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Re: Should university presses adopt an OA model for all of their scholarly books?
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- Subject: Re: Should university presses adopt an OA model for all of their scholarly books?
- From: Sandy Thatcher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2008 14:17:10 EST
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Toby and Joe have provided some useful correctives. I composed the following reply before reading theirs, but agree with what they say. (Foreign sales for U.S. presses generall average in a range from 5% to 20%, depending on the composition of a press's list; some types of books travel overseas much better than others--e.g., the regional books that many state university presses publish have virtually no market overseas. By contrast, the foreign sales of British-based academic presses are often a least 40%, with a sizeable chunk of that being the U.S. market.) Here is my reply: The paper by Greco and Wharton is indeed interesting, but at least as much for what it gets wrong as what it gets right. The authors claim to have talked with "leaders at more than 50 U.S. university presses," but oddly they didn't approach me even though I was president of the AAUP during the time they must have been writing this paper. It will take more than a brief message on this list to point out all the ways in which their analysis is off the mark, but as I am always looking for topics to discuss in my column for Against the Grain, these authors have provided me with good material for a future article there. Note, to begin with, a few peculiar tensions in this study. While claiming that "seven out of every ten new books lose money," which is widely accepted in the industry as an accurate estimate, the authors nevertheless provide in Table 8 a P&L statement for what they call a "typical" scholarly monograph--which shows a profit of nearly $10,000! Their whole argument is aimed at promoting the idea that open access is the way for university presses to go, for book as well as journal publishing. But then they talk about the need to "craft a global marketing strategy - to license digital content in developing nations." But why is there any need for licensing at all when the content is being provided open access? This makes no sense at all. Besides such fundamental contradictions, there are many details that the authors do not get right either. E.g., in proposing OA fees, they suggest that an initial fee of $250 would cover the costs of preliminary editorial review, and that another $250 would be enough to offset "the expenses of sending the manuscript out for peer review." These are well below the actual costs of editorial acquisitions for any press I am familiar with. The standard reader's fee at most presses these days ranges between $150 and $250, and most presses get at least two external reviews. Thus, the author's figure is off by a factor of two just for the external part of th review process. In projecting a P&L for a monograph published OA, they assume an overhead of only $3,000 and a marketing cost of just $100. The review process per accepted manuscript alone costs at least $3,000 in editorial overhead, and this allows nothing for the overhead involved in design, marketing, accounting, etc. And $100 would hardly suffice to provide proper marketing for a book published OA, unless one assumes (a the authors evidently must) that anything published OA is self-marketing via search engines like Google. Do they think that authors of these books would not care that their books are advertised, for example, in the annual meeting programs of their professional associations, no to mention the major journals in their fields? Another major error is their assumption that commercial academic publishers perform exactly the same function as university presses do. Here again they are inconsistent in stressing the crucial role of peer review but failing to recognize that commercial academic publishers are, unlike university presses, under no obligation to conduct such peer review. It is no accident that most university promotion and tenure committees assign greater weight to publication of scholarly books by universit presses than by commercial publishers. Let me make clear that I do not oppose the authors' main recommendation, that presses seriously consider moving toward an OA model for publishing books as well as journals. Indeed, I drafted the AAUP Statement on Open Access with the aim of encouraging more thinking about that possibility. But, to make such a case persuasive, it will need to be made with better analysis than is presented in this paper. For my money, the better information (even though somewhat dated) on what it costs to publish monographs in print and in electronic forms still can be found in two papers delivered by press directors Marlie Wasserman (Rutgers) and Colin Day (then at Michigan) at an ARL/AAUP/ACLS conference in 1997. Here are the URLs for those papers: http://www.arl.org/resources/pubs/specscholmono/wasserman.shtml Sandy Thatcher Penn State University Press
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