partnerships emerging
  • Publisher brand still matters
  • Most scholars would be happier producing one or two ground breaking books in their careers rather than five or six which are produced quickly and have less impact
  • There is still confusion and anxiety over the Open Access agenda

Not bleak at all! But there are challenges, including increasing teaching loads and assessment.

A quote to end with:

“The substantial work of serious scholarship with a wider reach than that of the immediate academic sub-field is a precious thing, at the core of our cultural life and intellectual discourse” – Jonathan Bate

Michael Jubb, Lead Researcher, Academic Book of the Future –

Books are important, and they are part of the infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities. But, books now have more than just print formats. The academic book is part of an ecology with complex interactions. The number of titles is increasing, but overall sales are not increasing and sales per title are going down. Are too many books being published? Or is not enough effort being put in to get people to buy and read the books? There are tensions over rights. There is a need for innovation from publishers (which involves tech costs). The supply chain is almost comically complicated. There is a huge range of intermediaries. There has been no wholesale shift from print to e and the reader preference is still for print (across all age ranges). We will see digital alongside print for the foreseeable future. The publishers’ economic model is still based on print, but this is unsustainable. There has been lots of experimentation with OA, but we still haven’t got to grips with a sustainable economic model. Challenges include: costs and funding, author behaviour, rights regimes, international ecology, scalability. Can we get some quick wins? There is obvious potential with OA books for wider dissemination.

“Discoverability is the process by which a book appears in front of you at a point where you were not looking for that specific title” – Thad McIlroy

Discoverability is a disaster area. Metadata quality is poor. Onix, used by publishers, is completely different to MARC, used by librarians. We need discovery services better suited to academic books and behaviours of potential readers.


  • Quality must be sustained (not every book an academic wants to publish should be published)
  • Need to address issues of supply and demand
  • Need to maximise reach
  • Need to improve systems and processes and stimulate innovation
  • There should be more bespoke publishing services (not every book needs every publishing process, and there is room for cheaper, more pared down publishing for some books)
  • Need to address the economic implications of print plus e
  • Support development of OA

Above all:

  • Build communities and relationships
  • Develop a new structure to support dialogue amongst all the stakeholders
  • Need new policies to stimulate change, built on a deep understanding of the ecology

A motto to live by, to quote Ben Goldacre “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”

Panel responses to the project conclusions and recommendations:

Geoffrey Crossick, Distinguished Professor of Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London –

Very pleased to have been invited to comment. Learned a great deal, especially from Michael Jubb’s report. When Crossick wrote his own report on OA, he now realises that he structured it like a book, and it was a long form argument developed through the different sections (he wanted to shout to people “don’t just dip in and out!”) needing to be read in the order it was written.

The value of the monograph lies in the process of writing and reading it, not in the physical object. We know people value the physical book, and e-books currently can’t get near the experience of a print book. It’s different for articles. The availability of digital books became possible at the same time as OA, and this perhaps muddied the water.

Why write books at all? The answer is that long, structured argument is fundamental to humanities research. A monograph is not the same as a group of articles. Crossick is not sure that there is a crisis of oversupply, because the terms of “crisis” are not defined. He voices caution about technical determinism. Just because certain things are possible technically, does not mean they are valuable. What readers want should drive change. The reports make clear the many challenges of OA. Restraints lie in author ownership issues. There is a serious problem of third party rights (images etc). But the biggest problem with OA is finding the right business model. The book processing charge will not prevail.

Frances Pinter, Founder of Knowledge Unlatched –

Books sit inside the knowledge structure of each discipline, and there is a different ecology for every discipline. These reports look at the academic book from an Arts and Humanities point of view. KU’s research has shown that there is enough money in the academic system to support OA. It is not in one place, but it is there. Pinter agrees that not every monograph needs the full publishing treatment, and this is significant because it means there is scope for reducing publishing costs significantly before the stage of having a finished digital file. KU has looked at publishing costs around Europe, and many publishers offer a pick and mix menu of publishing services, which goes a long way to explaining the differing costs of OA in different places in Europe.

The writing of a monograph is part of the research process itself, so Frances is not convinced by the argument that there are too many books published. You need the whole of the milk before the cream can rise to the top, and there are no publishers who can reliably spot the cream. “Find me a publisher who’s always been right … there isn’t one”.

The Jubb report has an excellent chapter on intermediaries and their services. Amongst other things, it provides the startling fact that vendors typically take 50% of the amount the library pays for the book.

