The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0888-045X.htmBL NOT SO FAST!24,3 Digital books and the salvation of academic publishing162 Roger L. Cross Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, USAReceived 8 July 2011 Abstract Purpose – The paper seeks to propose that librarians act to ensure the continued existence of small, specialized, and non-proﬁt publishers as avenues of intellectual and academic discourse in an era of growing publishing monopolies. Design/methodology/approach – The paper reviews the proﬁtability of commercial publishers and their plans for expansion in the digital book market, and contrasts this with the continued ﬁnancial hardships of public-welfare academic publishers. Findings – The problems for non-proﬁt academic publishers will not be solved by simply “going digital”. Practical implications – Librarians need to exclude small academic publishers from further burdening through collective collection development. Originality/value – The paper reviews developments in digital book publication from the perspective of a 1997 conference on the “crisis” in academic publishing with current business practices and expansions by large publishing houses. Keywords Publishing, Academic, Commercial, Digital, Books, Monographs, Digital libraries Paper type Conceptual paper In 1997 a conference entitled “The Specialized Scholarly Monograph in Crisis: Or How Can I Get Tenure If You Won’t Publish My Book?” was jointly sponsored by three large American academic societies and associations, including the Association of Research Libraries. The papers presented and published in 1999 from this conference bear revisiting since the dilemma described then has grown clearer in the years since. Several contributors seemed almost prescient in hindsight, though one can argue this is because the “crisis” is not so much a sudden onset as a chronic condition (Thatcher, 1999). Among the many views presented, one keynote presentation stands out: Stanley Chodorow’s “The Pace of Scholarship, the Scholarly Career, and the Monograph”. In this provocative piece, Chodorow writes of the specialized academic monograph: “Its evolutionary track is at an end. It is heading for extinction” (Chodorow, 1999). After enumerating the factors that went into its demise, he writes: “If we are going to revive the monograph, we need to ﬁnd a way to reduce its cost, so that individual scholars and libraries can acquire it. Today, it is obvious that only the electronic medium can doThe Bottom Line: Managing Library this. We will save the monograph if we provide a way to publish it on-line” (Chodorow,Finances 1999).Vol. 24 No. 3, 2011pp. 162-166 14 years after this conference we are in the midst of massive book digitizationq Emerald Group Publishing Limited projects. The hopes for e-books and readers have been realized. Amazon and its Kindle0888-045XDOI 10.1108/08880451111185991 has made great strides in not only selling the hardware to read books, but the books
themselves. The Kindle must be viewed as a true success-story. The question is, where Digital booksare the academic publishers? Has the great digitization wave made it any easier forEnglish professors to publish their books and meet tenure requirements? If not, whynot? What signiﬁcance does this have for academic publishing and academic libraries? I contend that digitization never was nor will it ever be the solution to the problemswe in the academic community face. This is not to disregard the effects of digitizationnor downplay its signiﬁcance. Rather it is to assert that no amount of digitization will 163ever address the systemic issues that lie at the heart of academic library’s difﬁculties.Digitization is merely a means of data delivery, and as such does not addressfoundational defects within the academic system. The true salvation throughdigitization will not be found in libraries, but in commercial publisher’s bottom line. This past year, according to Publisher’s Weekly, John Wiley and Sons faced anumber of hardships. Their bookstore chain, Border’s, went bankrupt; the foreignexchange rate was unfavorable; and this was a tough economic year for everyone. Inspite of all this, Wiley recorded a “3 percent increase in revenue, to $1.74 billion, withnet income rising 20 percent, to $171.9 million.” The new Wiley CEO explained: “Theshift to digital continues to enhance all of our businesses, resulting in new revenuemodels, new opportunities in emerging markets, and margin and working capitalimprovements . . . ” (Milliot, 2011). Wiley has every reason to be optimistic about thefuture of its digital business, in view of massive percentage growth in these areas. In itsmain publishing group “Scientiﬁc/Technical/Medical/Scholarly” e-book sales “rose74 percent in a year and now accounts for 16 percent of division book sales.” In thesmaller “Higher Education” group “e-book sales rose 122 per cent . . . ” (Milliot, 2011). A recent column in The Economist ran under the headline: “Of Goats andHeadaches; One of the best media businesses is also one of the most resented”. Thecolumn concludes that “Academics are heroic complainers and not always welldisposed to proﬁt-maximising businesses” (The Economist, 2011b). But the columnalso explained the basis for such complaints. “Academic journals generally get theirarticles for nothing and may pay little to editors and peer reviewers. They sell to thevery universities that provide that cheap labour”. The irony of this arrangement isexempliﬁed by Elsevier, which “cruised through the recession. Last year it made £724million . . . an operating-proﬁt margin of 36 percent” (The Economist, 2011a). We need to expect that the commercial publishers that have cornered the academicjournal market plan to act in a similar way with book publication. The businesspractice that provided such proﬁts during the recession will be applied to the academicbook market. To repeat the words of Wiley’s CEO: “the shift to digital continues toenhance all our businesses . . . ”. We can expect that the conclusion of the “margin andworking capital improvements” will result in an academic book publishing marketnone too different from the current academic journal situation. Can libraries do anything to stem this tide? If they can, should they? The library canand should take steps to ensure the continued existence of smaller academic publishersand the avenues they provide for small, specialized academic book publishing. Suchactions require thinking outside the walls of the institutional library by considering thebroader publishing market and market forces. The alternative is the expansion of whatGlenn McGuigan describes as “an oligopoly . . . in this specialized market whereproduction is concentrated in the hands of a few large companies” (McGuigan, 2004p. 15).
