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RE: Musings on Open Access books

A few musings on the draft paras reproduced below:

1. NAP's policy of giving free access should be tempered by the 
knowledge that it does not give free access to a full-service 
e-book. NAP sells their full service e-books. Free access is 
restricted to page-by-page viewing, with no copy/paste function. 
You can print pages out, but only one-by-one. (This is not a 
criticism of NAP's free access service, I think it is brilliantly 
done, I simply want to correct the impression that they are 
giving free access to full function e-books.)

2. OECD also gives free access to its books online, using a 
similarly restricted service. We've found that doing this has had 
no positive effect on our print sales (and I believe NAP's 
positive experience was relatively short-lived).

3. Unrestricted free access to full-service e-books does affect 
the financial viability of books. I know of several examples 
among International Organisation (IGO) publishers (UN et al) 
where financial difficulties have resulted from free online 
access policies. My conclusion of our experience and that of our 
IGO colleagues is that print-only or print-and-free online are 
not sustainable financial models for monographs unless there is 
funding from another source to help pay for the publishing costs.

4. More interesting is this. In the World Bank's bookshop in 
Washington there is a prototype book-making machine. It looks 
like a couple of large photocopiers bolted together with a pc 
mounted on top, all held together by angle-iron (it is a 
prototype!). If you insert a PDF file of a book in one 'end', 
five minutes or so later, after lots of whirring and cluncks, a 
perfect-bound book emerges at the other end. The quality is 
slightly lower than you'd expect from a print-on-demand (POD) 
book from the likes of Lightning Source, but it's really not bad 
at all.

Why is this interesting? Because it eliminates one of the most 
costly parts of the book business - despatch costs. POD 
eliminates warehousing costs and reduces the financial risk 
implicit in printing a run of books, but doesn't eliminate 
despatch costs. Therefore this machine is better than POD when it 
comes to cost-cutting. It also eliminates another barrier - time 
between decision-to-buy and receipt. I'm loath to make 
predictions, but when this prototype grows up and becomes a 
production model and can be found in bookshops, airports and, 
dare I say it, libraries, then I see the price of books falling 
like the price of music fell when iTunes launched. Lower costs 
will mean lower risks = more books being offered for sale. Lower 
prices will mean potentially larger sales of each title, 
addressing the point below about demand being underestimated and 

5. Of course, one fundamental truth won't change: good books will 
find their readership, but much depends on the 
promotion/marketing skills of the publisher - whoever that is.

Toby Green
Head of Dissemination and Marketing
OECD Publishing
Public Affairs and Communications Directorate
http://www.SourceOECD.org  - our award-winning e-library
http://www.oecd.org/OECDdirect  - our new title alerting service

-----Original Message-----
[mailto:owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu] On Behalf Of Colin Steele
Sent: 29 July, 2006 1:22 AM
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: Musings on Open Access books

With reference to some of the recent emails related to this 
topic, I don't necessarily think we should throw the Open Access 
book out with the bathwater of either publisher or article 
preferences. There is a significant opportunity here for 
universities, who want to distribute their knowledge more 
effectively through Open Access monographs, to utilise present 
technologies and opportunities .

The ACLS report, "Our Cultural Commonwealth"
(http://www.acls.org/cyberinfrastructure/acls.ci.report.pdf) on
Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences,
chaired by John Unsworth, which has just been released in draft
form,includes the following paras.

"Scholarship cannot exist without a system of scholarly
communication: the cost of that system is a necessary cost of
doing academic business. One could say that every part of this
system is subsidized- from faculty to presses to libraries- and
one could equally well say that every part operates under
significant financial constraints. In the case of university
based publishers, institutional subsidy has declined in recent
years, forcing university presses to behave more like commercial
entities. However, if we take a longer view of the information
life-cycle in universities, revenue from sales may not be the
best measure of the value of scholarship. It may make more sense
to conceive of scholarly communication as a public good rather
than to think of it as a marketable commodity.

Collectively, then, we should act to support the system of
scholarly communication as a public good- and this collective
action must be as broad as possible, including not only those
universities with presses, but also all universities with
faculty, libraries, students, and public outreach. After all, the
social value produced by the system as a whole is enjoyed by all
of these constituents.

In considering how best to organize the publishing side of
scholarly communication, it will also be important to be open to
new business models. Received opinion and settled assumptions may
be very costly, both in terms of missed opportunities and in
terms of unforeseen expenses. For example, defying conventional
wisdom, the National Academies Press has for some time now been
distributing the content of its monographs free on the web, and
(thanks in part to a carefully thought-out strategy for doing
that) it has seen its sales of print increase dramatically.

By comparison to print, born-digital scholarship will be
expensive for publishers to create, and even more expensive for
libraries to maintain over time. But even considering these
costs, owning and maintaining digital collections locally or
consortially, rather than renting access to them from commercial
publishers, is likely to be a cost-cutting strategy in the long
run. If universities do not own the content they produce- if they
do not collect it, hold it, and preserve it- then commercial
interests will certainly step in to do the job, and they will do
it on the basis of market demands rather than as a public good.
If universities do collect, preserve, and provide open access to
the content they produce, and if everyone in the system of
scholarly communication understands that the goods being produced
and shared are in fact public goods and not private property, the
remaining challenge will be to determine how much, and what, to

Such questions would normally be answered with reference to
demand, and one analysis of the "crisis in scholarly publishing"
is that it is a crisis of audience. Average university press
print runs are now in the low hundreds, and though digital
printing lowers the unit-cost for printing short runs of books,
selling fewer books raises the cost per copy to the library or
scholar and makes it harder for the publisher to cover prepress
costs, which are still the most significant portion of the total
cost of producing a book or article. On the other hand,
university presses could (and should) expand the audience for
humanities scholarship by making it more readily available
online. Unless this public good can easily be found by the
public- by readers outside the university- demand is certain to
be underestimated and undersupplied.

We note that some university presses have already made great
strides in electronic publishing ... These and other experiments
in electronic publishing in the humanities and social sciences,
and experiments in building and maintaining digital collections
in libraries and institutional repositories, need to be supported
as they move toward sustainability, and they need to be funded
(by universities, by private foundations, and by the public) with
the expectation that they will move toward open access- an area
in which many of the natural sciences and some social sciences
are conspicuously ahead of the humanities."


Colin Steele
Emeritus Fellow
The Australian National University
Canberra  ACT 0200
Email: colin.steele@anu.edu.au

University Librarian, Australian National University (1980-2002) and Director
Scholarly Information Strategies (2002-2003)