KU have been looking at geo-stats for the monographs they have unlatched. Monograph usage is 7x higher than what is going through the libraries in the same area. This suggests that there is a larger audience than we thought. HEFCE is looking to mandate OA, but is trying to get funding together in a very unstable environment. It would be easy for them to shelve their plans, but Pinter thinks this would be a mistake.

Chris Banks, Director of Library Service, Imperial College –

For a librarian, collecting, discovery and OA are important topics. It is worth thinking about the different types of academic output. At the moment we still have an academe that is very cautious. Reward mechanisms are based around publishing a book, and scholars need to write a good book and publish with a good publisher.

Collecting – Increasing amounts are being published, and there are more students. Despite things being available online, there is an increased usage of libraries, and so libraries have a space problem. In the old days, with print books, you never knew when a book might go OP and become unavailable, so libraries used to purchase “just in case”. There are more choices now, and libraries can purchase “just in time”, as the need arises, and in whichever format is the most appropriate. Libraries still buy print books, but there is more sharing amongst institutions. We are moving away from the number of books on shelves being a measure of value for the institution towards looking at the number of books a library can make available.

Cataloguing adds value for the library, and Chris thinks libraries would be willing to pay publishers to add good metadata to make sure books are discoverable. Libraries have trained, skilled people who could help with this! This would be valuable for both libraries and publishers. Libraries are looking for new and smart ways to use their budgets to make more books open, and Chris supports initiatives such as Knowledge Unlatched.

Discussion and audience Q&A:

Anthony Watkinson – In the US they have the Mellon Foundation who supply significant levels of funding. Where is our Mellon? Where will the money come from?

Answer from Michael Jubb: struck by how conservative the US publishing landscape remains, despite 20 years of Mellon initiatives.

Answer from Marilyn Deegan: Mellon seems to support two kinds of projects, either boutique projects for a single book, or large infrastructure projects, many of which are in partnership with libraries. We in the UK need to focus on what we actually need.

David Sweeney, Research England – Thanks particularly to Michael for an excellent piece of research. However, the challenges highlighted in the report are very scholar-centric. This sits uncomfortably with the AHRC focus on scholars developing a wider influence in the UK as a whole. The breadth of the contribution of our research to our national culture needs to be as important for humanities scholars as it is for science.

Answer from Michael Jubb: lots of sympathy with that view, which is why the report emphasises the importance of quality of research output, and that the book should be a partnership between the author and the machinery of publishing (ie dissemination).


Shearer West, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Sheffield –

This is a huge subject, so to finish, and inspired by Jenny Holzer and her “Truisms”, which are short statements encapsulating sometimes uncomfortable truths, here are 10 statements:

  • Libraries have adapted more radically to changes in the digital environment than either publishers or academic authors.
  • The reports are relatively silent on readers, apart from noting that both students and academics prefer hard copy academic books to digital ones, but with little indication as to why.
  • The desire to get published by well-known university presses appears to be as much a concern about academic reputation than a concern about rigorous peer review. The brand becomes a proxy for quality.
  • The continuation of the print book is increasing supply led rather than demand led.
  • Supply chain complexities mean that publishing is a discrete set of processes and services rather than a single event.
  • The sluggish pace of open access developments in monograph publishing suggests that the right audience for an academic book is more important to authors than a large audience.
  • True Innovation in the format of academic books is not scalable.
  • There is increasing strain in the relationship among stakeholders in the academic book supply chain.
  • It is more difficult to preserve digital books than physical ones.
  • The hard copy book serves as a monument to the author.

Turn, Click, Swipe: the next chapter for academic publishing – some notes

I attended the LIBF Tech Tuesday event held in Oxford earlier this week – a lively conversation about the future of academic publishing – and I share my notes here. The panel discussion was chaired by Jacks Thomas (LIBF) and covered print vs ebooks, social media, business growth, open access, and various topics in between. The speakers were David Taylor (Ingram), Rachael Lammey (Crossref), Pippa Smart (publishing consultant), Andy Redman (OUP) and Chris Fowler (Oxford Brookes University Library).

Does the academic book have a future? 

The answer from the panel was yes. Long form publishing is turning around, and the consensus is that print will be around for a long time. Readers are willing to use e, but the preference is still for print, so we will have both. And we still need library shelf space for books! From a technical perspective, discovery and layering content is adding value. People want to link to different parts of a text. Being able to find different research in whatever medium is future proof. From a commercial point of view, POD means that publishers don’t have to make the decision about which format will win. Do both e and print and allow the customer to have a choice.

The monograph is still a valuable form and, as noted in the Crossick report, remains the most effective way to present sustained research over many years. The monograph allows the space to express an argument fully.

