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Image by Kevin Crumbs CC license http://www.flickr.com/photos/crumbs/2702417097/sizes/l/in/photostream/

 

The other morning I read an interesting essay by William H. Weitzer in Inside Higher Ed that explored the campus as a “place”, and extolled some of the benefits real campuses offered over online education. The essay went on to suggest that these “places” and their associated experiences should be exploited when recruiting students, especially since they are absent in the online equivalent. Apparently colleges and universities are beginning to feel pressure from the third fastest growing industry in America, for-profit universities, where the majority of the educational experience occurs online.

And then later in the week I read another IHE piece about the importance of place, this time by Scott McLemee and concerning the New York Public Library’s plan to move about 1.5 million books out of the main library and to a storage facility in New Jersey. The reason the library has given for the move is to make room for people working on their computers.

It seems there have been a lot of discussions about “place” these days, and in our business, the focus has been on the disappearance of places that sell books.

Last year the Borders chain folded, closing 800 bookstores and removing millions of books from our communities, and so far this year not a week has gone by without the announcement that an indie that’s been around for over a decade is either closing or up for sale. Important stores like R.J. Julia and University Press Books are both looking for new owners, and if new owners aren’t found, University Press Books is likely to close. The downward spiral of the bookstore in America seems to be increasing in speed. With ebooks, pirating, and predatory online booksellers, it seems only an idiot would suggest bookstores even have a future. Well, my friends, that is precisely what this idiot is about to propose.

It seems clear at this point that the relationship that publishers have with indies has to change. Last year, right before Christmas, Amazon urged customers to go to brick and mortar stores and compare the physical store prices to Amazon’s prices. Amazon even paid people for reporting those store prices back to Amazon. Bookstores called the practice “Showrooming” and noted the inherent unfairness in providing an important service for the book community without receiving the actual sustaining sale. But it got me thinking. With bookstores closing and libraries cutting staff, hours, and even the number of books actually in a library, perhaps a new approach is in order. Maybe if we can’t beat them, we ought to join them.

If I had any capital (which I don’t, I have children instead) and I lived in a town without a great Book Place (which I do, if you don’t count the libraries), here’s what I’d do…

Imagine you’re walking downtown and you see a sign for a new business, THAT BOOK PLACE. Cool, you think to yourself, an idiot with money they apparently don’t need has opened a new bookstore in my community. I’m going to go check that out before it goes out of business. So you cross the street and walk in. In front is what you might expect, big stacks of The Hunger Games trilogy, a book of erotica for moms that appears to have something to do with the Pantone variations between PMS 400 and PMS 450, and a new cookbook teaching the virtues of artisanal water boiling.

After venturing a little farther into the store you come across a machine that looks like a copier. The only reason you’re pretty sure it isn’t a copier is because of the Plexiglas chamber in the middle with robot parts that seem to be making something. At first you’re a bit excited and hope that it’s one of those Mold-a-Ramas you remember from childhood visits to the natural history museum and that a warm, wax dinosaur will pop out of the chute. But no, instead a warm Stephen King paperback pops out. And as you look closer at the Plexiglas chamber you see that the machinery inside is making books, paperback books, one at a time.

Curious, you go to the counter and ask about the machine.

“Oh that. That’s our Espresso Book Machine. With that we can print you a copy of one of over 7,000,000 titles in the EspressNet system. Anything in the public domain can be printed and bound for you at roughly the printing cost, and many in copyright books can be printed here as well. So if you don’t find what you’re looking for, we can easily see if the book can be printed for you in a couple of minutes.”

Cool, you think to yourself, as you head into the stacks. I’ve been meaning to get a copy of Lea’s History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. I’ll have them crank one out before I leave.

Approaching the literature section first, you notice that some of the books look used. You suppose that’s not all that unusual these days. Lots of stores sell new and used mixed together. In the Vs you see an unfamiliar Vonnegut title, Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More!, and you pull it off the shelf, and on the cover is a sticker, and it says:

Display/Used/Lending copy

  • New, shipped next day: $24.95
  • Used: $8.99
  • Rental: $ 3.99/week
  • Ask about the DRM-free e-book: $9.95 for Members

Confused about this, you head back to the counter to ask what it’s all about.

“Yes, many of the books on the shelves are available under those options. We can have the publisher drop ship a brand new copy anywhere you like, or you can purchase this used copy. You can also rent the book, but you might want to consider a membership because then the rental is free. Members don’t pay for rentals, though like non-members, if they don’t return the book eventually, the cost of the book is charged to their credit card and we order another.”

“How much is membership?” you ask.

