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upinspace_mitpressOne small step for collaboration

by Ellen Faran, Director, The MIT Press

March 20 marks the liftoff of “University Presses in Space,” a website promoting university press books about outer space and space exploration. The site,, features 30 titles selected by the 15 participating presses as among their best space books. These titles are cross-linked with the individual book pages in presses’ web catalogs so that we may share web traffic. In addition, all the presses and their authors may share links to the site through catalogs, email, social media, and at exhibits and meetings.

The MIT Press conceived of this joint promotion in conjunction with our lead Spring 2014 title, Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program. We worked closely with three partners—the University Press of Florida, Purdue University Press, and the University of Nebraska Press—to develop the idea and then invited all AAUP member presses to join as participants. MIT designed and launched the site; Nebraska will then take over the site after it enters its regular orbit. Nebraska has arranged to bring “University Presses in Space” to the attention of attendees at SpaceFest (“THE event for the space enthusiast”) in Pasadena this May.

We believe that space buffs, as well as general readers interested in space, don’t stop at just one book. We believe that they appreciate the quality of university press publishing. Thus we hope that the discovery experience provided by “University Presses in Space” will stimulate sales, both for the featured titles and the many more space books to be found by exploring university press lists. The site includes a link to AAUP’s Books for Understanding which has a Space Flight category.

This is a modest experiment in collaborative promotion; modest in part because the site does not offer a combined shopping experience. But we hope that the response to “University Presses in Space” will point us toward effective ways to promote books in specific fields across our community, throughout the galaxy, and beyond.

Please share the news with any space explorers in your part of the universe. Our Twitter hashtag is #upspacebooks.

Tony Sanfilippo talks acquiring, marketing, digital publishing

by Juliet Barney, AAUP Marketing and Social Media Intern

As part of my series of interviews as AAUP intern, learning about scholarly publishing from my layman’s perspective, I recently talked to Tony Sanfilippo, Assistant Press Director and Marketing and Sales Director at Penn State University Press. Knowing his expertise and experience in digital publishing, especially in regard to acquisitions and marketing, I hoped he would be able to help me better understand each area.

From previous interviews, I had picked up some basics about acquisitions and marketing: I knew that acquisitions editors work to find manuscripts that fit the needs of their press, not necessarily their personal needs; that marketing for these titles, whether they are print or digital, is modeled by the particulars of each specific project. I was curious what Sanfilippo had to add to what I have already encountered—and interestingly, he did have a new perspective: he explained that you don’t always stick to acquiring texts within your usual editorial focus, and that you can also revive out-of-print books you still believe are valuable.

From Sanfilippo, I learned that acquisitions aren’t just about finding the right manuscript, but also building up a worthwhile project and making it accessible to a wide range of people. Sanfilippo also revisited his college bookstore idea that has the potential to positively impact college students like myself.

(The full interview has been edited for publication.)

What is your experience with patron-driven acquisitions? Is it an effective model?

This is something I’m actually very concerned about. The major question surrounding PDA—which is also referred to as demand-driven acquisitions—is, “Are the current usage triggers sustainable?” A lot of publishers and vendors are having a big conversation on the model. What we’re seeing is that libraries are no longer purchasing books, but instead, are opting to do this short-term rental more often than they’re purchasing. So, not only are they changing the nature of the library’s collection to something that’s more of a popularity driven selection, it’s also significantly cutting publishers’ revenue. For example, I know University of Mississippi Press noted that they’ve seen a significant cut in print sales and the DDA model is only making up a fraction of that lost revenue.

I think if the model is going to be sustainable, two things need to happen. (1) We need to change the model so that some sort of compensation is given to the publishers to make up for the lost revenue. If we don’t, university presses won’t be able to continue publishing the amount of books they’ve published in the past. Also, we will probably begin to publish only popular scholarship as opposed to good scholarship, which are extremely different things. (2) We also need to think about alternatives to the rentals. For example, if there’s an opportunity for the individual to purchase a copy for himself or herself rather than only offering the library the opportunity to purchase a copy: that sort of revenue could make up for the loss.

Otherwise, PDA/DDA won’t be something publishers can continue to participate in on a long-term basis.

In your article “Rethinking the College Bookstore,” you bring up the idea of borrowing textbooks or new scholarship, both for students and faculty, but wouldn’t that affect the publishers marketing those texts?

What’s different about the model I recommend and what’s currently going on is that there isn’t that opportunity now for a purchase to occur by the individual in a library. Libraries have a mission of sharing. They get a certain amount of resources that they can use totry to purchase materials with, and they try to decide what’s the best way to share those materials. But promoting book ownership—that’s not the part of the library mission. What I propose actually adds that element. Patrons often also have their own personal libraries, but with the loss of bookstores, they have few opportunities for discovery for those personal libraries. Instead that’s been happening for readers more and more often at lending libraries. Publishers can afford to rent more books and allow more borrowing of books if they are also given the opportunity to sell a book in the same space, and to the same audience.

There’s an interesting statistic that I encountered recently, here, at Penn State. We got an email from the help desk at the university library: the #1 most-asked question was, “Where is the bathroom?” #2 question: “Where can I find my textbooks?” Students weren’t going to the university bookstore and asking that question, they were going to the library. There is an expectation from students that if the learning materials aren’t a part of a content management system, they should be on reserve in the library. I think there is some resistance from librarians on this topic. But, if it’s what the students need, maybe we should consider it.

