#AcBookWeek 2015: Publisher Workshop at Stationers Hall

To celebrate the recent announcement of the next Academic Book Week (23-28 January 2017), we’re revisiting some highlights from last year’s #AcBookWeek! The first post considers the gathering of academic publishers at the historic Stationers Hall to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. There were 25 individuals representing seven academic publishers, all of which publish books in print and/or digital format. The participants were asked to work in groups and address some of the core questions first posed at the launch of The Academic Book of the Future project. Project co-investigator Nick Canty (UCL) reflects back on this event.

The questions and issues we put to the assembled publishers spanned three main areas, as follows:

 

1. Changes in the nature of research, the research environment and the research process

What do academic books do?

We started off by asking publishers for their views of what purposes they think academic books fulfil. Answers were varied, with some participants asking how we define which books relate to research and which are for reference. This point was picked up by another participant who argued that publishers’ categories (reference or textbook) don’t matter – what matters is the prestige of where you find your content and being providing with trusted credible content. There is a glut of information today with undergraduate students and researchers drawing on a broader pool of resources than in the past (including Wikipedia), which has partly been enabled by digital technologies, although it was questioned whether the structures were in place for interdisciplinary research.

Additional purposes for the academic book were offered, for instance: for academics to achieve tenure, or to publish their PhD thesis; while another participant observed that academic books are now required as a tool for metrics to help define impact, as well as working for libraries to gauge interest through bibliographic data. A more apt starting point might be to ask what the book is doing: proving a hypothesis, making an argument, or communicating an idea – but this doesn’t answer whether textbooks, reference, and professional books should be considered academic books, too. Our seemingly simple question clearly has several possible complex and multi-faceted answers.

 

What changes have taken place in the research environment?

Moving on, we looked at how research is changing in academia. This shook out some fascinating points. As well as comments about the REF (Research Excellence Framework), several participants mentioned the pressure to produce research outputs and the ‘need for speed’, which was pushing researchers to journals and away from books (presumably because of their longer production times). The pressure to publish quickly has had big changes on the production process and there has been advances on this side of publishing. However the sales cycle with library wholesalers hasn’t moved as quickly, and advance notice to market is still at least six months. As someone else said, the rate of change is quite slow.

Alternative ways of research were picked up, including real-time feedback and peer review, crowdfunding and the Knowledge Unlatched publishing model and a question about whether Amazon’s classifications are becoming more important – presumably for discoverability.

 

New forms of books

We wanted to find how books might change because of new technologies and Open Access (OA). There was agreement that OA is having the greatest influence on journals, with books following more slowly behind. Several participants remarked that OA and new media offer more opportunity for collaboration with peer-adopted books with extra resources such as data and video. Shorter book formats, such as Palgrave’s Pivot series, are also a response to a changing environment. New media might herald new virtual collections, such as chapters and articles which are led by XML and metrics, although other participants sounded a note of caution: books are still books and they are not changing – they are still driven by market demand and the activity of publishers is still the traditional model of print with some digital offerings.

There were observations that with booksellers increasingly resistant to stock niche books and the academic book more challenged in terms of sales it was hard to find books in bookstores now and they are mostly just in libraries, although book authors still want print copies. This reflects broader concerns about the visibility of books in brick and mortar stores as the online space expands.

 

2. How are the processes through which books are commissioned, approved or accepted, edited, produced, published, marketed, distributed, made accessible, and preserved changing, and what are the implications for the following?

Publishers

Needless to say this elicited lots of responses, with publishers seen as moving from B2B operations to B2C, and more functions outsourced to attempt to lower costs. While some participants didn’t think marketing had changed much over the last decade, others saw changes to staff recruitment as new skillsets are needed as consumer marketing becomes more important. Clearly there are differences between publishers here. There was a comment that nowadays publishers have to do more direct marketing and rely less on channel marketing.

Authors were seen as becoming more ‘savvy’, more demanding, and more knowledgeable on all aspects of publishing – but particularly in marketing, where for example, they understand the importance of Amazon profiles. However there was very little change to the commissioning process, which was still based on a conversation, a campus visit, or a meeting at a conference. Academics are therefore still ‘student intermediaries’. There is a need to make books available everywhere but it is difficult to push every channel and there is therefore more pressure on authors to help with marketing via their profile in academia. The publishing industry increasingly values media skills and as a consequence there is a convergence of academic and trade publishing at this point.

The publisher brand and the website are important but editors still need to actively reach out in the commissioning process. Editors need usage data to inform commissioning decisions but they aren’t getting this at the moment.

In terms of the publishing process as well as new distribution formats (XML, video) reference works can published in stages with no single publication date, raising the question: what is ‘enough’ content to launch with? Finally, there was general agreement that while there are experiments with peer review it is ‘here to stay’ and ‘still central’ to academic publishing.

 

Aggregators

Pressures and tensions were noted here. These revolve around asking how sustainable the aggregator business model is, with publishers improving discoverability and free searches from Google. There is also tension in that libraries still want aggregators and value their services and small publishers need aggregators (‘in thrall to them’), but publishers are selling complete books – not bits of content. The situation is made more complicated by centralisation and mergers in the sector.

