Thursday 6 February 2014

Kurt Paulus on ALPSP International Conference 2013: Part 2 - So what about books?

The Belfry, location of the ALPSP 2013 conference
This is the second in a series of reflections on the 2013 ALPSP International Conference by Kurt Paulus, former Operations Director at the Institute of Physics, and long time supporter of ALPSP. Our thanks go to Kurt for capturing the sessions. If this whets your appetite,save the date for the 2014 conference.

So what about books?

Debates during the last couple of decades have been driven largely by journals and journal-related innovations, with books seeming more like an afterthought at times. They are of course a core component of scholarly publishing, especially in the humanities and social sciences, and it seemed this year that thinking and experimenting about them has shifted more to centre stage. Not only have e-books firmly arrived but so has exploration of open access for books, about a decade after journal publishers first started worrying about it.

After Huw Alexander of Sage entertainingly showed us that the science fiction writers were way ahead of us in their thinking – of course they don’t need to slavishly follow business models – he led us through some of the uncharted territory. The threats of piracy, Amazon, open access are there but we are learning quickly about platforms, pricing models, advertising and mixed media, though we lack standards for sales data that should inform our thinking. However, the ‘age of convergence’ is upon us: devices will align, formats will standardize and new approaches, e.g. selling through content hubs, will emerge.

“The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed” William Gibson

Despite the ‘terrorism of short termism’ – what to do on Monday, the pressure of the bottom line – some signposts are becoming clearer. Is one sold copy preferable to 10 usages, is ownership preferable to access, is there mileage in subscription or usage based models? What about the partners of the future, not just our current peers but Amazon, Google or even coffee shops as digital outlets (look around you next time you pop out for a cuppa).

What is a book, anyway, asked Hazel Newton of Palgrave Macmillan? The current terminologies were coined in the age when print technologies were dominant. Digital content does not discriminate by number of pages or screens or total length, especially when memory is cheap. It is also far less limited by the time constraints that print technologies impose in the form of publication delays and it allows publishers to stay ahead of the game in rapidly moving fields.

“Constantly question why things are the way they are” Hazel Newton (NB: some quotations are paraphrased though close to the original!)

Breaking the rules, Palgrave’s Pivot series positions itself squarely between the journal article and the full-scale monograph. It's publishing within 12 weeks of acceptance and offers itself as digital collections for libraries, individual ebooks for personal use or digitally-produced print editions. Despite the perceived conservatism of academia, Pivot has so far published more than 100 titles; Hazel considers HEFCE now to be more flexible in what formats it will accept as evidence for the Research Excellence Framework.

This way for open access

But open access for books?

I thought you’d never ask; well Caren Milloy, head of projects at JISC Collections, is questioning editors, sales and marketing and systems people in about 10 humanities and social science publishers about their views and concerns over open access publishing.

The OAPEN-UK project is still under way and it is clear that a lot of internal corporate education will be necessary, all current processes will need to be reviewed, publisher project teams need to start work now and involve all parts of the business. Don’t wait for standards to be developed but think about them now, don’t assume OA for books will follow the journal model and develop a clear idea of what success would look like.

“Open access is here: the need is to invent and develop sustainable business models” Catherine Candea

Three speakers in a session on ‘Making open pay’ chaired by Catherine Candea of OECD gave three different approaches designed primarily for books in the social sciences and humanities. Frances Pinter, founder of Knowledge Unlatched, had no doubt that open access business models will be prominent for books albeit it will take time for these to take root. The model for Knowledge Unlatched is one of upfront funding of origination costs complemented by income from usage, licensing, mandates, value-added services and other options yet to emerge.

Unlike the Author Processing Charge (APC) of the journal Gold OA model, the fixed cost in Knowledge Unlatched would be covered by title fees paid by members of a consortium of libraries, thus ‘unlatching’ publication of titles by members of a publisher consortium in a Creative Commons licensed PDF version. Publishers will then be free to exploit other versions of the title, or subsidiary rights for profit. Knowledge Unlatched provides the link between the library and publisher consortia. A pilot is about to be launched, with 17 publishers so far taking part and a target of 200 libraries to ensure that the title fee is capped at $1,800 per library.

“It’s a numbers game, so look at the margins: lots of little contributions, not just one big one” Pierre Mounier

‘Freemium’ is the model for the platform Open Edition Books outlined by its associate director Pierre Mounier. The platform is run by the Centre for Open Electronic Publishing, Paris and financed by the French national research agency in partnership with, so far, some 30 international publishers. Books are published open access in HTML, but value-added premium services are charged for. These may include other versions such as PDF or ePub, data supplies, dashboard and so on, licensed to libraries. The mix between free and premium may change as library needs change; the most important thing is to keep in touch with the libraries to understand their changing requirements. So far 800 books are included and there is an ambitious annual launch programme. Currently over 60 libraries are subscribers. One-third of revenues goes to the platform and two-thirds to the publisher.

It's a book, but not as you know it.
Also Gold OA in concept, but in a different context, is the publishing of the Nordic Council of Ministers described by Niels Stern. The Council’s publishing model is already OA in the sense that the Council commissions research and is then invoiced for publishing services. That income, however, is not secured for eternity and may be subject to political constraints, so Niels and his colleagues went through a classical business analysis.

They concluded that digital distribution provides most opportunities for change. It also has the potential to offer most value to its customers - politicians, researchers and government officials - ensuring the impact of public money, visibility through flexible access and accountability for money spent.. Open Access was the key to unlocking these benefits, ensuring future loyalty from the customer base and hence future revenue streams.

The conclusions from their approach will be familiar from different contexts:
  • Keep an open mind: stop copying previous behaviours. 
  • Revisit your arenas constantly. 
  • Zoom in on your target audiences and find new needs by listening. 
  • But don’t cogitate forever; take the courage to act!
The model is true Gold. It pays because it is building an organizational asset, with your customers solidly behind you.

Kurt Paulus, Bradford-on-Avon

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