There’s one popular theory that people will pay for the use of material on a borrowed basis. Sort of like a Netflix model. You don’t actually own films or TV shows; you borrow them. If you look at libraries using the Demand Driven and Short Term Loan models, combined they’re sort of like a Netflix for books mixed with the physicality of a Blockbuster. If you borrow a book and spend too much time on it, rather than just paying the late fee, you have to buy the book. It’s like renting a movie and never returning it.

When looking for new manuscripts, what do you consider?

The acquisitions I do are very different from the scholarly acquisitions that Penn State Press typically does. In our mission statement, we talk about how the majority of what we do is for serving the scholarly community, but we also have a line in there about serving the people of Pennsylvania. As a state school, we feel a responsibility to give back to the commonwealth, so we also try to publish books of interest to them.

For me, what makes a good book is going to be different than the standards of those acquiring our scholarship. Our scholarly acquisitions staff are looking at whether the manuscript uses the language of the discipline and whether or not it’s engaging with a current argument in that field. In contrast, the questions I ask myself are, “Is it useful to the people of the commonwealth, and if so, what’s the market? Would we serve a good portion of the regional market or is it too narrow a focus?” So whereas marketing is a minor part of scholarly acquisitions, it plays a major role for me and regional acquisitions. I’m also looking at the writing. If you’re not a great academic writer, that’s not always important. And if you’re really engaging with the language of your discipline, the book will have trouble with a wider audience; jargon is not accessible to the average reader. I’m looking for really great writers who can engage their readers, and who are going to appeal to a much broader audience. It’s not only what they’re saying, but also how they’re saying it.

I’m also generally thinking about publicity, because our regional books have a better opportunity to benefit from publicity. There are so many local radio stations where I can book an author because they’re talking about deer hunting. Our Continental philosophers? Not so much.

When acquiring a text, do you take into consideration whether it will be in print or digital?

psupress_birdatlasLet me give an example—not of a book that I acquired, but a recommendation that I made. We did an atlas on the breeding birds in Pennsylvania. It comes out of work that the Pennsylvania DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) does here. Folks go out and count the number of breeding birds they find in the wild: pairs, and nests. The volunteers are out there every weekend documenting these numbers on paper. They did this for 10 years and came up with this amazing data set of the distribution of birds and their breeding habits, including where and when they could be found. We published all that data into a book. My first thought on that was, “Wow, wouldn’t that make a wonderful app?” Not only for species identification, but also to continue monitoring the distribution of the breeding species.

Once we started looking into the cost of a project like that and it became more daunting. We weren’t able to proceed, but it’s the kind of thing I thought about in the terms of, “Does this project make more sense in print or digital?” There’s an argument to be made for both. But as a project, if it were to be ongoing and continuously recording data, it seems that as an app, you can create an opportunity, not only for the user to look up a particular bird, but also to report that sighting back to the database.

It depends upon the project. When considering whether to publish in print or digital, I’m not only thinking about the audience, I’m also thinking more about the actual project. That said, there are very few projects where we’re forced to choose between only one or the other.

What’s the most interesting project you’re currently working on?

psupress_angelswildthingsThere was a book we published a long time ago called Angels and Wild Things: The Archetypal Poetics of Maurice Sendak, by John Cech. I think the world of Sendak; I think he was an American treasure. There was so little written about him that was really scholarly in nature, and here was this book that we published that had unfortunately gone out of print. So I tried really hard to bring that book back into print. The folks who actually controlled most of Sendak’s illustrations were generally HarperCollins (they were his publisher through most of his career). We would have to negotiate another deal with them to use the illustrations again, and our initial attempts were pretty discouraging. They wanted quite a bit of money for the necessary permissions required for a reprint.

But then serendipitously, one of our acquisitions editors found herself talking to a friend of Sendak. When she realized the connection, our editor started talking about the book, and the friend offered to “see what he could do.” So a few weeks after that party, we got a call from HarperCollins’ rights department saying that Sendak asked them to give us unrestricted print rights to his images for use in our book, and to do it gratis. (For print only, though; they weren’t so generous with the digital rights.) So in the end, we were able to bring the book back into print after more than a decade, primarily because Sendak himself intervened. I’m extremely proud to been able to bring that book back into print.

Stories along the Road to Innovation from the Johns Hopkins University Press

by Becky Brasington Clark and Claire McCabe Tamberino

Our consumer health editor, Jackie Wehmueller, had turned up a promising opportunity. She had contacted a prominent dermatologist about writing a book on chronic itch, a condition that affects millions of individuals. The market potential for the book was enormous and the dermatologist was renowned. He liked the idea and agreed to write the book with one key condition: it had to be a fully interactive e-book with patient videos and three-dimensional graphics, and it had to be published as a multi-touch iBook.

The author was coming to Baltimore in a few weeks. Did we want to meet with him and learn more?

The answer was an enthusiastic yes. As a longstanding publisher of titles in consumer health—including the bestselling Thirty-Six Hour Day—the Johns Hopkins University Press was the natural home for this path-breaking project.