BL In a 2003 Library Trends article, “The Economic Behavior of Academic Research24,3 Libraries: Toward a Theory”, Lewis G. Liu distinguished three main sectors of the US economy: governmental, for-proﬁt, and nonproﬁt, or public-welfare (Liu, 2003, p. 279). With all the discussion about adopting “business models”, many seem to forget that the purpose of the university is as non-proﬁt, public-welfare institution. The purpose of “for-proﬁts” is clear: proﬁt. When they cease to make a proﬁt they no longer fulﬁll their164 purpose and fail. Therefore we should expect them to operate with proﬁtable revenue returns as a guiding and sole purpose. Academic institutions, apart from the “for-proﬁt” universities that have recently arisen, have an entirely different mission. The collection development and acquisition librarian inhabits a world where these two distinctly different missions and goals constantly conﬂict. Too often we fail to consider the economic impact of our ﬁnancial decisions. We are too often reactive and adaptive. The latter is a positive trait, but the former increasingly limits the latter. Our oft-vetted solutions too frequently involve either ﬁnding ways to maintain the status quo, or adopting a more aggressive business model outlook. Economically, both are doomed to failure, since the library controls neither capital nor production. We are consumers, and non-proﬁt consumers at that. In response to this economic crisis, some libraries have introduced shortsighted solutions such as collaborative collection development. The rational behind such a plan is that because it is not necessary or even possible for every library to collect comprehensively, a group or consortium with equal lending rights is formed to reduce purchasing overlaps of books and monographs. On paper this might seem a sound principle and there has been some success in consortial negotiations with large journal publishers to contain and control costs, but as a rational economic response for monographs it will do more harm than good unless reﬁned and highly targeted. Large commercial publishers already have a demonstrated aversion to interlibrary loan (e.g. Simon & Schuster). They will hardly approve of further activities that cut into their market shares. Once a book has become digital, all the digital management rights and restrictions will be applied. Who then will bear the onus of collaborative collection development except for the small publishers? This problem was already addressed in the 1997 conference on scholarly publishing. In “How Much Does It Cost to Publish A Monograph and Why?” Marlie Wasserman of Rutgers University Press, broke down monograph publishing costs and demonstrated that of all the expenses, the paper used to print is not the major expense. In fact, Wasserman writes, “most of our costs . . . will remain the same whether we publish ten books or ten thousand”. What can be guaranteed, however, is that recovering the total printing cost becomes more difﬁcult the fewer the number of books sold. “Lower print runs mean higher prices, which also mean that fewer individuals can buy books, which further lowers the print run, and so on down that vicious spiral” (Wasserman, 1999). In 1997 this had already become a crisis for publishers faced with declining library sales. Publishing was already “a precarious business when a publisher could print 1,500 copies, knowing that libraries would buy half and individuals would buy the remaining half. Now we see libraries buying 200 copies instead of 700” (Wasserman, 1999). The move to further reduce publishing sales through collaborative publishing will only hasten the small publisher’s demise, leaving only commercial publishers to ﬁll the gap. Joanna Hitchcock, University of Texas Press, reinforced this conclusion. “[L]ibraries, which form the main market for
monographs, have had to scale back their purchases to pay for electronic equipment Digital booksand high-priced scientiﬁc journals; whereas we could once count on selling about 800copies to libraries worldwide, we are now lucky if we can sell 200” (Hitchcock, 1999). The clear conclusion presented by Sanford G. Thatcher at the conference, and thetheme of this and the previous “Not so Fast” articles is the need for “a great deal moreattention to the interdependencies of our academic world and an effort to think aboutwhat we do as a complex system where each part has an effect on every other” 165(Thatcher, 1999). Actions we take such as reducing our monograph purchases outrightor through collective collection development have