By Guest Blogger Meredith Morris Babb, Director of the University Press of Florida

Many presses are experimenting with Open Access (OA), primarily in the scholarly journal/monograph worlds. At the University Press of Florida (UPF), we have formed a number of alliances to explore OA and textbook use.  In Florida, as in 37 other states, legislation is in place condemning the high cost of higher education texts. Some states, such as Ohio, have gone so far as to create a grant program that will reward faculty who write an OA textbook. UPF has decided to jump into this game, as a way of generating revenue, but also to serve the higher purpose of providing quality, peer-reviewed texts to students and faculty at a fraction of the current cost.

Here is how it works: an OA textbook is created and placed into an OA repository as a PDF. That PDF is free to any other repository, and can be downloaded infinite number of times for free. All OA texts use a form of Creative Commons License to limit commercial use, but authors must allow for adaptations with attribution. A professor selects an OA text, the students download the work from the repository and away we go. I will get to the more nuanced aspects of this in a bit.

Four partners are in play with our OA text site, Orange Grove Text Plus (OGT+). All are critical to the success of the new endeavor and are dedicated to forging this path together. They include UPF, Integrated Book Technologies (IBT), the Orange Grove (OG), and WebAssign. UPF provides developmental editing, copy editing, typesetting, design, production, metadata production, ISBN assignment, print distribution, and marketing. IBT hosts the shopping cart, pre-flights and stores all the print-ready PDF files, and generates print-on-demand versions as they are ordered. OG is Florida’s OA repository, originally created for distance learning resources by the division of state colleges. It is open to all student and faculty in the state. OG hosts the non-print PDF files, manages all the metadata for searchability, creates the background structure that allows an OA text to be pulled directly into a university or college’s learning management system, and is the harvester that seeks out additional OA texts. WebAssign provides digital, on-line homework and testing capabilities. Having worked for many years with many higher ed textbook publishers, they recognize the sea change that is coming with OA textbooks.

So what makes OGT+ unique from say, Connexions?  We provide the peer review, editorial, and design components missing from their create-your-own-text site. The Orange Grove customizes the metadata so that a professor or student can search for a book using Florida’s State University System’s common course numbering system. IBT can print and ship within 24-28 hours after the book is purchased. We assign ISBNs and have a standard retail discount schedule that allows bookstores to purchase directly from UPF (rather than through the shopping cart created for individual users), which benefits many students on aid packages who must buy their books from a retailer with a special Purchase Card.

The current iteration of OGT+ reflects the lessons learned from an ongoing successful experiment to create a basal text in calculus. Last year, the provost at the University of Florida provided one-time seed money to the UF Department of Mathematics. Faculty were given release time to prepare a text book that exactly followed their lectures. Problems and examples were sometimes drawn from existing OA texts. A first draft was test-taught in the honors calculus class last fall. WebAssign, who was already working with UF and their old text, help them create a new set of exercises for class room use and reduced their fee to students. This spring, every calculus class at UF is using the beta version of the text, and all students in the class are charged a $25 fee that goes back to the department for future updates, additional material, and release time to prepare volumes for Calculus II and III. Along the way, UPF had the text peer-reviewed and designed, and provided PDFs to both the Orange Grove and IBT. There are 912 students enrolled this spring in the beta test semester, and as of February 28 we had had 1,247 downloads of the PDF. As of this writing, we have yet to receive a firm number of the number of students that have chosen to hit the “buy this book” button, but research shows us that somewhere between 65-70% of student want both the pdf and the download, even when they start the semester with the PDF only.

Right now, the onus of recovering UPF’s operating costs resides with the students who purchase the print edition. Not fair at all, so we will be sharing the in the revenue from the fee system starting next semester.

Now imagine this: what if 4-5 university presses got together and each developed three general education texts for OA use? All of sudden, those 5 presses have not 3 but 15 OA texts that can be used by their students. With an OA fee and a non-returnable POD print version, there is one potential hefty source of steady revenue.

UPF is in the processing of asking the State University System to make OGT+ part of each Florida university’s strategic plan. This is already the case in the state and community colleges. With more universities moving to a resource centered management finances these texts will be even more attractive to a department also looking for revenue streams. And university presses move into the digital age with their original missions—to create texts for use on their campuses—intact.  What goes around. . . .