 

Booksellers

In addition to the points about booksellers above, participants noted the disappearance of campus bookstores and the emphasis on stocking high sales books rather than niche ones, therefore questioning the value of bookstores to publishers today.

 

Libraries 

The issue of preservation came through here, in addition to comments about squeezed library budgets (although new models such as just-in-time purchasing and PDA were mentioned as solutions). There was concern about what happens when publishers merge, and features of online access are no longer available with the new company (the example cited was in relation of viewing PDFs after a merger). Further concerns were that although libraries keep digital archives, what happens when formats change? This has implications for future access and preservation.

 

How might the relationships between the different kinds of agents in the publishing supply chain develop in the future?

The last question looked at the supply chain and how publishers and other intermediaries might work together in the future. Once again, some tensions were noted. Libraries are concerned about the power of aggregators, but they choose to work with them rather than with individual publishers. This makes it hard to resolve problems, as it is unclear who is ultimately responsible for problems: the aggregator or the publisher? One group suggested we need to ask what an intermediary is in the supply chain; can we consider the library as an aggregator today? Another group defined intermediaries as ‘anyone/thing that intervenes between point of production and point of use/reading.’

Publishers increasingly want direct access to end-user data from aggregators to drive usage to their online collections to improve renewals, but this desire to drive users to their sites puts them in conflict with aggregators, who provide little information to publishers. Open Access is a possible way to sidestep aggregators, but it then needs something like Amazon or Google for users to discover the books.

 

Conclusion

The workshop was an opportunity for the publishing industry to address some key issues the project has sought to address. While there were bound to be contradictions among participants, what came through were questions about the future role of aggregators in the supply chain, changes in the research environment and perhaps as a consequence, changes in how authors work with publishers, and changes in the way publishers operate. There was agreement however that the book, whether print or digital, was here to stay.

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What’s the Point of the Academic Book? Part Two: Mari Shullaw

The Project was invited to speak at the BSECS 45th Annual Conference, which took place on Thursday 7th January 2016 at the University of Oxford. The British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) is soon to launch its own book series, in association with Boydell & Brewer, and wanted to consult with its community on the form that this new series should take. Chaired by Professor Matthew Grenby (Newcastle), the provocatively-titled round table ‘What’s the Point of the Academic Book?’ included views from Project Research Associate Rebecca Lyons, Professor Tim Hitchcock (Sussex), and Mari Shullaw (Boydell & Brewer). The three views from each speaker will be posted in three parts – each perspective being published in its own blog post. The second, given here, is Mari Shullaw’s. Part One, by Rebecca Lyons, is here: https://academicbookfuture.org/2016/01/25/the-point-of-the-academic-book-part-one/

Mari_ShullawBoydell & Brewer is proud and pleased to be working with BSECS on the eighteenth-century studies series. We hope that it will be, in many ways, a reflection of this conference – a place where all the disciplines involved in eighteenth-century studies can meet and learn from each other.

Background on Boydell and Brewer

We are a smallish independent academic press, publishing about 150 books a year across the humanities. Founded by two medievalists – Derek Brewer and Richard Barber – and their ethos of scholarly publishing is still very much with us. The core of our publishing is monographs. We don’t publish journals and we don’t publish sciences.

Books are available to libraries on a variety of digital platforms including JSTOR and CUP’s University Publishing online and increasingly our more accessible titles are available as Kindle and ibooks. Nevertheless 80% of our sales are still “woodpulp” – not unusual among publishers in the humanities.

We haven’t yet published anything in Open Access, but that is because we have not been asked to do so. That is sure to change in the near future. At this stage rather than setting a tariff as some of our colleagues have done we’d prefer to talk to authors individually about what they and their funders are looking for and work from there.

In this paper I am going to side-step the philosophic and pedagogic issues involved in defining the point of the academic book, and settle instead for some reflections on the related but more manageable question of function.

Crisis – What crisis?

Signs of health for the academic book:

The long form academic book maintains its position at the heart of the humanities disciplines.

We are not short of new monograph publications. The Crossick report noted the four largest academic publishers had doubled monograph output in the last ten years, and seemed to regard this as a sign of health. I’m not so sure. Are there really twice as many monographs worthy of publication now as there were in 2004? It seems unlikely.

Signs of sickness for the academic book:

Sales have dwindled, and as the print runs have decreased so the prices have increased – and all this at a time when library budgets in the UK and other parts of the are being squeezed.

It is important not to overstate the importance of price here. The sheer bulk of what is available also plays its part, so bringing down prices, as we do when we publish in paperback, makes worryingly little difference to the numbers sold.

This story applies as much to books available in digital form as it does to print. Open Access as currently exercised would simply put the gate at the other end, with the authors of certain kinds of work and authors in certain institutional positions being unable to publish, rather than the public unable to read what they have written.