repercussions outside the narrowwalls of any particular institution. There is an entire for-proﬁt publishing systemalready in place with massive capital resources whose goal is market expansion and“new opportunities in emerging markets”. It is the actions and reactions of academiclibraries that will determine the relationship between publishers and the health ofacademic departments and higher learning. Our guiding principle must be that weexist in a world of two economic cultures, one culture based on public welfare, the otheron proﬁts that can stretch the limits of all reasonability (Liu, 2011). In our era ofconsumer consciousness, the academic library must become an active rather than apassive consumer. The academic library must act as a fulcrum for the good of scholarsrather than stockholders. The mission and goals of the for-proﬁt publishers and publicwelfare institutions will never overlap. Therefore we must act accordingly.ReferencesChodorow, S. (1999), “The pace of scholarship, the scholarly career, and the monograph: the once and future monograph”, in Case, M. (Ed.), The Specialized Scholarly Monograph in Crisis, or, How Can I Get Tenure if You Won’t Publish My Book? Proceedings of a Conference Sponsored by American Council of Learned Societies, Association of American University Presses, and Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, September 11-12, 1997, Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, available at: www.arl.org/resources/ pubs/specscholmono/Chodorow.shtml (accessed 30 June 2011).Hitchcock, J. (1999), “Reaching specialized audiences: the publisher’s conundrum”, in Case, M. (Ed.), The Specialized Scholarly Monograph in Crisis, or, How Can I Get Tenure if You Won’t Publish My Book? Proceedings of a Conference Sponsored by American Council of Learned Societies, Association of American University Presses, and Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, September 11-12, 1997, Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, available at: www.arl.org/resources/pubs/specscholmono/ Hitchcock.shtml (accessed 30 June 2011).Liu, L. (2003), “The economic behavior of academic research libraries: toward a theory”, Library Trends, Vol. 51 No. 3, pp. 277-92.Liu, L. (2011), “Economics of scholarly publishing: exploring the causes of subscription price variations of scholarly journals in business subject-speciﬁc areas”, Library Quarterly, Vol. 81 No. 2, pp. 211-32.McGuigan, G. (2004), “Publishing perils in academe: the serials crisis and the economics of the academic journal publishing industry”, Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 13-26.Milliot, J. (2011), “Wiley posts gains in sales and earnings in ﬁscal 2011”, Publisher’s Weekly, June 16, available at: www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/ﬁnancial- reporting/article/47637-wiley-posts-gains-in-sales-and-earnings-in-ﬁscal-2011.html
BL Thatcher, S. (1999), “Thinking systematically about the crisis in scholarly communication”, in Case, M. (Ed.), The Specialized Scholarly Monograph in Crisis, or, How Can I Get Tenure24,3 if You Won’t Publish My Book? Proceedings of a Conference Sponsored by American Council of Learned Societies, Association of American University Presses, and Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, September 11-12, 1997, Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, available at: www.arl.org/resources/pubs/specscholmono/ thatcher.shtml (accessed 30 June 2011).166 The Economist (2011a), “Borders and bankruptcy: goodbye to bricks and mortar”, The Economist, July 4, available at: www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2011/07/borders-and- bankruptcy The Economist (2011b), “Of goats and headaches: one of the best media businesses is also one of the most resented”, The Economist, May 26, available at: www.economist.com/node/ 18744177?story_id¼18744177 Wasserman, M. (1999), “How much does it cost to publish a monograph and why?”, in Case, M. (Ed.), The Specialized Scholarly Monograph in Crisis, or, How Can I Get Tenure if You Won’t Publish My Book? Proceedings of a Conference Sponsored by American Council of Learned Societies, Association of American University Presses, and Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, September 11-12, 1997, Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, available at: www.arl.org/resources/pubs/specscholmono/ wasserman.shtml (accessed 30 June 2011). Corresponding author Roger L. Cross can be contacted at: email@example.com To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints