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March 23, 2009

Farewell to the Printed Monograph

From Inside Higher Ed (3/23/09):

"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.

The shift by Michigan comes at a time that university presses are struggling. With libraries' budgets constrained, many presses have for years been struggling to sell significant numbers of monographs -- which many junior professors need to publish to earn tenure -- and those difficulties have only been exacerbated by the economic downturn. The University of Missouri Press and the State University of New York Press both have announced layoffs in recent months, while Utah State University Press is facing the possibility of a complete elimination of university support.

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. ...

While Pochoda [director of the Michigan press] 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." ...

Teresa A. Sullivan, Michigan's provost, ... said she would like to move to the idea that a university press should be judged by its contribution to scholarship, not "profit or loss," which has become too central as the economics of print publishing have deteriorated. ...

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.""

... read the rest of the Inside Higher Ed article for e-book experiments at other university presses.

ps... More: The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that the U of Michigan Press will become a unit of the University Library. Read more (U of Illinois access link).

Posted by Katie Newman at March 23, 2009 10:15 AM