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Re: Should university presses adopt an OA model for all of their scholarly books?

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:

Sandy Thatcher
Penn State University Press