The way forward

In The Academic Book of the Future – the recent Palgrave Pivot (Nov 2015) [available to download for free here: http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137595768] commissioned and editing by the Project, Frances Pinter, of Manchester University Press and Knowledge Unlatched stated that:

The meaning of the word ‘book’ itself will never again be confined to that of a physical object to be held, admired, loved, subject to spilt coffee, or burning by dictators. The ‘book’ will be defined more around its function than any of its other characteristics.

In fact the elegy for the book as an object of love and a repository of memory is probably premature – but the point about function is well taken. We need to be looking at it where the book fits into the academic eco system and we need to look at this I think both from the point of view of the user of books – how does the academic book work as a tool of the academic trade? – and from that of the author – why do you write the books in the first place?

For the user a book has two main functions, which in the digital age one might describe very crudely as ‘browse’ and ‘search’, and which have implications for the medium in which books are accessed.

To the ‘browser’, the whole book is important. The browser values the journey – the way the argument is shaped, the meanders and the digressions. For this reader even noting the faults – the points where the argument is thin and the evidence is overstated – is part of the pleasure of the journey, and to this reader or to be more accurate to a reader in this mode style matters. It’s difficult to read in this way if a book is badly written. It is also – it is increasingly clear – somewhat difficult to read in this way electronically, at least as things stand at the moment. This is the sort of reading where you flip back and forth, remembering that there was a relevant passage two thirds of the way back at the top of the left hand page, where you underline and scrawl things in the margins. The full experience, which is sensory as well as intellectual, seems to require print and paper.

It has to be admitted that there are simply not enough hours in the day for browsing. Mostly we need to get through stuff, find what we need and move on. It’s here that the digital form comes into its own. There are three key requirements here:

  1. Discoverability: you need to know that the book exists and that it is relevant.
  2. Accessibility: you want it when you want it. This is one of the major advantages of the ebook, whether available through the university library or bought by an individual
  3. Searchability: find key information and arguments and move on.

And one thing which ebooks alone have the potential to provide is access to the original source material through hyperlinks, which as Tim [Hitchcock] discovered [during the London Lives project: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/58047/], can be a tricky business for publishers, but is still quite clearly the way of the future.

Working out these questions of function for the user is relatively simple, though the delivery may be more complicated. From the publishers’ point of view this is not a zero sum game. There is no reason why print and digital should not coexist happily for decades to come.

As far as the author’s side is concerned my role is to ask the questions, not to give the answers. In an interview after the publication of his report Crossick made the interesting point that “the monograph was not simply about dissemination but a way to think about the research itself – I call this ‘thinking through writing the book.’ There is an element of personal development here. It is in the process of turning a thesis into a first book – if this is done well – that a student becomes a scholar and this process is reiterated throughout an academic career. The writing of a book in the humanities in particular is a key part of the academic digestion.

But is this route too readily accepted as the norm? When I was a student, a good many of my older lecturers published relatively seldom and certainly not in monograph form. The pressures of a much more competitive job market and the REF have put paid to that, but are we simply assuming that the monograph is the point to which research tends? Are there actually too many, and should we be thinking instead of alternative modes of production? As the current problems with Open Access are ironed out there may be room for more journals, for instance. Digital publishing has made it easier for publishers to be more flexible about length, so we have experiments like the Palgrave Pivot series of intermediate publications of 30-50k words. The current Pivot publications are mostly in the social sciences, but would there be more room for similar in the humanities?

More radically the digital revolution, stuttering as it is, does provide the means by which the relation between author and readership, whether academic or more general can be reconfigured. As Bob Shoemaker states of the London Lives project on his Sheffield blog:

The reader would then be given the evidence to question our interpretations, come to different conclusions, or simply follow their own interests through the linked sources. The book we wanted to create would be so extensively interlinked that we would cede control of the narrative and our authority as authors could be challenged by readers following their own agendas.

There is a political project here about the balance of power between author and reader, which could be taken further.

What is the point of the academic publisher?

Finally, a few words on the question ‘what is the point of the academic publisher?’ – because I suppose that must be why I am part of this panel.

The first thing to be said is that there really is now no part of the publishing process, taken individually, that you could not do on your own if you wanted to. Nevertheless, I believe that we do still have a contribution to make.

Three things in particular:

  1. Time and consistency of effort

Between teaching, research, writing and university admin, self-publishing might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for you [the academic].

An academic publisher pulls together experience and efficiency across a range of things: editing, production and marketing.

  1. Attention

Good editors really want their authors to do well, and will invest time in this. A good editor, especially when working with a junior scholar, will spend time on helping to shape the proposal before it goes out for review, will interpret and mediate the reviews which often ask for contradictory or impossible things and will also do a fair amount of hand-holding and cheer-leading during the ups and downs of the process of writing a book.

  1. Detachment

All organisations have their own politics, but at least we [the publishers] are outside of the institutional politics of your universities.

We have no axe to grind apart from the rather innocent one of trying to make your book pay its way so that we can make a little profit and go on publishing more books.

One last word: I mentioned detachment just now, but of course as academic publishers we are only ever semi-detached. It is worth remembering that, however the power relations may look when you are in the middle of a dispute with your editor or having difficulty getting something published, in the end we are wholly dependent on you. If you sink, we sink, and if you really want us to go in a particular direction – and by that I mean not just as authors but as consumers – then that is the direction we will go.