There was a small twinge of anxiety over the fact that we had never before used iBooks Author—the multi-touch platform that seamlessly incorporates video, audio, 3-D graphics, and other interactive features directly into the e-book file—but that kind of anxiety is familiar in an industry where change is the only constant. “We’ll figure it out,” we said, and quickly got to work.

Meet the JHU Press screenshot

JHUP medical publishing: from manuscript to iBook.

Figuring it out is the charge of the Online Books Division (OBD)—a big name for a three-person operation within JHUP’s Books Marketing Department. We seek commercially promising opportunities for digital innovation and figure out how to integrate them into the Book Division’s workflow. Since 2010, we’ve developed and posted supplemental material on CD and online for dozens of titles, we’ve incorporated 3,000 new pages to our online reference, The Early Republic, and we published the 2nd edition of the Johns Hopkins Atlas of Digital EEG (a proprietary software product accompanied by a print book). We’ve also digitized our course adoption campaigns, expanded and refined our list-serv, and segmented 20,000 e-mail subscribers by subject area preference—all while adding new vendors and territories to our e-book program.

We’ve learned a few things along the way, perhaps nothing as important as this: innovation requires not only a willingness to learn, but a stomach for frustration and occasional failure. It requires us to engage fully with that which we do not know, and to begin anew the long journey of mastery. It requires us to add new challenges to already heavy workloads, disrupt routines, and make new kinds of mistakes. And sometimes it requires that we say “yes” to a project before we are 100% certain that we know exactly how to get it done.

Learning iBooks Author

A couple of weeks in advance of the author meeting, two members of the OBD staff—Claire McCabe Tamberino and Michael Carroll—enrolled in a two-day training course on iBooks Author. They came back full of enthusiasm for the platform and confident that we could master it quickly.

We all agreed that we needed a beta project that would allow us to become proficient with iBooks Author in advance of using it for our first commercial endeavor. The search for a practice project came in the midst of a press-wide strategic communications discussion, in which we had identified the need for multi-media collateral material for JHU Press. That’s when it hit us: why not use iBooks Author to develop a multi-touch iBook about the Press?

Turning the Camera on Ourselves

Screenshot of Meet the JHU Press

Interactive maps invite readers to explore the history of the press.

With that, Meet the Johns Hopkins University Press was born. The vision was simple enough: repurpose descriptive copy about the Press and its four divisions—Books, Journals, HFS, and Project MUSE—and enhance it with multimedia.

Inspired by the video UNC Press had recently released to highlight the appointment of director John Sherer, we decided to conduct video interviews with Press leaders. That’s where things got a little tricky. We didn’t have a resident videographer on staff, and we couldn’t afford the steep rates charged by the university. So we decided to do it ourselves.

With another small investment in software and training (iMovie), we were ready to start shooting video using the Press’s newest iPad. We wrote scripts, scheduled video shoots, and called “action.”

The shooting went smoothly enough, but we quickly discovered two unanticipated problems. First, the interviews were far too long. Second, the video quality was compromised by the lack of professional lighting. Reshooting all of the interviews simply wasn’t an option. We were already on a tight schedule and the budget was even tighter.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, it led to creative thinking and innovation. We decided to shorten the video interviews considerably, and since the audio quality was better than the video quality, we decided to use small snippets of video, then continue the audio with still shots and animated B-roll.

Nearly a dozen people[1] came together to finish the project. We published Meet the Johns Hopkins University Press in April and made it available free of charge in the iTunes store. We’ve been using it to introduce the Press to university stakeholders, prospective clients, funders, and authors, and the reaction to it has been overwhelmingly positive.

Lessons Learned

Meet the Johns Hopkins University Press helped us achieve our primary goal: becoming proficient in iBooks Author in advance of our first commercial project, Living with Itch, which will be published in August (more on that project in a future column). But the beta project bestowed some additional benefits that we found instructive.

First, we gained confidence in our ability to master new ways of publishing. When faced with a challenge like publishing in iBooks Author, it can be easy to assume that we aren’t big enough to handle it, that such opportunity is better left to trade houses and large commercial publishers. That simply isn’t the case.  University presses are staffed by smart, adaptable professionals who master new challenges every day. Why worry that we can’t when we demonstrate day after day that we can?

Second, the project forced us to share information across divisions, a process that has been encouraged via our Press-wide strategic messaging efforts. Not only is it interesting to learn more about the work of our colleagues, but this kind of information sharing helps us leverage our collective strength and identify new responses to industry and market challenges.

Third, we were reminded of the value of professional services. Sure, we can shoot and edit video on the iPad, but it isn’t going to be of the same quality as work from professional videographers. For future book-length projects requiring video, we’ll ask the author to deliver high-quality video or we’ll hire a pro.

See for Yourself

Meet the JHU Press screenshot

A stop on JHU Press’s digital journey.

Meet the Johns Hopkins University Press incorporates the multi-touch functionality of iBooks Author, with text, three-dimensional graphics, interactive maps, video, audio, and a self-grading quiz. If you’d like to see it for yourself, go to the iTunes store and download a free copy. We’d love to get your feedback. Feel free to email Claire McCabe Tamberino with your comments and questions at And watch this space for a future column on Living with Itch: A Patient’s Guide and an update on how we’ve used Meet the Press in our strategic communications.

