five emerging issues in scholarly book publishing


In my last post, I discussed flux and change in scholarly book publishing, highlighting the Book Industry Collaborative Council (BICC)’s identification of the distribution of scholarly book publishing as a key area for industry reform in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) has brought the academic library perspective to the discussion in their response to a “request for comment” made by the BICC’s Expert Reference Group.

The five main issues the authors raise in their report include looking at developments in open access, emerging business models, changing research output formats, as well as issues around community access, measurement of research impact, and data.

1. Modes of scholarly publishing

The report focuses on open access  – which is “now a permanent feature of the publishing landscape” – as a central issue in relation to modes of scholarly publishing.   The  open access mandates instituted by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) are important steps toward greater access to publicly funded research.  The development of efficient and effective practices in open access repositories has meant these mandates can be well supported.

The 2012 Finch report, entitled Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications, sparked much debate and commentary about open access.  Although it focused mainly on subscriptions, it also recommended the experimentation and development of open access models for scholarly monographs.   While publicly funded institutions are the main developers of open access monographs, commercial publishers are also now publishing open access books.

2. Business models

Scholarly publishing business models need to provide funds to support open access publishing and dissemination.  This would encourage scholars to produce monographs, and increase access to them.  In so doing, it would address the decline in scholarly monograph publishing, which has been occurring particularly in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Some of the more interesting publishing models emerging to redress these problems are:

  1. Publishing open access scholarly eBooks with print on demand options (eg ANU E-Press, publishes 80 open access eBooks annually)
  2. Crowdsourcing, by inviting small contributions from many supporters.  (eg Kickstarter, which raised $500k from over 15,000 contributors to publish a Ryan North novel)
  3. Library-funded models, where a library consortium pays publishers a title fee to cover fixed costs based on first copy plus a small operating margin. (eg Knowledge Unlatched). QUT, UWA and Melbourne Uni are also trialling this concept in the Australian environment.

3. It’s not just one big book

It is not possible to translate the model for print monograph publication into the digital environment. Digitisation has challenged the definition of a book, allowing many different types to be published, including short form monographs, e-textbooks, and interactive learning objects.   Moreover, many of the developments in the digital environment, such as the rise of MOOCs, mass digitization projects (eg projects in the Digital Humanities), and the digitisation of large book collections (eg Hathi Trust) provide new publishing opportunities.  However, such projects need investment beyond current levels.

4. Access and Measurement

Currently the existing publication enterprises are siloed, restricting the wider commmunity’s access to these works.   A nation-wide service to access Australia’s scholarly research output would address this problem.  It would require quality metadata and standards to enable operability between systems.     Another factor that restricts access is the high level of regulation that exists in the digital environment, which means libraries cannot share eBooks in the same way as they can share print.   Measuring the research impact of books is also an important issue to consider – the current emphasis on quantitative measures needs to be balanced by qualitative measures, making altmetrics an important new development.

5. Data

Another impact of the changes bought about by digitization is the blurring of the boundaries between different forms of digital output. What constitutes a book or an article?  When does a data compilation become a published output? The development of schemes enhancing access to compilations of data, such as the Australian National Data Service (ANDS), suggests that “we need to reconceptualise publishing to manage, provide access to, and preserve a wider range of scholarly outputs”.

It will be interesting to see how these various developments in the scholarly publishing industry play out, and the role that the library will play.   Some of the developments to watch, which the report has highlighted, will be the way publishing services are integrated with other e-research infrastructure, what forms of publishing emerge, and whether funding systems are developed to support innovative publishing models.

Download the report:

CAUL response to Book Industry Collaborative Council Scholarly Book Publishing Expert Reference Group on the future of scholarly book publishing in the humanities and social sciences. (2013). Prepared on behalf of CAUL by Roxanne Missingham, University Librarian, The Australian National University; Ross Coleman, Director, Collection, Digital and eScholarship Services, The University of Sydney; and Philip Kent, University Librarian, The University of Melbourne

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