“For an individual, it’s $49.95 a year. But with that membership you can borrow any book in the store for free. In most cases you can also request that we acquire a book for you to borrow and we will, or we’ll print it for you using our Espresso Book Machine.”

“Interesting,” you say, “Tell me more about that DRM-free ebook.”

“Well, if you invest in a membership and thus in this store, then we can sell you a DRM-free ebook edition for many of the titles in the store. Many of the publishers we work with have been convinced that if you have a stake in the store, you will have a stake in its continuance and your access to the books we offer.  And that, they hope, would be enough for you to use the file only in legal ways. They also get a cut of the membership fee, which they don’t have to pay royalties on, or any other costs for that matter.”

“So they’re willing to trust me, if I become a member?”

“Yes,” replies the clerk, “the publishers are willing to trust you, and so are we.”

“Well, what kind of file is it?” you ask.

“You get both a PDF and an ePub file,” replies the clerk.

“Well, this is pretty cool. Sign me up,” you say. “Oh, and could you please print me a copy of History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages by Henry Lea?”

So maybe publishers should treat indies like showrooms, and send their books to indies on consignment. That means that only if and when a book sells is money paid to the publisher. The books in the store shouldn’t be the focus of the revenue. Instead, the revenue might come from membership fees, book rentals, and referral fees for drop shipped new copies or ebook sales. Members of this store/library then would have a stake in keeping the store/library open, so presumably they would have little motivation to misuse ebook files. Then I as a publisher might have a reason to trust the store and those members with DRM free files. I would offer DRM free files in a store like that, where there is a relationship between the file and the store and the customer/patron. We are all shareholders in that scenario. I think other publishers might consider offering DRM free files in such a scenario too, but perhaps I’m too pie in the sky. If your local bookstore/library depended on the revenue ebook sales and rentals generated, you would have a stake in that revenue. I would hope that that could be an environment where publishers might be willing experiment with trust. But then again, I’ve been known to believe in lost causes before, and have been absolutely wrong.

So if I were to open a new store today, that’s the model I’d try to sell to publishers. Treat me like a community library/showroom, whose mission is both dissemination and access, and book ownership, maybe even a non-profit. For a publishing community like ours that has a similar mission, this might be very fruitful. But it would depend a lot on the store, and particularly where it was. Which “place” are we talking about?

This brings me back to University Press Books. No, not our product, instead the store in Berkeley, California. I have been in conversation with the owner, William McClung, and I shared some of these ideas. He’s willing to experiment. We also discussed practical ways we might transition to such a model and one thing we both decided had to be the first step was books had to be sent on consignment. If the point is to display the books, why would we charge the store for the display copies? You might ask why we would want to display our books there. Why wouldn’t we? Just between Stanford and UC Berkeley there is an enormous audience of scholars I want to look at our books. It’s like a year round conference where scholars are continually visiting. This is not to say they shouldn’t be allowed to sell that display copy, but if they do, they will probably have to sell it below the retail price, as it won’t be in pristine condition. So, we ought to consider allowing them to set the price of the display copy. Yes, if it does sell, we’ll still get the majority of the revenue, but it will be based on a price that the store sets. I also told them that I would pay them a commission on anything they sold using that display copy. And I promised that I would pay to drop ship a brand new book to a customer, if the customer preferred that to getting it at the store.

So, I’ve put my money where my mouth is and I’ve sent them 200 of our books, on consignment, and I’m giving them the flexibility to price those books. When our business manager asked how we would know what they sold it for, I told her we would trust them. And I pointed out that if we can trust POD and ebook platforms selling our content when we really have no way of knowing how much they’ve really sold, I think I can trust a bookseller.

Another advantage to this approach is since they are display copies, I don’t have to send still-in-the-shrink-wrap copies. I can send slightly damaged copies, or left over exhibit copies. The important thing however is my books are now in front of one of the largest academic audiences in the country. With that in mind the books I chose weren’t necessarily all of our latest titles. Instead, I was sure to include all of our perennial adoption titles, some of our best sellers (non-regional, of course) and some of our most impressive new books. I also did a search of our author database and was sure to include all of the authors who live in the vicinity, though they also typically taught at UC or Stanford.

It’s at this point in the post that I make the pitch. Unless something really radical happens, University Press Books is going to close. Would you consider doing what I’m suggesting? The McClungs think that this model has the potential to keep them open. Simply moving to a consignment basis makes a major difference in cash flow for them. Will you consider doing the same? I’m not asking anyone to sell DRM free files, or to allow their titles to be rented, at least not yet, but I am challenging our community to do something, anything, to keep that store open. Would you consider sending books you’ve chosen to University Press Books on a consignment basis? If this works in Berkeley, perhaps it’s a model that could also help St. Mark’s at NYU, or any of a number of bookstores that specialize in our books. Please consider this. And if you’re not convinced it’s worth trying, consider the alternative—one less book place—one less university press book place.