[1]Bill Breichner, Davida Breier, Greg Britton, Glen Burris, Michael Carroll, Jack Holmes, Kathleen Keane, Mary Lou Kenney, Dean Smith, Claire McCabe Tamberino

Gettysburg College 2012 by Tomwsulcer

There was a lot of chatter in the book community a couple of weeks ago over an announcement that Len Riggio, Chairman of Barnes & Noble, made about his interest in buying back his company. Riggio has done this more than once since he first purchased the company back in 1971. But what I’ve found most interesting about the announcement is a detail I haven’t seen anyone else mention. It’s what Mr. Riggio doesn’t want to include in the deal. In what he doesn’t want, everyone seems focused on his exclusion of the nook platform, but what’s of much greater interest to me is the other thing he doesn’t want, the college bookstore division.

Now in thinking about this, let’s review specifically just what we’re talking about. Barnes and Noble currently has about 689 “regular” bookstores, but it also runs 674 college bookstores. Note that it doesn’t own 674 college stores, it manages them and in most cases the building the store is located in is part of the college or university, usually right on campus. Typically, Barnes and Noble won the concession in a bidding process from the home institutions, like Pepsi did at the stadium, and now it has exclusive rights to sell textbooks and t-shirts on the campuses of those institutions. If you’re talking about a large institution with a successful and popular sports program, like the one I work for here at Penn State, then the t-shirt piece of that can be as lucrative as the bookstore/textbook piece of it, probably more so, and it is very unlikely that we’re going to see that change anytime soon.

But there’s one thing Len Riggio correctly identified a couple of years ago which is that the textbook market is changing rapidly. Last year, at the George Washington Conference on Ethics and Publishing, Dr. Al Greco, Professor of Marketing at Fordham who specializes in the book market, predicted that the market for print textbooks would go from a $4 Billion market in 2012 to $173 million by 2017, about a 95% drop in the next five years. That trend toward digital learning materials combined with the end of what was once a captive customer base forced by geography and proprietary adoption lists to purchase their textbooks from the campus store, has led to an amazing decline in the profitability of college bookstores. This is why, understandably, Len wants out. He saw the coming boom in campus stores back in the Seventies when he bought the chain, and I think he now sees what Al Greco sees.

So what does this mean for those of us at an institution with a B&N managed campus store? Well, probably nothing right away, but eventually those concession contracts will come up for renewal, and if what’s left of B&N after Riggio buys back the brick and mortar bookstores is nook and B&N College, well I can’t possibly imagine the nook division wanting anything to do with selling team hoodies, art supplies, and Blue Books. So when those agreements come up for renewal, what should happen? Well, if you’ll indulge me for a minute, I actually have an idea about this.

If we could start from scratch with a campus bookstore, what would we want it to do? Well, who are the affected constituents? It would seem students, faculty, and authors. If you’re a student, your answer might include doing something about textbook prices. If you’re a scholar it would probably include access, typically to the most recent scholarship. If you’re a writer, and not surprisingly colleges and universities are filled with those, both in the guise of publishing faculty and paper-writing students, you might want tools and expertise. But above all, I don’t think any of these constituencies wants to see the books go away. Instead, perhaps it’s high time something else left the building, the t-shirts.

If we are to reimagine the campus bookstore let’s first talk about what it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t need to be a clothing outlet. Take the shirts and such out of the store and find a new home for it. It shouldn’t be difficult, there are probably already seven or fifteen or thirty other places on and near campus that can handle the distribution of officially licensed goods. Instead, let’s radically recommend that the bookstore handle what it says it does right in the name, books.

Next, let’s think about where else on campus books are a focus. Hmmmm. Wait, what’s that across the street? Is that the library? Might it be useful for the library to partner here? Are there efficiencies to be had? They both receive large quantities of books on a daily basis, process those arrivals, and then shelve them for browsing. They both collect course texts for students and distribute them at the request of faculty. They both purchase brand new material for their faculty and graduate students, so that they might have access to the latest scholarship being published. Well, yes, on the surface it does look like there are efficiencies to be had. But could this new kind of campus book place do more than just a bookstore or a library by combining some of what they each do? I think it probably could.

So let’s say for a moment that over the weekend I destroyed a giant, evil, purple, crystal Gorgon that had been tormenting a peaceable valley kingdom, and that as a reward for saving them, the people of the kingdom gave me this really cool golden magical wishing sword. (Yeah, I don’t know why they didn’t just use it themselves against the Gorgon, but whatever) So what would I do with it? Well, first I would ask for a million more wishes. It would then, of course, be pointed out to me that’s against magic wishing sword rules. I only get three wishes, and, oh yeah, they can only be used for good.