We are in your hands.

 

A Storify of live tweets from the panel is available here: https://storify.com/AcBookFuture/what-is-the-point-of-the-academic-book

 

Three hundred years of piracy: why academic books should be free

This is a repost from George Walkden’s personal blog about Open Access in the context of academic linguistics. The original post can be found here.

I think academic books should be free.

It’s not a radically new proposal, but I’d like to clarify what I mean by “free”. First, there’s the financial sense: books should be free in that there should be no cost to either the author or the reader. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, books should be free in terms of what the reader can do with them: copying, sharing, creating derivative works, and more.

I’m not going to go down the murky road of what exactly a modern academic book actually is. I’m just going to take it for granted that there is such a thing, and that it will continue to have a niche in the scholarly ecosystem of the future, even if it doesn’t have the pre-eminent role it has at present in some disciplines, or even the same form and structure. (For instance, I’d be pretty keen to see an academic monograph written in Choose Your Own Adventure style.)

Another thing I’ll be assuming is that technology does change things, even if we’re rather it didn’t. If you’re reluctant to accept that, I’d like to point you to what happened with yellow pages. Or take a look at the University of Manchester’s premier catering space, Christie’s Bistro. Formerly a science library, this imposing chamber retains its bookshelves, which are all packed full of books that have no conceivable use to man or beast: multi-volume indexes of mid-20th-century scientific periodicals, for instance. In this day and age, print is still very much alive, but at the same time the effects of technological change aren’t hard to spot.

With those assumptions in place, then, let’s move on to thinking about the academic book of the future. To do that I’m going to start with the academic book of the past, so let’s rewind time by three centuries. In 1710, the world’s first copyright law, the UK’sStatute of Anne, was passed. This law was a direct consequence of the introduction and spread of the printing press, and the businesses that had sprung up around it. Publishers such as the rapacious Andrew Millar had taken to seizing on texts that, even now, could hardly be argued to be anything other than public-domain: for instance,Livy’s History of Rome. (Titus Livius died in AD 17.) What’s more, they then claimed an exclusive right to publish such texts – a right that extended into perpetuity. This perpetual version of copyright was based on the philosopher John Locke’s theory of property as a natural right. Locke himself was fiercely opposed to this interpretation of his work, but that didn’t dissuade the publishers, who saw the opportunity to make a quick buck (as well as a slow one).

Fortunately, the idea of perpetual copyright was defeated in the courts in 1774, in the landmark Donaldson v. Becket case. It’s reared its ugly head since, of course, for instance when the US was preparing its 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act: it was mentioned that the musician Sonny Bono believed that copyright should last forever(see also this execrable New York Times op-ed). What’s interesting is that this proposal was challenged at the time, by Edinburgh-based publisher Alexander Donaldson – and, for his efforts to make knowledge more widely available, Donaldson was labelled a “pirate”. The term has survived, and is now used – for instance – to describe those scientists who try to access paywalled research articles using the hashtag #ICanHazPDF, and those scientists who help them. What these people have in common with the cannon-firing, hook-toting, parrot-bearing sailors of the seven seas is not particularly clear, but it’s clearly high time that the term was reclaimed.

If you’re interested in the 18th century and its copyright trials and tribulations, I’d encourage you to take a look at Yamada Shōji’s excellent 2012 book “Pirate” Publishing: the Battle over Perpetual Copyright in eighteenth-century Britain, which, appropriately, is available online under a CC-BY-NC-ND license. And lest you think that this is a Whiggish interpretation of history, let me point out that contemporaries saw things in exactly the same way. The political economist Adam Smith, in his seminal work The Wealth of Nations, pointed out that, before the invention of printing, the goal of an academic writer was simply “communicating to other people the curious and useful knowledge which he had acquired himself“. Printing changed things.

Let’s come back to the present. In the present, academic authors make almost nothing from their work: royalties from monographs are a pittance. Meanwhile, it’s an economic truism that each electronic copy made of a work – at a cost of essentially nothing – increases total societal wealth. (This is one of the reasons that intellectual property is not real property.) What academic authors want is readership and recognition: they aren’t after the money, and don’t, for the most part, care about sales. The bizarre part is that they’re punished for trying to increase wealth and readership by the very organizations that supposedly exist to help them increase wealth and readership. Elsevier, for instance, filed a complaint earlier this year against the knowledge sharing site Sci-Hub.org, demanding compensation. It beggars belief that they have the audacity to do this, especially given their insane 37% profit margin in 2014.

So we can see that publishers, when profit-motivated, have interests that run counter to those of academics themselves. And, when we look at the actions of eighteenth-century publishers such as Millar, we can see that this is nothing new. Where does this leave us for the future? Here’s a brief sketch:

  • Publishers should be mission-oriented, and that mission should be the transmission of knowledge.
  • Funding should come neither from authors nor from readers. There are a great many business models compatible with this.
  • Copyright should remain with the author: it’s the only way of preventing exploitation. In practice, this means a CC-BY license, or something like it. Certain humanities academics claim that CC-BY licenses allow plagiarism. This is nonsense.

