With the news last week that the University Press of New England will be shut down came the predictable takes on the plight of university press publishing today. But despite sensational headlines like the one this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education—“Scholarly Publishing’s Last Stand”—university presses, by the numbers, are actually faring rather well.
According to the Association of American Publishers, university press sales through November 2017 (the latest audited numbers) are up 5% over the previous year—solid gains. And the near future looks bright: given the state of our political affairs, the market for good, trusted works is only expanding. With new collaborations, marketing opportunities via social media, and supply chain innovations, regional publishing is more efficient than ever. And in categories like poetry, university presses are standard-bearers.
I spoke to Association of University Presses executive director Peter Berkery this week, and he stressed that despite the recent unfortunate situations regarding UPNE and the University Press of Kentucky, the reality for university press publishing is one of growth and innovation—not crisis. AUP membership, in fact, is on the rise, he pointed out. And beyond the kind of crossover titles that generate headlines in the press, AUP members are doing vital work in the service of scholarly communication—stories that don’t generate a lot of headlines, but speak directly to the role university presses play in the broader enterprise of higher education. And, Berkery adds, a new generation of young, savvy directors is also breathing new life into university press publishing.
Still, Berkery acknowledges that university presses are facing some significant challenges—most notably, he concedes, a hot political climate in which university administrators are beginning to view the financial support many presses receive with, he says diplomatically, “more scrutiny than they have in the past.”
Indeed, that theme will surely be looked at more closely at the AUP’s annual conference, set for June 17-19 in San Francisco. And it’s a point that Samuel Cohen’s thoughtful editorial (despite its sensational headline) makes in this week’s Chronicle.
“Looking at the ways public higher education is increasingly about the bottom line—with moderately successful former chief executives focused on the brand, on patents, on providing cheap research and development for private corporations, and decreasingly about the extension of the boundaries of knowledge, even and especially useless knowledge—we can see that scholarly publishing is at risk,” Cohen concludes.
It's no surprise that the headlines often focus on the negative when it comes to university press publishing, especially when there is a closure. But Cohen makes a good point: isn't it time to change the narrative around university presses? Why is it that we only seem to raise our voices in support of university presses when they are facing closure? Isn't it time to focus more on the vital work university presses are doing in the service of higher education, and our culture at large?
Florida State University Says It Will Cancel “Unsustainable” 2019 Elsevier Package
In a message to faculty, Florida State University Dean of Libraries Julia Zimmerman said that “after long deliberation” the libraries are planning to cancel FSU's “big deal” subscription to Elsevier journals—a move that was unanimously approved by the FSU faculty senate, and by the Provost. The key word here, however: "planning."
Zimmerman writes that FSU is being charged too much because of “a poorly thought out 20-year-old contract between Elsevier and the State University System” that remains in force despite eight years of failed attempts at a renegotiation.
“The exceptionally high and ever-increasing cost of the Elsevier big deal has made it unsustainable,” Zimmerman writes, adding that Florida State University currently pays “just under $2 million a year, and the cost increases by at least 4% annually.”
Of course, isn't this move just part of the long-running renegotiation? It will be interesting to see whether FSU actually follows through, or whether some confidential resolution is reached, as is so often the case.
Is the Open Access Movement All Talk and Little Action?
This week, Library Journal’s 2018 Periodical Price Survey went online, showing yet again that libraries continue to face the same financial pressures they’ve faced since the dawn of the e-journal. In other words, for an “unsustainable” system, the system seems remarkably sustained.
“At times the library world seems mired in the equivalent of the story line of the movie Groundhog Day,” the authors write, citing, the lingering impact of the Great Recession, flat or shrinking library budgets; promotion and tenure systems based upon publication; the persistence of “big deal” bundles; and average annual serials price inflation approaching 6%—well ahead of the Consumer Price Index.
As always, there is a lot to chew on in the survey. But what really caught my eye is how little impact the open access movement appears to be having on the market.
“The growth of Gold Open Access—by which authors, libraries, universities, or funding agencies pay a fee to commercial publishers for the article to be made freely available to all worldwide without additional charge—addressed access to content,” the authors note, “but compounded budget issues by adding additional costs.”
The LJ survey goes on to cite a report issued in February by the European University Association, in which more than 80% of respondents said they consider “publishing in conventional journals” a high priority. And it also cites a brief issued in February by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, titled “Responding to Unsustainable Journal Costs,” which called out the research community’s persistent focus on “publishing in prestige journals.”
Such findings reflect what we’ve been hearing in other venues. In an editorial last month in NatureIndex, for example, a group of University of California librarians stressed that “libraries, scholarly societies, and authors…must make critical choices about how we spend our money.”
The authors of the LJ survey concur. “As long as this situation continues,” they write, “the library community will remain in the Groundhog Day loop.”
Library One Liners
Buzzfeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith ponders What Comes After The Social Media Empires.
Pew Research Center reports on key demographic trends shaping the United States in 2018.
Atlas Obscura highlights three new books on libraries and the books that fill them.
There's a delightful Twitter thread on how fictional sleuth Nancy Drew prepared generations of readers for incredibly dangerous and in retrospect unlikely scenarios.
Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle bids farewell to free journalism.
The Qatar National Library recently opened in Doha and it’s breathtaking, via Deseen.
Defenders of copyright "troll" victims urge Congress to reject the CASE Act, which would create a copyright "small claims" court.
Inside Higher Ed reports that at the University of Virginia, some want the white supremacist who led the torch-lit rally on campus barred from coming back.
A city planner’s plea for better funding for libraries: Hannah Kaner on why true smart cities should invest in libraries, via CityMetric.
Amid a growing number of teacher protests around the country, New York Times reports “Public Servants Are Losing Their Foothold in the Middle Class”.
And, a bit off-topic, but it's Friday and you deserve a laugh, so, via Mashable, check out Bad Lip Reading's take on the Mark Zuckerberg hearing before congress...it might be their best one yet.