Okay, three wishes, and only for good. Hmm. What good could I do… Wait, how about those students and those high textbook prices? Can I use my magic sword to make things better for them? Well, now that I think about it, yeah, that would be kind of easy. And I might not even need to waste a wish on it. Under the current textbook paradigm, most textbooks are created and sold primarily by those with strong motivations to get the highest possible margin out of the sale those materials. What if we flipped that? What if we brought the librarian ethos to the textbook problem? Should libraries lend textbooks? In some cases that makes excellent sense, but ultimately why couldn’t students be offered both options, purchase or borrow? And if we take the profit incentive out of the retail sale of textbooks, and put librarians in charge of distributing these materials, might librarians have more incentive than B&N to help faculty find lower cost (or free) alternatives to higher priced learning materials? Might they even be willing to help faculty create those materials? Wait, libraries publishing? Who ever heard of such a silly thing?

So what else might I wish for that could help people on campus… How about the faculty, how can we help them? What if we offered them all of the latest books in their field at this bookstore? Imagine walking into a campus bookstore and actually finding books there, relevant books. That’s how I’d spend my second wish. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the university for new scholarship to be offered to faculty for browsing before either they or the library purchased it? As a bookstore, this could occur. The practice of returns in the book industry is a problematic one, though one that ebooks and POD are addressing, but in this instance, the ability to return an unwanted book makes a lot of sense. If publisher X University Press (XUP for short) publishes a book about say reliquaries, wouldn’t it make sense for XUP to send a copy to every campus with faculty who would be interested in that topic? If no one on campus needed the book, it could be returned, but if a faculty member wanted to read it, they might really like having the option to either borrow the book, or to purchase it. Either way, the campus bookstore would purchase the book from XUP, and if the faculty member wanted to borrow it, the library would own it after it was returned, and if the faculty member wanted to keep it, the faculty member could pay the bookstore/library for that copy. At which point the bookstore/library could decide if they’d like another copy, or not.

I suppose what I’m proposing is a little like the Patron-Driven Acquisitions model that a lot of ebook aggregators and wholesalers are experimenting with, but this would be done with physical books. And like the Lookstore model I wrote about last year, this one might make more sense on a consignment basis, with the onus put on the publishers to find which campuses, or more specifically which departments would be most interested in a new book in a particular field, and then sending the campus stores serving those departments a copy of the relevant book, on consignment for 9 months, after which it is either paid for and shelved, or returned to XUP.

Now, I’ve got one more wish left, and the last constituency on campus worth considering when rethinking the campus bookstore is writers—both students and faculty. So how might I use that last wish to help them. Well perhaps the most important thing we can do is keep the store open. Most writers seem to recognize that the recent disappearance of bookstores on the American landscape isn’t really a good development for them. Not only does it reduce the number of outlets where their work can be found, it diminishes book culture and reduces the overall number of commons devoted to books. Beyond just having books available though, I think a better use for some of the space might be for a writing and publishing center. Not only could it offer expertise for students, maybe it could also offer services to faculty. In fact, if libraries are serious about publishing and about Open Access, having a place on campus dedicated to offering publishing services specifically to their own faculty might be a way to ensure faculty are aware of alternatives to commercial publishing, are negotiating the best terms for the content, and using Institutional Depositories.

I realize that little if any of this is actually going to happen. I guess it’s the risk one takes when one’s call for reform is entirely dependent on a magical wishing sword. Nonetheless, Gorgon excluded, it probably should happen. I don’t know how many of those almost 700 campuses are going to find themselves without a campus bookstore next year, but I’m finding it hard to imagine a scenario where, like the independents before them, they aren’t going to start to close. When talking about what we’re going to do with those empty book buildings on our campuses, I hope administrators will at least be thinking beyond the concession contract and seriously consider the role that books play in the life and work of their community. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with textbook prices, perhaps all faculty already see all the new scholarship in their respective fields at conferences, and maybe writing and publishing centers aren’t something campus communities need. Maybe. But it seems much more likely that what most folks on campuses don’t need is another opportunity to purchase a t-shirt.


First posted at Content Storage Unit. I would like to point out that before 9pm EDT on May 2nd, this post linked to a service that B&N offered call PubIt, which was a self-publishing platform aimed at both faculty and students for general self-publishing and customized textbooks using B&N distribution. Since I first posted that B&N has redirected that link to their general self-publishing platform and I assume will end the PubIt program. For that reason I removed the original reference to that service in the 2nd to last paragraph.

Image by Kevin Crumbs CC license


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.

When I was invited to the panel “Protests, Petitions and Publishing: Widening Access to Research in 2012,” I was on the fence about attending. Did I really want to spend two hours of my day hearing the debate on open access, anticipating that it would be filled with much controversy? Because it was close and I was confident that I would learn something, I made the short trek earlier this week from the Bronx to Morningside Heights, even scoring a parking spot in front of the Columbia building housing the event on a day on which alternate-side-of-the-street parking was in effect. The press release indicated that the event was meant to consider how Occupy Wall Street, the Research Works Act (RWA), the boycott of Elsevier journals by a growing number of academics, and other recent developments are informing the debate over access to research and scholarship on open access. The event was hosted by Columbia’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship (CDRS) and included a diverse panel of speakers. I’ll do my best to summarize the session based on my notes drafted the old school way on a notepad in barely legible handwriting. (This exercise made me realize that I need to embrace the iPad more.) The audio will be available shortly, so I will post a link on the Digital Digest when it is. The issues are complicated, and there are no easy answers as was evident by the talk on Monday. Alex Golub from the University of Hawaii called current publishing models a death spiral. As most of us know, the hard sciences are very different from the humanities. The AAUP made an official statement about three pieces of legislation related to research policies that have resulted in a flurry of mixed responses from university press directors.

