Academic publishing in search of new viable models

10 December, 2012

Free the TextbookImpacted by financial crisis of the university system in general and by downturn in academic publishing in particular, academic presses are forced to look for new economic models that would not depend on the number of print book sales and at the same time, allow to preserve the academic quality, rigorous peer review, external expertise. More publishers announce every day that they are moving from monograph publishing to digital formats, some on an open-access model.

Rice University Press has been in painful experiment since 2006, abandoning it in 2010 (and actually being shut down), only to come public this December with the a new product: Rice-based publisher OpenStax has published College Physics, the first iBook that is based on one of its free open-education resources (OER) textbooks. The book can be used in the original free version or with “extras”, in premium but low-cost ($4.99) version, with added videos, quizzes, web-based tutorial programs, interactive graphics etc.

Among questions discussed are not only economic models or the medium (digital or print) but also new organizational structures. Michigan University Press announced last year that it is becoming part of the library system. This is consistent with the common belief that both library and academic publishing strive to diffuse and excel academic scholarship. Both publishers and library are evolving rapidly and are rethinking their role within university system. Some of their leaders believe that the press should move away from a book publishing and become a teaching and research center, a “teaching laboratory”, that explored new forms of scholarly communication. Such a broadening of the press role would attract outside financial support and enhance the university programs.

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