How far are we down this road? Not far enough; but if you’re a linguist, take a look atLanguage Science Press, if you haven’t already.

In conclusion, then, for-profit publishers should be afraid. If they can’t do their job, then academics will. Libraries will. Mission-oriented publishers will. Pirates will.

It’s sometimes said that “information wants to be free”. This is false: information doesn’t have agency. But if we want information to be free, and take steps in that direction… well, it’s a start.


Note: this post is a written-up version of a talk I gave on 11th Nov 2015 at the John Rylands Library, as part of a debate on “Opening the Book: the Future of the Academic Monograph”. Thanks to the audience, organizers and other panel members for their feedback.

Open Access and Academic Publishing

Independent information services professional Ian Lovecy suggests that there are a number of questions – philosophical and practical – which need to be answered before open access could be a sound and sustainable method of academic publishing. This post makes no attempt to answer them, but rather to identify them and perhaps open up some of the issues involved to discussion.

What do we mean by “open access”?

Time was, I could walk into my public library, ask for a book or a journal article, and if they didn’t have it they would obtain it for me through inter-library loan; that was open access to information, and it died in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In those decades, access remained open, but subject increasingly to charges, primarily to cover the administrative costs of the service. Increasingly, requests became subject to a form of censorship, requiring proof of need or (in Universities) a tutor’s signature.

Today we have the Internet, and access to much of the information on it is available to anyone with access to a computer. (This is theoretically anyone in the UK since computers are available in public libraries and Internet cafés, although opening hours, location, costs, line speed and computer literacy may all impose limitations.) Not all the information is available free of charge, but subject to questions of privacy and confidentiality, public interest, security and government policy on access, it is available to all.

Two questions relating to academic information immediately become apparent:

  • Do we mean free open access?
  • Do we mean open access to the entire world?

Equally, in the case of inter-library loans, it was understood that the material was governed by copyright legislation; frequently, especially in cases where material was provided as a photocopy, recipients had to sign a declaration that they would observe copyright. Items published on the Internet are, or at least can be declared to be, subject to the same legislation, but the enforcement is even harder than it is with library books (and I am sure many lecturers have used the occasional copyright photograph in their lectures without seeking permission). In theory, enforcement should be easier in the case of electronic access, since such access can be traced; in practice, with multiple access by people in several different jurisdictions control is effectively impossible. A further question is therefore:

  • Do we want to put restrictions on the use of the information?

 

What are the reasons for open access publishing?

A frequently-heard justification is that since public funding pays for the research the results should be publicly available. This is at best a slightly tenuous argument – even after the passing of the Freedom of Information Act there is still a great deal of publicly-funded information to which the public most decidedly do not have access. It can, in any case, apply only to a subset of research, primarily that funded wholly by the Research Councils. However, the current intention is that all material, if it is to be included in the REF, must be available on open access.

In the past, there has been an underlying assumption that all research undertaken in Universities is publicly funded; this is no longer tenable. Even ignoring the existence of entirely privately-funded Universities, much research – particularly in medicine, biochemistry and the social sciences – is jointly funded by research councils and either charities or business (or sometimes both); there may be restrictions on the amount of information which can be published because of commercial considerations. Many academic posts in the Humanities are now funded entirely by student fees – surely that cannot count as public funding?

It should not be forgotten that there exists also a group of independent researchers – retired academics, former students who have gone into non-academic work and self-taught members of the public with a keen interest in a specific topic. None of these is likely to be submitting material to the REF (with the possible exception of the first group) and they are not therefore under pressure to use open access publishing; they will, however, be affected by some of the consequences of it considered below.

There can be few researchers who do not wish their work to be read, appreciated and cited by others, and for many who publish in the form of journal articles this is indeed the only reward they have. It is understandable that they may feel exploited when they see the price charged for the journals in which they publish; it is even more understandable that institutions resent paying a high price to buy back the results of work which they feel they have funded. Is the correct answer to this problem making the information available to all? What about monographs? – in this case the authors may receive a (small) financial reward in the form of royalties. Are they to be denied this? After deciding what we mean by open access, the next question to answer is:

  • Is there any moral or philosophical justification for insisting on open access publishing?

What might be the practical effects of open access publishing?

The practical effects can be considered under five headings: the value of information, effects on conventional publishing, location and language of publication, universality of access and costs.

The value of information

A professor (of English literature, no less!) once told me there was no need for subject librarians because “all students had to do was use the Internet to find things”. I put the following fairly specific search into Bing: “studies in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII”. That is, of course, one of the most minor of the plays; the search returned 23,500,000 hits. The first 20 included a Wikipedia entry, several references to Spark notes, summaries and quizzes, one text, one (Spanish) production, and several references to A study of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII by Cumberland Clark. Which is doubtless an excellent book; but a similar search in Birmingham University Library’s catalogue shows in addition, in the first 10 items, books by Larry Champion, Alan Young, Sir Edward German, Tom Merriam, Maurice Hunt and Albert Cook, a text with a preface by Israel Gollancz, and a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Some of the books are on detailed aspects of the play or its authorship. It is a manageable list, and represents the selection (you could call it censorship) by a group of scholars over a number of years of books which say something worth reading about the play.