Here goes with my summary.

Allen Adler, Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs in the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), kicked off the talk by stating that the goal of the panel was to answer the following questions:

What is a journal publisher’s role in informing the public about research policies?

What are publishers’ achievements in this process related to innovation, technology, and business?

What is publishing with federal agency–funded research, especially by nongovernmental officers?

What does the government currently do to disseminate federally funded research?

Adler mentioned that the National Institutes of Health Policy requires that peer-reviewed articles be made open access one year after they appear in a journal.

He emphasized that we need to understand the diversity of the field.

Oona Schmid, Director of Publishing at the American Anthropological Association (AAA), gave her perspective as a representative from one of the leading academic societies in America and publisher of the venerable journal American Anthropologist.

I give her credit for talking to this crowd knowing that it was going to be a contentious conversation and that her society was not always looked upon with the highest esteem.

Schmid began her talk by emphasizing that AAA is interested in the dissemination of scholarly information, believing that knowledge can solve human problems. She made the following points:

  • The academic system is tied to peer review.
  • Authors need credit for their contributions.
  • Citations need long-term archiving.
  • Publishing needs balance: cost versus readers’ desire for visibility and widespread dissemination.

Schmid stressed that AAA has huge costs for publishing 20 journals, 600 articles per year, and 482 reviews because of duration, personnel, and overhead.

She said that 63% of journal costs are covered through the sales of library subscriptions, 36% through sales to members, and 1% through ads. Open access would wipe out that 63%.

She continued by saying that AAA could increase members’ dues but that’s unlikely to happen because of major resistance from members and key stakeholders at the association.

Schmid mentioned that author fees work well in biomedical fields and that anthropologists do not have a centralized grant funder.

She asked about nonresearch commentaries and reviews.

Possible support mechanisms she pointed out: Produce more informal scholarly content; make use of social media.

Her new funding ideas include charging for premium functionality and super-user fees.

Peter Woit, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at Columbia University, was up next and spoke from the angle of a researcher and a professor.

He said that of the 7,500 scholars boycotting Elsevier journals, 1,400 were mathematicians, 1,000 were biologists, and 650 were physicists.

A major reason he cited is that Elsevier journals are expensive and there have been problems with quality.

He stated that monographs are important. (Smile on my face.) He showed a picture of his office with bookshelves behind his desk. Two bottom shelves were filled with books published by Springer, as was obvious by their yellow spines. Other key publishers in his field included Oxford, Cambridge, and Princeton university presses.

He said that high quality is expensive; Elsevier could go away and he wouldn’t care, but monograph publishers are a different story.

Woit made the point that middle-class students are taking big loans to pay for tuition at expensive universities.

He said that detailed, high-quality content doesn’t work on blogs because discussion is difficult and has a time constraint, going so far as to say that the “Global village has a village idiot. You can’t replace academic scholarship.”

He went on to say that Google is the elephant in the room. Google Books show a few pages with ads. They can run your e-mail and analyze your online activity and make purchase suggestions. What will Google’s role be in this?

Gail Drakes, a doctoral candidate in the Program in American Studies at NYU and Associate Faculty at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, spoke next.

She concentrated on the Research Acts, Elsevier boycott, and Occupy movements. She began her talk by saying that research was unavailable—behind pay walls—for her area of humanities, American Studies.

She talked a lot about cultural commons.

Drakes said that the RWA gives the government protection of funded research, causing the cultural commons to shrink, and that intense lobbying is taking place.

She expressed wild enthusiasm for the Elsevier boycott and said that it represents a tension between academic structure and for-profit publishers.

Drakes felt that academic publishers do enough for cultural commons and support authors.

She suggested that we all take a look at the Fake Elsevier Twitter account, @FakeElsevier.

Drakes also stressed that we need balance. In her own case, her professor omitted an important piece in the course pack because of its high costs compared with graduate students’ budgets.

She enthusiastically talked about how Occupy Wall Street created the people’s library that currently has 9,000 titles—check out Library Thing—which is an affirmation of the importance of access to information. The library started out as a box moving to a tarp-covered area (cleared during the raid) to a clear plastic–covered area. Now it is organized by librarians with Masters of Library Sciences degrees who are part of the movement.

Alex Golub, assistant professor of Anthropology at the University Of Hawaii, had some strong statements to make (via Skype).

He asked if authors and publishers are ready to embrace open access? His answer: No. Publishers: Never. Authors want open access and always have.

He continued by saying that scholarly research won’t ever be completely free.

Golub said that we need to innovate. Existing models don’t work. There is a forty-year chunk of stuff trying to get open access.

He didn’t hold back, stating that AnthroSource is slow and embarrassing. “Fig leaf covering the Wiley thing.” He continued by saying that the Mellon-funded AAA program is different from what was originally planned. He said that Wiley took over the journal American Anthropologist and has a different agenda. (It was formerly managed by University of California Press.) He thinks that academic publishing as outlined by Oona’s presentation is in a downward zombie death spiral. The AAA is broken—volunteers to pay scholarly publishers’ profits. AAA pub models don’t work and we need a radical rethinking of how we do things.

