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RE: Changing the game

A little belatedly - I am on the road again -, I would like to respond to
Sandy's interesting remarks.

The CDN$ 8,000 subsidy to Canadian university press does not cover the whole
cost. It was never meant to cover the whole cost, and if my earlier reference
to this programme led Sandy (and perhaps others) to think that it did, then I
must not have expressed myself as unambiguously as I should have. The programme
allows young scholars to compete for these funds to get a book published. They
can do it in two ways: either applying directly to the programme or, once
provisionally accepted by the press, applying together with the press. The
majority of authors follow the second path for reasons that should be fairly
obvious: being backed by a press gives added weight to the request.

The costs mentioned by Sandy are, of course, of the highest interest. What
puzzles me a little is that, in 2005, John B. Thompson in Books in the Digital
Age seemed to indicate that, already, the cost of printing on demand was
cheaper for up to 300 copies than using batch production. Four years later,
these PoD costs must be even a little lower. Why is batch retained?

The Canadian subsidies programme is not directly related to OA although I argued
(when I was VP of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social
Sciences) that the use of public money would justify placing older,
out-of-print volumes in electronic OA  Prior agreements with outfits such as
e-brary seem to be in the way, or at least this is what I was told by some
people connected with some of these presses. Some of them added that
"out-of-print" was an obsolete conmcept... No comment!

In my opinion, based on what I hear from sources such as HSRC in South Africa,
ANU Press in Australia, Athbasca in Canada, etc. books in OA in the electronic
format tend to stimulate the sales of paper. I know tht I bought my copy of
Benkler's Wealth of Networks after having browsed at length through the
electronic copy that is available on the Net. For this reason, I continue to
think that this trend will ultimately develop.

Going back to experiments like OAPEN, despite the irate comments of a member of
this list. It will be interesting to see how the European presses involved are
going to evolve new products. Some very interesting innovations may emerge
thanks to the leeway granted to these presses by that grant. I know I will be
monitoring these very closely and with great interest.

Jean-Claude Guedon

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu on behalf of Sandy Thatcher
Sent: Tue 10/6/2009 10:16 AM
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: RE: Changing the game

I would be very happy if universities would more broadly spread the
cost of supporting the system of scholarly monograph publishing in a
collective fashion. This was a recommendation made back in 1979 by
the National Enquiry into Scholarly Communication. We can all see how
completely unresponsive the university community was to that

I daresay, with all the budget crises affecting universities today (I
hear that faculty at the University of California don't even have
phones in their offices anymore), there is no chance whatsoever of
this happening anytime soon, if ever. Nor is it likely in the U.S.,
where "big government" is a fear of a large segment of the
population, that we'll see any widespread federal government support
for subsidization either. And Jean-Claude should realize that, in the
humanities at least, what public money is available hardly ever funds
100% of any research project. So, an NIH-type mandate is likely to
prove ineffective.

Canadian press directors can speak for themselves, but I feel
confident in predicting that $8,000 does not come close to covering
the full cost of publishing a monograph, OA or otherwise, for them.
My guess is that these presses also, like ours, have to depend on
some sales in the normal marketplace, whether for e-editions or POD
editions, to cover their costs.  I would estimate $20,000 to $25,000
for a monograph of average length just to publish the first copy,
exclusive of any costs associated with paper, printing, binding,
warehousing, and distribution.  So Jean-Claude's assumption that
$10,000 per book would do the trick is off the mark also.

For our Romance Studies series, which is offered OA, we still have to
sell between 100 and 150 copies of each title in cloth and between
500 and 600 in paper POD just to break even.  None of our books in
the series so far has yet to reach that point.

Now, if we were to abandon prepublication peer review and rely on
just post-publication review alone, the costs would lower
significantly. But then how different would we presses be from
commercial publishers? And what would our "brand" then be worth to
faculty who need to get tenure and promotion?

I share Jean-Claude's enthusiasm for OA as an ideal for monographs as
well as articles. I just don't see how we can get there anytime soon
without a huge sea change in thinking within university
administrations about how to pay the costs.

Sandy Thatcher
Penn State Press