That selection is made in a number of ways, such as the reputation or place of work of the author, the reputation of the publisher, reviews in newspapers and professional journals. There can be dangers in all of these: an author may have a reputation as a maverick and be scorned by established academics; just because an academic doesn’t work in a Russell Group university it doesn’t mean he or she is not good; Mills and Boon might publish a scholarly book; reviewers may have personal axes to grind. However, behind all of this is the publisher: it is the publisher who publicises the book, sends around lists of forthcoming volumes to libraries and academics, sends out review copies. Going back one step, publishers’ editors decide which books to take on, and there can be problems here for those with radically new ideas; the existence of a flourishing, competitive industry is one way of minimising the risk of censorship.

In an open access world, the radical and the maverick are in less danger of being stifled by the establishment; but they have an even greater risk of being lost in the mass of irrelevance which comes pouring out of a search. Only their institution might help to refine the search, and even this might not assist given the lack of sophistication of most search engines: adding “published by Universities” to my search had some effect – it reduced it to a mere 9,300,000 hits. So a vital question in relation to open access is:

  • How do we sort the wheat from the chaff?

Effects on conventional publishing.

If open access publishing of monographs became the default option – as it might if open access became a requirement of the REF – the effects on the academic publishing industry could be severe to catastrophic. Much would depend on a question asked above, and explored further below: is open access to be free access? Electronic publication is not necessarily free – e-books are often cheaper than printed copies, but librarians would question whether even this is true of e-journals – but payment is made by somebody in some way. If, however, open access were to mean free or cheap access, academic publishing could become unsustainable; even today margins are small and there is often cross-subsidy within major publishers from more lucrative parts of the list. University presses are often subsided by parent institutions, usually as part of institutional marketing.

A significant decline in the number of academic publishers would (as indicated above) greatly affect the way in which published research was publicised. It would also leave independent scholars outside the university system with little or no choice of where to submit a manuscript, thus potentially reducing the amount of information and scholarship to which the world has access.

However, despite talk of “webs” and “clouds”, it must be remembered that the Internet is a very physical thing at heart: it needs servers which hold the information. Storage of digitised material is becoming ever cheaper; costs of maintenance of equipment are not. Servers sometimes go down – ask any customer of the Royal Bank of Scotland! – and the more information on a single server the more inconvenience caused when this happens. One way of minimising this problem is to scatter the information on a number of machines; another is to duplicate it on more than one server. Might publishers become involved in this? Would every university want to dedicate machines and staff time to such an operation? Who would publicise new monographs, or persuade people to review them? These questions could be summed up as:

  • Would there be a place for academic publishers in an open access system?

Location and language of publication

In the age of the Internet, research collaboration across national borders is common; however, with the important exception of the United States commitment to open access publication is not. For institutions and scholars in many countries, publication in respected journals which are not open access may be important for prestige or career purposes. Hitherto in the UK, this conundrum has usually been solved by the open access “green” version of a paper (the penultimate draft), leaving the final version to be published normally; the “green” version is acceptable to the Research Councils (and so far to the REF) as satisfying their conditions.

If it is decided that all material for submission to the REF must be available as open access, a further problem arises. Researchers in linguistics or the literature of other languages and cultures frequently publish in non-English languages in journals published in the relevant country. Open access journals in, for example, Mandarin or Sanskrit, Latin or even French, may be hard to find! Open access publication of monographs might be possible, but probably only through a UK publisher – depending on the answers to questions above; This could affect the breadth of the reception of the item, which as well as diminishing any royalties which might still be available could significantly reduce the impact in respect of a REF submission.

An important question to be considered if open access academic publishing is to become the default expectation is:

  • Are foreign language publications to be exempted, and if not what provision is to be made for them?

Access to “Open access” and its costs

As suggested above, “open access” is usually interpreted as free access, but this is not without cost. At present universities have been willing to place science articles on local servers at marginal cost; if humanities publishing and monographs are added, the costs of maintenance over the next fifty years will probably be less than marginal in research-intensive universities. Moreover, there will be a need for more sophisticated search software, akin to that in use by libraries – and as librarians will confirm, such software is not cost-free.

Moreover, the costs of indexing may be increased. If articles are not collected into journals, indexers will have to search over a hundred sites for potential material. This could be carried out by software, but again such software would have a cost; and there would be the added problem that software working by gleaning key words from titles or full text may not take account of the context. (It sometimes happens with human cataloguing – I have seen a book on Keats entitled The mirror and the lamp classified as optics!)

Alternatively, material (at least articles, although not monographs) could be collected into online journals. This could ease the problems of refereeing and therefore selection of useful material, although it would bring back the possible problems with the current system of refereeing – which have recently included the costs in terms of time if not of money. But online journals would need editors and some level of administrative staff – publishers, in other words – and there would be costs involved. Who would pay them? If it is expected to be users, we are back to the question of whether open access is to be free; and if it is paid for by institutions we are likely to find those who do not belong to such an institution disenfranchised.