One the eve of its annual conference, the Association of American University Presses has launched a redesigned website and released the results of its second digital book publishing survey in as many years. The press release announcing the report can be read here, and the report itself is available for download.

In addition to providing interesting statistical breakdown as to the number of presses participating in a wide variety of digital publication efforts, it also reveals the widespread (unavoidable?) use of digital technology in traditional print publishing, particularly print-on-demand.

For most presses  (53 of 71 who participated in the survey) revenue from sales of electronic editions remains below 3%. It will be interesting to see how/if that changes in the coming year, particularly since the percentage of presses now reporting as participating in site licenses to libraries has nearly doubled (from 34% in the 2009-2010 survey to 65% in the Spring 2011 survey).

Overall, finding a working business model and creating systems to best allocate limited resources remain the biggest obstacles faced by university presses when it comes to digital publishing. As the report clearly demonstrates, despite these concerns, AAUP member presses are actively and enthusiastically embracing the possibilities. And if history is any indicator, following this weekend’s annual conference, “The Next Wave: Toward a Culture of Collaboration,” that enthusiasm will be redoubled throughout the summer.

By Guest Blogger Lenny Allen

The title of the classic Philip K. Dick story asks whether androids dream of electric sheep. I don’t know the answer to that particular question, but I do know that we’re all–at this very moment, asleep or awake–dreaming of a digital monograph platform that is financially viable, intuitive, sustainable from the perspective of a rapidly shifting market environment, and adaptable enough to be able to meet both the short and long-term needs of scholarly research at all levels as well as the development of new business and acquisition models.

Our shared mission dictates that we disseminate scholarly content as widely as possible. But how best to fulfill this mission and meet the ongoing needs of academic research all while satisfying the above criteria? Simply publishing our content in electronic format is no longer enough.

Oxford Scholarship Online, launched nearly a decade ago and conceived of when ebooks were in what was then a virtually embryonic phase of development, has blazed a trail that is only now being followed in the marketplace. The use of XML and the precise nature of the text tagging it provided was an early and fundamental decision and has been instrumental to OSO’s success.

XML provides us the ability to do more than give users what is essentially a static “picture” of a book, offering instead a rich, robust text that meets the needs of scholarly research today and for the foreseeable future. In spite of all the rapid technological developments and the ensuing seismic shifts in the market, one thing has remained constant:  the nature and methodology of scholarly research. This is often lost in the clamor of our current discussion so it’s worth reminding ourselves from time to time that this is at the very heart of what we do and why we do it.

As OSO now evolves into University Press Scholarship Online and we begin the process of including other university press content on our platform, — see our recently launched pilot partner Fordham Scholarship Online–we’re more focused than ever on the viability of the monograph as a key medium of scholarly communication. The ability to conduct precisely targeted searches across multiple presses within the same platform is an exciting development and one that promises to do much in the way of advancing scholarly research.

XML is what makes that long-held dream a fully-functioning reality. Rather than merely replicating the confining linearity of the print book usage experience, XML instead offers accurate search-and-discoverability tools that greatly enhance research. Even in its latest incarnation, PDF cannot replicate the advantages provided by XML tagging, which identifies each piece of data and allows it to be found in the context of the search being made. By contrast, PDF searches are analogous to those made on the open web. Improvements made recently to PDF are all ‘bolt-on’ pieces of functionality applied to something which is intrinsically static. XML, in contrast, is designed from the ground up as a dynamic, repurposeable method of managing sophisticated data.

Students, researchers, and scholars are becoming ever more sophisticated consumers of electronic content. We need only look to the latest generation of discoverability services for evidence of the absolute importance of feature-rich metadata. In the newly dawning era of demand-driven acquisition (aka Patron Driven Acquisition) the discoverability of content has become of paramount importance. If the new formula for library acquisitions can be posited as “access = purchase,” no academic publisher can afford to exert less than a herculean effort at ensuring their content discoverability. The higher the quality of the XML tagging, the easier it becomes to discover the content users are looking for amid the ocean of online information, much of which is lacking in the authority guaranteed by the peer-review process.

OSO, UPSO, and all other Oxford online products have been built under the umbrella of a digital strategy that is in many ways dependent on the XML format. We continue to believe that will hold true going forward and that XML provides enormous benefits to researchers and consumers of scholarly content–our own and that of the presses with whom we partner on the UPSO platform.

Lenny Allen is Director of Sales, Wholesale & Online, Oxford University Press. More about University Press Scholarship Online can be found here.

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. . . .

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