Bloodied but still standing, the university presses that gathered here for the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses could have been a grimmer group. With sales down by double digits and budgets in tatters, the presses may feel as if they are going through the worst of times—although next year could be worse still. But scholarly publishing, and scholarly publishers, just refuse to die. . . .
Beyond the pragmatism, one heard the sometimes whimsical but ultimately serious clash of big ideas about the shape and fate of scholarly publishing—or "scholarly communication," a catchall term that expands to fit almost any kind of publishing.
"As we know, the crisis in scholarly communication is now in its fifth decade," joked Mr. Armato of the University of Minnesota Press as he moderated the plenary session in which Ms. Bonn, of Michigan, took part.
The comment got a laugh, but it also set up an assault on what Mr. Armato called the "polarizing and self-serving rhetoric" that fills the debate over open access and scholarly publishing. Yes, we have to learn to live with and through "the transformation that lies not ahead of us but all around us," he advised. Nobody wants to be the ancien régime, Mr. Armato said—look what happened when the tumbrels rolled—but he pointed out that "revolutions often begin without much consideration" of what's lost on the road to utopia. Revolutionary rhetoric has done more to harm scholarly communication than to advance it, as revolutions tend to ignore "the human, social, and cultural consequences of those steps and what is destroyed along the way," he warned.
In the conference's final plenary session, "Directions for Open Access Publishing," Michael J. Jensen, director of strategic Web communications for the National Academies Press, made an extreme version of the adapt-or-die argument for incorporating open access into scholarly publishing. Mr. Jensen entertained the audience with a description of his longtime obsession with crises that threaten life as we know it. Then he went for the Darwinian kill and linked print-based culture with global warming.
"C02 must be radically curtailed," he said. "Print is CO2-heavy." How about a business model that would rely on 50 percent digital sales, 25 percent print-on-demand books, and 25 percent institutionally funded open-access publishing? "Open access in exchange for institutional support is a business model for survival," Mr. Jensen advised, all joking aside.
"If we fail to make these changes, we will be knowing participants in the death spiral," he warned. "The print book must become the exception, not the rule, as soon as possible."
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Survival of Scholarly Presses
Jennifer Howard provides an interesting report in the 22 June issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education on the Annual Meeting of the Association of American University Presses in Philadelphia last weekend.