There are also hidden costs in terms of the use of materials. Screens and readers are improving all the time (although that is also a cost – I don’t need equipment to read a book) but many people still find prolonged use uncomfortable. Hyperlinks can facilitate the movement from index to relevant page, but activities which require having more than one volume open at a time – comparing two editions, for example, or reading a critical work in conjunction with a text – can be awkward.

A book published 400 years ago is (generally) as easy to read as one published four days ago; computer software is upgraded frequently, and although upward compatibility is often included, there are sometimes step changes – Windows 10 has provided examples, and many word processing systems confine upward mobility to perhaps the last five versions. In my research I used a number of books and articles published 100 years previously, and probably little-used in between; how accessible will material published today be in 100 years, and what will be the costs of keeping it accessible?

There are a number of questions arising under this heading:

  • Will there be a need for new indexing and/or searching software, and if so who will pay?
  • Will in-built upward compatibility in software cope with material published a century earlier, and if not how will upgrading be managed?
  • If there are costs in respect of open access which are born collectively by institutions rather than by the end-user, will some potential end-users find themselves without access?
  • How can the problems related to potential inconvenience of use be overcome?

Ian Lovecy MA,PhD, Hon FCLIP, FCLIP, MAUA

What do you think of the issues and questions raised in this post?

Are there others?

Get in touch below!

Format, Flexibility, and Speed: Palgrave Pivot

Guest post by Jen McCall  Global Head of Humanities, Scholarly Division and Publisher, Theatre & Performance at Palgrave Macmillan. Jen discusses Palgrave Macmillan’s short-form monograph, the Pivot  what prompted the development of this publishing format; how it operates within current contexts of publishing, academia, and the REF; and how the academic book of the future must be flexible.

9781137373472.inddI have written a book for my research, but it’s not quite a monograph”, our editors would often hear when visiting academics on-campus. “And it’s too long for a journal article. I don’t suppose you’d accept something 50,000 words long, would you?”

Or alternatively, “I don’t have the time to publish a book. I’d better off getting this research out quickly, by splitting it into several journal articles, although that wouldn’t be my preferred option.”

The idea for our mid-length research format, Palgrave Pivot, came from conversations such as these. Most scholarly journal articles are between 7,000 and 8,000 words in length, while most academic print books published are between 70,000 and 110,000 words, and historically there has rarely been any flexibility in this due to the methods used, and costs involved, in the printing process.

However, the scholarly publishing landscape has been changing for a number of years, and the advent of ebooks means that we publishers are less restricted to word counts and page numbers than once might have been the case. In a digital world, we are not bound to the printing costs which once defined the size of a monograph, and the page numbers which must make up one issue of every journal. The academic book of the future need not be so restricted.

What our authors told us

Prompted by these changes in the scholarly publishing landscape, in 2011 Palgrave Macmillan undertook a programme of research designed to explore how our academic audience both uses and produces research. First we established a research panel, with 1,268 representatives from across the whole Humanities and Social Sciences community, representing a wide range of disciplines and geographies.

The first survey put to the panel explored academic perspectives on the length and speed of academic content published in HSS. It found:

  • Almost two thirds of academics (64% of the 870 who responded to the survey) felt that the length of journal articles was about right, while for monographs this figure was slightly lower at 50%.
  • A number of authors (36% journal article authors and 50% monograph authors) were not satisfied with the formats available to them, with almost all those who felt that the designated length was not right saying (in both cases) that the length was too long.
  • The results showed that 16% believe that current outputs (journals articles and monographs) are sufficient.
  • Some, who felt that a mid-form was a good idea or who were neutral, were asked how likely they would be to publish research in a format between the length of a journal and a monograph: 84% (n=705) indicated that they would be likely to publish in this length.

Speed of production times also proved to be a key issue for the academics we surveyed. During the qualitative research phase, Neil Chakraborti, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Leicester, UK, commented on the needs of ‘scholars seeking to disseminate their research while it is still fresh and current’. Likewise, Jane Fitzpatrick, Acquisitions Librarian at CUNY Graduate Center, USA, described the need “for timely research in the digital world. The Humanities and Social Sciences have been left behind in the immediacy of published research […]. As we know, ‘speed’ and ‘innovation’ are key in the current world of scholarly research”.

The Birth of Palgrave Pivot

As a result of our market research, we developed the idea of Palgrave Pivot; an e-first book format for important and new scholarly research, between 25-50,000 words, to be published within 12 weeks of acceptance of the manuscript. Print copies of the books are also available on demand, so that those who prefer to hold the physical copy in their hand can do so. Of course, the mid-format has been explored by other publishers over recent years. In November 2010, Springer announced SpringerBriefs for works between 50 and 125 pages in length. SpringerBriefs are concise summaries of cutting-edge research and practical applications across a wide spectrum of fields. 2011 saw the launch of Princeton Shorts, brief selections taken from previously-published influential Princeton University Press books and produced exclusively in e-book format. But Palgrave Pivot is the first initiative to offer a mid-length format for original research in the humanities and social sciences, rather than summaries of existing work.