He emphasized that we can’t sit on the fence anymore.

He asked the following:

Do we need peer review, and who pays for it?

Is scholarship less true if some words are spelled wrong or the phrasing is unclear?

Do we need expensive annual meetings?

Alternatives he suggested:

Small regional conferences


Social media

Civil service and partners. Editors and librarians are at cross-purposes.

Golub was definitely animated and wanted to push buttons. I appreciated his candor and his challenging the status quo. I agree that publishers need to think of new ways to make scholarly content available while at the same time recouping the costs for doing so. I don’t have the answers, but I think it is beneficial to hear what our constituents are saying

There were some audience questions at the end but I’ll let you hear those when the audio is available.

I would like to share a comment (made by Jim Jordan, Director of Columbia University Press) that will resonate with a lot of university press folks. He said that 8% of his budget is subsidized by Columbia but the university wants it reduced by 4%. And that 90% to 98% of the library’s budget is subsidized. Universities should do more to re-fund their presses. I agree.

I’m still wrapping my brain around the whole discussion but am glad I made the trip. Academic and university presses need to be innovative and creative with publishing models and work with their libraries to determine how best to meet the needs of their patrons. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to research policies. This may all seem obvious but I think the more we hear it the more it will sink in.

As the first installment in my series on digital standards for the Digest, I asked Carol Anne Meyer, the Director of Business Development and Marketing for CrossRef , to answer a few questions about digital object identifiers.  With several ebook initiatives going live that are geared specifically toward the delivery of content that is accessed through academic libraries, it is critical to apply a standards-based approach to the stable identification of digital book content to enable increased discoverability and usage.  This piece is intended to give AAUP members (and others) a basic overview of the DOI, and I encourage those who are interested in a deeper dive into the topic of DOIs to take a look at some of CrossRef’s recorded webinars.

1) Simply put what is a DOI and what purpose does it serve?

CM: A DOI is a Digital Object Identifier. It serves as a unique and persistent identifier or address for digital content on the web. DOIs remain the same even if the underlying address or URL for the content changes. The primary purpose that DOIs serve for scholarly content is to enable reference linking so that readers can click from the references of a scholarly monograph, article, or reference work directly to the content being referenced. DOIs also support services like Cited-By Linking, where users can see other relevant content that cites a particular work. Many book publishers are increasingly concerned about the discoverability of their content. DOIs can increase traffic to book content through reference citations, through secondary databases, and increasingly through third party discovery tools that use CrossRef metadata.

2) What is CrossRef’s role in the assignment and maintenance of DOIs, and what are the first steps publishers should take in setting up a relationship with CrossRef?

CM: The International DOI Foundation (IDF) appoints registration agencies (RAs) to assign DOIs. CrossRef is the oldest and largest IDF RA. About 94% of all the DOIs that have been assigned have come through CrossRef. CrossRef DOIs are DOIs assigned to scholarly publications:  books, book chapters, reference entries, journal articles, conference proceedings, reports, theses, data sets, and even components like individual tables or graphics.

CrossRef maintains a web service that publishers use to deposit bibliographic metadata, including the URL and the DOI of their content. CrossRef works with the handle infrastructure at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) to make the DOI live, which means that a user clicking on a DOI link is redirected to the URL deposited at CrossRef. CrossRef publishers promise to update their metadata if it changes so that any existing references to the DOI still work even if the URL changes.

CrossRef also provides lookup services so that publishers and affiliated organizations can put CrossRef DOI links into their services and tools. These links increase traffic to the member publishers’ content.

Publishers and affiliates add DOI links to the references in their content by submitting metadata queries to the CrossRef system. They get back the DOI that they can use to link to the content of that reference.

CrossRef is a not-for-profit trade association of publishers. In order to participate in the CrossRef DOI system, publishers need to become members of the association. This entails signing a membership agreement and paying an annual fee based on publishing revenue. The membership agreement lists the obligations of all CrossRef members. CrossRef is not just a technical linking solution, it is also a social contract among publishers, and that is why it works.

 3) Does a DOI differ from a URL, and if so, how?

CM: Yes. A DOI redirects users to the URL where content lives on the web. DOIs are designed to be persistent. Imagine that you are a book publisher, and you decide to host your book content directly on your own web site. The full text of each book has its own URL. This is fine. But then in a few years, you decide that the web site you created is starting to look a little dated, and you choose to migrate all of your content to a newly-formed multi-publisher consortium of ebooks, and you want to shut down your old content site. If you participate in the CrossRef DOI system, you would not have disseminated the actual URLs of your content publically; instead, people would use CrossRef DOIs as the web address. So you can move your content to JSTOR, or Project Muse, or Cambridge University Press, or Oxford University Press, or Highwire or some other hosting platform. As long as you update the new URL at CrossRef, everybody who ever had the DOI for the content can still access that same content without getting a URL not found error message.

