Scholarly book publishing

Added by Michael Jubb on 24 March 2010 10:00

John and Laura Cox have now added to their series of reports (commissioned and published by ALPSP) on the state of journal publishing the first in which will surely be a new series of reports on scholarly book publishing practice. 

It is based on responses from 171 publishers ? from the very small to the very large ? to what was a complex survey; many publishers clearly had a difficult job in answering all the questions.  But the results provide a fascinating glimpse into the current state of play, especially relating to e-books.

Two-thirds of the responding publishers are now publishing e-books, and there has been a dramatic increase since 2004 in the simultaneous publication of e- and print versions of books.  Yet still e-books constitute only 9.4% o the revenues of the publishers who responded to this question.

As the report points out, the e-books market is still immature, and much experimentation is under way, notably in terms of business models.  But among the most fascinating features of the study are the variations in policy, practice and experience between large and small, and also between commercial and non-profit publishers.  Thus, small publishers are less likely than larger ones to impose restrictions on library subscribers in terms of concurrent use or of printing out.  And non-profit publishers are less likely than their commercial counterparts to allow users to create from e-book content learning objects that can be used over and over (although there is apparently very little difference between non-profit and commercial publishers when it comes to allowing authors to create and re-use learning objects. On the other hand, large and/or commercial publishers are more likely than their smaller or non-commercial counterparts to provide libraries with MARC records, and flexibility as to the make-up of bundles and the possibility of cancellations.

In the light of all the debates (battles?) over open access it is also fascinating to learn that 16% of non-profit publishers (but no commercial ones) are making e-books available free of charge, and that around 60% of small-to-medium publishers (but only 16% of large publishers) allow authors to deposit material in online repositories.

Perhaps the most disappointing set of results relates to long-term preservation.  Only 30% of respondents said they had made formal arrangements for the preservation of their e-books.  A further 27% had plans to do so, but 43% had made no plans at all.

As the report emphasises, policy and practice are likely to change as publishers gain more confidence and experience. And we shall need further studies to map the nature and pace of those changes.

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