More and more is being published, and it’s now a real problem to review all the relevant research. Historically, it has been possible for authors to go back and read every primary document mentioned in relation to their book. That’s a challenge for the future. Of the scholarly output from the last 50 years, 70% of the output has been in the last 15 years. Future academic publishing needs to address that.

What is the role of Social Media?

Students and researchers don’t use publisher websites to discover information, they use “the web”. People incrementally pick up information, and social media is a very important element of that. It allows people to discover things by accident, serendipity. We are in a search environment, and people do directional searching in Google.

A very relevant example of the value of social media in academia is the very recent UK supreme court decision about parliament’s role in triggering article 50 for Brexit. The decision cited the UCL Constitution Unit blog. It’s very notable for a blog to be cited in a legal case. A blog can pick up issues very quickly, 24 -48 hours after events. Social media is a good way of providing a first-pass synthesis of emerging trends. With new applications of law, for example drone strikes, scholars get to grips with these issues much more quickly on social media than they do via monographs or journals. Social is also beginning to have an impact on promotion and career development. There is a problem with persistence though – links deteriorate, information disappears. We need to ensure stuff is still discoverable. There are initiatives to try and tackle this, for example the wayback machine.

As well as discoverability, it’s also worth thinking about access to content via social. Students expect access. Why can’t they access an ebook from Facebook?

Ingram have recently introduced an interesting commercial model related to social – Aerio. This is a C to C (customer to customer) model, allowing connections to grow between people who have the same interests. Aerio is essentially a widget which allows people to add a “bookshelf” to an online page (website, blog etc) with a direct link to buy the books. It’s available in the US but not yet in the UK.

How can publishers grow in this time of change?

It’s a challenge. We should not hold onto the old ways of adding value, and we need to think about new ways of adding value. Try looking at the content supply chain from the academic’s perspective. Work towards open systems, open standards. Think about new ways for the publishing process to add value, for example through enrichment. Publishers should free up resources to work with authors and content creators to add value. With so much research available you need expert curation, and publishers can provide this.

Consider using every available format, so people can have what they want. Don’t pretend to know what the customer wants. By and large, publishers are reported to have come to this conclusion.

A librarian’s perspective

The plethora of different formats is very confusing for libraries. In many cases libraries need to buy both print and e because students want both: e for getting at information quickly, print for in depth study. Libraries look at overall value for money. Often e is very expensive. Also e pricing structures vary. A single user licence almost renders the ebook not an ebook. And it doesn’t work if multiple students need the same book on the same day, for an exam.

The librarian needs to consider and prioritise value for money. Patron-driven acquisition has a tendency to use up budgets fast, and can result in an unconvincing range of purchased titles. Evidence-based acquisition, where purchases are driven by usage levels, seems more promising. Libraries can agree with the supplier in advance on how much to spend, then, over the budget period, choose what to buy.

The challenge of increased technical know-how for journal publishers

Technology appeared to offer solutions; you don’t need publishers, societies thought. But things now seem to be flipping back. The case was cited of an association which brought things in house 5 years ago. They now have a successful journal, but have got to the stage where they can’t do it anymore and are looking for a publisher to work with. With journals these days there is a requirement to provide additional information – ORCID iDs, information about funding sources etc. There are tools to help, but it does need a level of technical expertise. Small publishers don’t have this. The big publishers know they need to develop skills and are investing in technical staff.

Open Access

Open Access is about a change in access and funding models, but there’s an inherent conflict between principles and pragmatism. There are two main strands – gold and green – which by itself causes stresses. Which is the version of record? There is conflict between local models and global models. The research councils have put HE institutions in the front line because of their funding requirements. OA is the direction of travel, and many publishers are constructively engaged, but there are real questions about what is achievable. Creation, enrichment, retaining accessibility – these all have costs. If customers don’t pay, what is the sustainable model?

The rise of sci-hub can be seen as an indicator of a dysfunctional publishing environment. Publishing shouldn’t be as expensive as it is. Publishing companies are expensive to run. Are we overcomplicating things? If we want OA we need to find an easier, cheaper way, and we haven’t found it yet. We need to find a better way of enabling access, but we need to pay for it.

A major problem with OA for publishers is that they have no idea how to make money out of it. Is there a workable, robust business model? Many universities are doing their own publishing but this is problematic too. It comes back to funding, to sustainability.

Some Thoughts about Impact (and Open Access) for Humanities and Social Science Publishing

My background is in Humanities and Social Science publishing, and that’s the key area of focus for the majority of university presses. Attending a couple of sessions on Open Access and Open Science at the London Book Fair last week reminded me just how different things look from the perspective of the STEM subjects and the major journal publishers. A session on crossover academic books, and an inspiring talk from the founders of the new Goldsmiths Press brought some other thoughts into play too. A common theme was impact.

