. . .Within two years, press officials expect well over 50 of the 60-plus monographs that the press publishes each year -- currently in book form -- to be released only in digital editions. Readers will still be able to use print-on-demand systems to produce versions that can be held in their hands, but the press will consider the digital monograph the norm. Many university presses are experimenting with digital publishing, but the Michigan announcement may be the most dramatic to date by a major university press. . . .
Michigan officials say that their move reflects a belief that it's time to stop trying to make the old economics of scholarly publishing work. "I have been increasingly convinced that the business model based on printed monograph was not merely failing but broken," said Phil Pochoda, director of the Michigan press. "Why try to fight your way through this? Why try to remain in territory you know is doomed? Scholarly presses will be primarily digital in a decade. Why not seize the opportunity to do it now?" . . . .
Because digital publishing is so much less expensive -- with savings both in printing and distribution -- the press expects to be able to publish more books, and to distribute them electronically to a much broader audience. Michigan officials said that they don't plan to cut the budget of the press -- but to devote resources to peer review and other costs of publishing that won't change with the new model. Significantly, they said, the press would no longer have to reject books deemed worthy from a scholarly perspective, but viewed as unable to sell. . . .
Teresa A. Sullivan, Michigan's provost, said she saw that shift in approach as particularly significant. "What we hope is that if a scholar has a wonderful but quirky idea, that book could still be published electronically by us if you don't have to worry about: Do you have to publish enough copies to break even?" Broadly, she said that she would like to move to the idea that a university press should be judged by its contribution to scholarship, not "profit or loss," which has become too central as the economics of print publishing have deteriorated. . . .