Thursday 22 January 2015

What is the Scholarly Book of the Future? Julia Mortimer from Policy Press reflects

We caught up with Julia Mortimer, member of ALPSP's Professional Development Committee and co-organiser of the The Scholarly Book of the Future seminar next month, to ask her what she thinks the scholarly book of the future will look like.

1. What have you seen happening to the scholarly book in the last few years?

The most significant change for the scholarly book has been the move to digital, with completely different and varying purchase models available leading to wide disruption in the marketplace.

Probably the most significant shift within this is the move from guaranteed sales of single copies via approval plans to patron or demand driven access (PDA/DDA) where books are only bought when users trigger a purchase or are loaned for short periods of time and minimal amounts of money. Usage has moved to centre stage, as it has been for journals for some time.

All this is happening as a response to shrinking and stagnating library budgets and some of the purchase models which were introduced at the outset into library aggregators' licensing agreements have been made use of in ways which weren't originally envisaged.

To date the content of digital monographs hasn't changed significantly, although some are getting shorter, they are essentially text-based versions of the print book. However they are being presented and sold in different ways via platforms which bring together a publishers' scholarly books in full or subject-based collections and can be sold via a range of models (more similarly to journal sales). Collaborations between publishers are also emerging in response to library feedback e.g. OUP's University Presses Scholarship Online which Policy Press is involved in and which provides a one-stop shop for University Press scholarly publications.

The rise of blogs and social media has had a considerable effect on academic research, as has the Impact agenda introduced in the Research Excellence Framework in the UK. At Policy Press we have introduced three strands of new fast-track short-form publications: research-based books providing the latest cutting-edge research findings, social commentary pieces and insights on topical issues or policy and practice guides enabling research to quickly have an influence. Academics have welcomed this flexibility which meets their changing needs and other publishers are also starting to offer a range of short formats.

Finally, open access is having a bearing but not to the extent that it has for journals so far. There are experiments and pilots taking place and publishers offer gold open access monograph options but funding is often an issue and other options need to be explored.

2. What has this meant for the financial side of publishing? 

The changes in digital monograph sales models have had a particularly detrimental effect over the past year on many academic publishers. Much lower revenue is generated as a result of the move in the US towards PDA and short term loans (STLs). In the past a certain number of monograph sales were pretty much guaranteed for high quality research outputs which ensured they were viable. Not any more. As Michael Zeoli of YBP Library Services said at a recent IPG seminar, now it is publishers taking all the risks without being able to get a return on their investment. (See The Bookseller article).

This is the case for not-for-profit University Presses and commercial publishers alike, as print sales continue to decline they are not being replaced by digital sales.

Gold open access payments for monographs are still very few and far between so it is early days in terms of a potential transition there.

3. Why is it important now to reflect on this, should we just let nature take its course? 

This disruption is having a fundamental impact on whether the scholarly book in its current form can continue. This is affecting publishers to such an extent that if we don't reflect now and take action some publishers may go out of business and the preservation of scholarly work will be under threat. 

Publishers need to be able make their case to academics and librarians about the value of what they do and the economics behind it. We also need to keep on top of the technology as it changes so that we can continue to innovate to meet the research community’s needs.

4. So, the book is dead, long live the book, right? Tell me what’s in your crystal ball… 

I think the monograph in long and short form will survive, certainly in the humanities and in the social sciences where a longer treatment of certain research findings is absolutely necessary. There is a strong case for embracing the evolution of scholarly publishing but it is not a case of one size fits all any more.

There will be a lot more convergence of formats, with chapters having their own DOIs and being increasingly included in joint databases and platforms with journal content. Similarly when searching for content researchers want to find everything relevant to their search in one place so discovery tools need to better integrate book and journal content, until the content itself is fully integrated. A greater use of XML and semantic web technology will allow researchers to use material in different ways eg integrated data, enhanced books with much more embedded multi-media.

Policy Press short format monograph
There will be a greater focus on what researchers need and studies are already under way to establish that. Innovative forms of dissemination will continue to develop: more short-form work, more use of social media and blogs, online communities and vehicles to allow interaction, engagement and collaboration with the work.

Sales-wise subscription and rental models will grow but there is likely to be a demarcation of premium new content and backlist archive in terms of what is offered via these models. For other types of content archives may be the premium product. Repurposing content and custom publishing options will continue to develop as digital formats and systems make this easier.

I expect to see more collaboration between university presses and their libraries as well - especially around OA models in the future - and other sources of revenue being sought to fund OA such as sponsorship or advertising.

So books are here to stay in my humble opinion, but they may look rather different!

Julia Mortimer is Assistant Director at Policy Press at the University of Bristol, a not-for-profit social science publisher committed to making a difference.

The Scholarly Book of the Future seminar, co-organised by Anthony Watkinson and Julia Mortimer will be held in London on Thursday 12 February. Follow #alpspbook for coverage.

1 comment:

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