For academics, the measure of success is prestige. Have you changed the conversation? Have you changed the world? This idea came up in the session on the crossover book (the academic book that crosses over into a wider market). Penguin Press has published serious books by academic authors which have sold more than 100,000 copies. The question was posed in the session: as an academic why wouldn’t you want to reach 100,000 readers? If you want your work to have real impact in the world make sure you write well and concentrate on communicating your message. Penguin is highly selective in its commissioning, but then really gets behind the marketing for each of its books. Its academic authors include Daniel Kahneman and Paul Dolan. These authors have genuinely made an impact, and the huge success of their books must bring fantastic prestige to their institutions. I was left pondering the contrast with Open Access publishing, through which as much research as possible (rather than selected research) is made available (rather than actively promoted).

With the rise of Open Access, there is a commercial imperative to issue as much OA material as possible. This was from the “What is a Publisher Now? It’s Open, but where on earth is it?” session. Funders are providing money for Open Access publishing, and publishers seem very happy to take the money. A lot of money is being poured into the development of new platforms, and the big publishers are becoming content providers rather than book and journal publishers. With more and more research being published, discoverability is becoming a key issue. Metadata and semantic search are buzzwords. Is there an element of re-inventing the wheel here? Google is the expert in semantic search, and Google is widely used by academics for search purposes. In the future, will scholars search within several different platforms to find what they’re looking for, or will a single search portal (like Google) become dominant?

In STEM subjects, articles rather than books are the dominant form. Article Processing Charges for OA mean that there is a shift in where the value is perceived to lie, away from the journal (the publisher) and towards the article (the author). Articles can be published before the journal publication date. There is a move towards article-level metrics, which would mean that prestige (the academic’s measure of success) is tied in with the impact factor of the article, rather than the journal as a whole. In this scenario, what is the purpose of the journal? What is the purpose of the publisher? Are they now simply platform developers?

The fact that for STEM subjects OA is moving towards content held on platforms provides challenges for research that does not fit into the journal article mould (aka books!). Rupert Gatti (Open Book Publishers) and Lara Speicher (UCL Press) both spoke of the difficulties of finding the right business model and of getting Open Access books to the reader. Open Access books typically have free versions and also paid-for versions (for example you can access the pdf free online, but you can also pay to buy a print edition). Retailers (such as Amazon) and library suppliers are happy to list information about the books on their systems, but they don’t label them as being Open Access. So how does the reader know that a free version is available? Open Access book publishers need to find new channels. Publisher platforms, websites, OAPEN, DOAB and social media were all mentioned. For smaller publishers, without the scale and finance to develop sophisticated platforms like the mega-publishers, and without the routes to market provided by established commercial distributors, this seems very challenging. It’s often repeated that making books available as Open Access does not have a detrimental impact on sales of the print or ebook versions. I’m now wondering whether this is significantly influenced by the fact that distributors who sell the book do not mention the OA version. Are buyers ordering books through their usual channels not even aware that they’re paying for books that are OA? As OA becomes more widespread, surely this will change?

The newly launched Press at Goldsmiths is format agnostic. They are taking a critical attitude to Open Access, not saying yes, not saying no. For co-founder Adrian Driscoll, a key issue is sustainability. Open Access is very reliant on continued funding, which seems risky for a university (and therefore a press) which has a liberal arts focus. Sarah Kember, the Publishing Director, wants to think about different communication formats that are suited to subject specialisms which include arts and performance. She thinks Open Access does not work for the liberal arts. OA belongs to the STEM subjects, and publishers’ systems are being developed for those subject areas where the article is the main communication vehicle.  Goldsmiths Press wants to push the barrier between academic and trade, to focus on the needs of authors and scholars and on supporting the aims of their institution. They are asking whether impact can be measured in new ways.

Advocates of Open Access talk about increasing the impact of research, getting it read by more people. The speakers in the crossover books session were talking about that too. Mathew Lyons spoke about it being important that academic humanities should be a vital contributor to the national conversation and be part of the wider political and cultural debate. Sarah Kember from Goldsmiths spoke about finding the best way to maximise impact for different areas of research. There seems to be wide agreement about the importance of impact, of changing the conversation.