You may see DOIs expressed in the form “doi:10.xxxx/kjlkjljlj’ on the web. We have recently revised our CrossRef DOI display guidelines to encourage people to always display CrossRef DOIs as URLs, for example in the form “” We have made this change so that people who may not know what DOIs are can still use them by just clicking on the link, or right clicking to copy the link.  The change also makes it easy for machines to recognizes a DOI and to access services like linked data available through CrossRef. And displaying DOIs in the http:/ URL format will also ensure that they work on web-aware mobile devices.

4) Can a DOI be assigned to content that’s hosted on more than one platform?  If so, how does that work?

CM: Yes. CrossRef supports Multiple Resolution for CrossRef DOIs. The publisher works with our technical staff to create an interim page that pops up when a user clicks a link. That interim page gives the user the choice of platforms to access the data.

Another solution that helps users find the appropriate copy of a document hosted in multiple places is library link resolvers. Both Serials Solutions and ExLibris are CrossRef Service providers, and they use CrossRef DOIs to direct users of their systems to the local copy of the content based on a library’s holdings.

5) Should a publisher assign and deposit DOIs themselves, or should they utilize a service provider to assign DOIs on their behalf?  Are there pros and cons to letting someone else assign and deposit your DOIs?

CM: The answer depends on the technical expertise and resources available to the publisher. For significant volumes of content, publishers interact with the CrossRef system through batch XML file transfers. We have found that for some smaller publishers, this can be a burden. CrossRef does have more manual tools such as our Web Deposit Form, Guest Query, and Simple Text Query forms. This requires that somebody sit at the form and copy and paste data to and from the tool.

If this is all too much, publishers may choose to work with a Sponsoring Publisher (this is a member of CrossRef that is also authorized to deposit and query on behalf of other publishers) or a CrossRef Service Provider (a vendor that provides CrossRef services to publishers). The advantage to working with one of these organizations is that they have experience in working with CrossRef and they understand the guidelines and obligations. That expertise may come at a cost, so publishers will have to weigh the cost and benefits of doing it themselves against that of using a third party. We have many publishers using both approaches that are happy with their arrangements.

6) How are DOIs used by the research community?  What is the role of the DOI in bibliographic citations?

CM: The most basic use of CrossRef DOIs by researchers is to click on them and be directed to the content they represent. An increasing number of authors, based on recommendations from the major style guides, are including DOIs in their citation lists, in order to help with accurate production, and ultimately to ensure readers can find the referenced content.

Some more innovative uses are also emerging. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) relies heavily on CrossRef DOIs to generate their Article Level Metrics. Secondary database include CrossRef DOIs in their citation records to enable links to the full text. Paper and citation management services like Talis, Mendeley, EasyBib and PubGet use CrossRef DOIs to help researchers located and link to relevant information.

Next year, CrossRef will roll out a service called CrossMark which will use the CrossRef DOI to help researchers discover if updates have been made to an item of scholalry content and where to find information about such an update.

7) What have the challenges been in maintaining the DOI standard over the last few years, and are there any aspects of the standard that are evolving that presses should be aware of? 

CM: The DOI has been a National Information Standards Organization (NISO) standard for many years, and more recently has been approved as an International Standards Organization (ISO) standard. These standards have been very stable.

As I mentioned, CrossRef has recently changed its display guidelines. This recommendation has been the first change of this nature in the history of CrossRef’s existence. We anticipate that it will take CrossRef members and affiliates some time to change their systems to support this new recommendation, and we plan to work closely with the style guides so that they too can update their recommended citation formats to be consistent with these guidelines.

The biggest challenge to the success of the CrossRef DOI system is probably the compliance of the individual publisher members. Most of the 50 million CrossRef DOIs are stable and direct as they should, due to the cooperation of the publishers who own the content. Our challenge now is to provide better support to smaller and less technically savvy publishers to ensure that every CrossRef DOI remains stable and useful.

8) Do you have any advice for book people who are just getting started?

CM: Remember that metadata is marketing. Laura Dawson of Firebrand Technologies, and a book metadata expert, recently compared good metadata with dental floss. It isn’t romantic, she said, but it makes everything work. Scholarly book metadata should include CrossRef DOIs at the title level, the chapter level, and the reference entry level to improve its importance and visibility in the scholarly communications environment. Services such as the recently announced Book Citation Index from Thomson Reuters make it clear that the better the metadata, the more accessible the content. This is true now, and it will become even more important in the future.

Check out the blog at “Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement” for Sylvia Miller’s reflections on their recently-ended online pilot.

In the first of two posts, she writes:

After 14 months, the Long Civil Rights Movement Project’s pilot online collection officially closed its test period on July 18, 2011.  You can still see it at, although project staff will no longer grant premium access to the full text of the experimental site’s 87 titles (books, articles, papers, and reports) to those who register except by special request.  Registration will continue to give any user the ability to see open-access content and comment on it at the paragraph level.

The commenting feature was the focus of the experiment.  During the test period, the number of registered users grew beyond our expectations, finishing at 776.  The number of annotations contributed by users was also impressive, finishing at 607.

In addition to these valuable statistics, Miller shares other learnings from the pilot, including valuable information on contributor behaviors, use of archives in teaching, and enhanced e-books. In her second post, Miller links to a number of other projects also experimenting in the area of archives, enhanced e-books, and “portal books.”

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.


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