How do we publish Palgrave Pivots so quickly?

In order to make this speedy production time work, we have had to revise and adapt our business workflows substantially. For example, one of the areas that usually takes time in the production process is that of choosing a cover design, which often involves some back-and-forth between design, marketing, sales, editorial and of course the author, as well as having to gain rights permission for images used.

For Palgrave Pivot, rather than having individually designed cover designs, authors are required to choose from a wide range of beautiful templated designs, custom designed by our in-house team. Authors also have to agree to answer any queries from copy-editors and typesetters very quickly; this infographic gives a clear example of how the process works from an author’s point of view.

Ensuring we publish the best in scholarship

We have been very careful, along with our commitment to publish Palgrave Pivot titles within a short timeframe, to ensure that the quality of the peer review is in no way compromised. Palgrave Macmillan prides itself on the quality of the research we publish, and we would not have been able to maintain our reputation for quality work without rigorous peer review.

We are well aware that it is not just the scholarly publishing landscape that is changing – it’s also the changing demands of a life and career in academia. For example, we ensured that we met the stringent requirements of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and have obtained written confirmation that that research outputs published with Palgrave Pivot are eligible for the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) – subject to all other criteria being met.

The first 21 Palgrave Pivot titles were published on 30 October 2012, and we immediately received lots of positive feedback from the scholarly community (as well as a rush from many scholars to publish one ‘just in time’ for the last REF!).

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Palgrave Pivot has allowed us to offer our authors the flexibility to publish their research at its natural length and in a variety of formats. Nowhere on our list is this better exemplified than in Medieval studies where our series the New Middle Ages publishes Pivots as well as full length monographs, and that, along with our postmedieval journal has opened up the field with options that any generation of scholar can embrace, giving the field of Medieval Studies more ways to communicate their research.

The speed of the production process gives our authors in the humanities opportunities to publish work which is timely or time-sensitive. This means, by way of example, that we could maximise the impact of the work of Joseph Cheah and Grace Ji-Sun Kim in their book Theological Reflections on Gangnam Style. Without the speed that this publishing format offers us, it just wouldn’t have been possible to ride the wave of the popularity of this phenomenon. Another Pivot, Digital Afterlives of Jane Austen, a fascinating look at the ever-expanding realm of Austen fandom on the Internet, was reviewed on the LSE’s Impact Blog.

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In 2013, Palgrave Macmillan announced an open access option for authors of Palgrave Pivot publications, as well as for research monographs, and we published our first open access Palgrave Pivot in 2014, Seeing Ourselves Through Technology by Jill Walker Rettberg.

Two years on, we have published over 200 Palgrave Pivots across business, the humanities and social sciences, at an average speed of 10 weeks. Our shortest title so far has been just 78 pages, while the longest has been 196.

It is fair to say that Palgrave Pivot has proved to be a popular format, both in terms of its speed and flexibility on length; and we believe that the academic book of the future will need to be similarly flexible if it to meet the demands, not just of the changing scholarly publishing landscape, but of the changing demands of a career in academia.

 

 

Saddletree: The Academic Book as Art

Principal Investigator Dr Samantha Rayner and Project Manager Rebecca Lyons visited Palgrave Macmillan at their ‘London campus’ recently to discuss exciting plans for Project collaboration. After the meeting Sam and Bex were intrigued by a piece of art in the conference space, which is housed in former stables. Jen McCall, Global Head of Humanities, Scholarly Division & Publisher, Theatre & Performance, explains Saddletree’s origins…

Saddletree

Saddletree in the new conference room – housed in former stables at Palgrave’s ‘London campus’.

Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education, and Nature Publishing Group (together, Macmillan Science and Education) came together from their offices in Oxford, Basingstoke and London, last year, to take up residence in the ‘London Campus’, making it far easier to share ideas and explore new opportunities in the rapidly changing publishing environment.

Saddletree was commissioned by our design team and was chosen to clothe the life-sized statue of a horse, which takes pride of place in conference space of our new home – a former stables.

Saddletree

The saddle acts “as a metaphor for stability and balance”

As the artist who created the work says, the saddle acts “as a metaphor for stability and balance as the company (and publishing as an industry) embark on a period of substantial change and development, whilst celebrating Macmillan’s rich heritage through the beauty of its objects.”

We wanted to celebrate our coming together as a group in the new Campus through the beauty of our printed products. The archive materials used to create the saddle were chosen carefully with the Macmillan Archivist’s help to represent the different divisions of our company and were merged together to create a single object, thus becoming more than the sum of their parts.

The piece itself was created by Su Blackwell, an artist who works predominantly within the realm of paper. Su studied the structure of a real leather saddle and the traditional methods used to create it. She then replicated those techniques using sheets of vintage paper which she printed our scanned archive materials on. The detail on the saddle is quite beautiful.

To read more about Su’s process take a look at her blog post: Su Blackwell Studio Blog: Saddle Tree: A Commission for Macmillan Science and Education.

Saddletree