At the University Press Redux conference In Liverpool in March, Mandy Hill from Cambridge University Press expressed a worry that Open Access might mean that some research might not be able to be published. I read a tweet from a librarian who was in the room, reacting to this idea with astonishment, and thinking that he must have misheard. But there are costs associated with publishing research, whether those costs are paid by the publisher, by institutions or by external funders, either through processing charges or through funding a university (or library) press. If institutions and funders are paying article and book processing charges, and the publisher is supplying a content platform instead of making commercial decisions about what to publish and what not to publish, where will this lead? For research which may not have an immediately apparent commercial value (STEM research receives a lot of commercial funding, humanities and social science research does not) will there be a limit to how much will receive OA funding for publication?

Liz Allen from F1000Research spoke about the outbreak of the Ebola virus providing a strong impetus to get the latest research published fast. Open Science is ideal for this kind of research and information sharing. But maybe a different approach is more suitable for the communication of humanities and social science research, one that is more focused on proactively engaging with the national conversation, communicating ideas and research in ways that will advance culture and policy.

Reflections on The University Press Redux

The University Press Redux conference was held in Liverpool on the 16th and 17th of March. Organised by Anthony Cond and Liverpool University Press, it brought together 150 delegates – all with a stake in the future of scholarly publishing – and it was a hugely stimulating and thought-provoking couple of days. Having had a couple of weeks to digest what I took in from the conference, I’ve now put together a few thoughts on the key themes that stood out from my perspective. My perspective being that of someone with a background in academic monograph publishing in the Humanities and Social Sciences…

Here are the themes that stood out for me:

Energy and commitment –

There is a palpable energy, and lots of new ideas, in university publishing. New presses are springing up, with a focus on Open Access, and with close connections to the university library. New conversations are happening between longer-established presses and their home institutions. There seems to be a renewed sense of mission – “how can we best support the publishing needs of the academic community”. We heard that 40% of US university presses got a new director in the past 3 years, bringing new energy and new perspective. In the UK, five new presses have been established in the past 12 months. Established presses are being innovative, and are winning awards (Liverpool University Press, Policy Press).

The importance of reputation, especially for early-career researchers –

Early-career researchers still need to be published by a reputable academic press, and preferably a university press. This is crucial for getting a job. A book published by a university press also remains the gold standard for more established researchers, especially in the UK, where the REF is a dominant presence. Will the new university presses be able to develop a strong reputation for academic excellence? Will they be compromised by their focus on publishing their own faculty rather than from a more globally diverse base? Or should the reputation of the home institution be enough of a guarantee of excellence for their research output, without the need for endorsement from a publisher?

A crisis of readers? –

Researchers need to publish for career development, so there is no shortage of new book projects for publishers to choose from. But library budgets are (as always) under pressure, and libraries are also increasingly moving to patron-driven acquisition rather than buying books “just in case”. Are there more people wanting to publish than are wanting to read?

Discoverability (and sustainability) –

No-one will buy or access books if they don’t know they exist. Publishers with a strong reputation in particular subject areas, and with established sales and communication channels, may have an advantage here. Open Access research is achieving impressive download numbers, but this (so far) is based on a small level of output with a high level of energy (and funds) being devoted to publicity. Will this prove to be sustainable? As the amount of open access research increases, how will people decide what they should be reading? Will there be an ongoing need for gatekeepers, curators and sales people (the role that publishers have played and continue to play)?

Collaboration and outsourcing –

There is a notable increase in collaborative activity; a sense that smaller publishers can punch above their weight and gain mutual advantage by working together. And there is also an increasing number of companies offering specialist services to those who may not have in-house resources. We heard from collaborative organisations: ALPSP, AAUP, AEUP; and from publishing service providers: Ubiquity, IPR Licensing, Turpin Distribution, EBSCO. There are also presses or institutions working together, such as White Rose Press in the UK, and Lever Press in the US.

Who pays? And will there be a limit? –

There is no such thing as free research, and to publish it requires investment. In the traditional publishing model, the press covers the cost of publishing via revenue primarily from sales. The developing Open Access model involves financial investment from institutions, either to support publishing in-house, or to pay Article or Book Processing charges to external publishers or publishing service companies. There is also experimentation with subsidies from library consortia. Will these new models be sustainable? How much research output will OA funders be prepared to subsidise?

Let me know your thoughts via the comments…

Further reading:

University Press Redux: Preserving Heritage, Charting The Future (Alison Mudditt)

The University Press Redux: Balancing traditional university values with a culture of digital innovation (storified)

Pathways Forward: The University Press in the 21st Century (Alastair Horne)

2016 to be ‘tough’ year for CUP Academic (Mandy Hill)

Writing for Survival: Publishing & Precarity in the Lives of Early-Career Researchers (Nadine Muller)