There are no shortages of digital surveys, and the Association of American University Presses has recently released the results of a survey about the digital strategies, technologies, and concerns of members as they pertain to their publishing programs. The report found that most presses have adopted a number of digital techniques, but questions remain about what to do next.

The most popular digital tool adopted by UPs is the use of short-run digital printing/print-on-demand for producing backlist titles, with 92% of presses reporting they use one of those options. Indeed, more and more university presses are publishing backlist only by POD, and a small but growing number of presses are using that approach for frontlist titles as well. Last week, Baker & Taylor announced that three UPs—Fordham University Press, University of North Carolina Press, and Penn State University Press—had signed up to use its TextStream digital print service.

Other digital strategies widely adopted include participating in Google’s search program (92%) and Amazon’s Search Inside the Book (76%). And while 96% of respondents make their content available as PDFs, only 32% said their content is available in the AZW (Kindle) format while 30% make titles available in ePub. Presses are using a wide number of vendors/aggregators to help them sell and distribute digital content, with 84% of respondents using both NetLibrary and ebrary, and 63% using Questia (which was recently acquired by Gale).

Presses also showed a willingness to at least experiment with offering free content or access on their Web sites. Just over half of presses provide excerpts in PDF form, and 30% make excerpts searchable online. There is less willingness to offer free access to entire books, but only 19% reported offering no free material.

Despite current steps to take advantage of digital opportunities, the survey found a number of obstacles preventing presses from moving more aggressively into the digital arena. The top question was which business model to pursue. As one press noted, “Business models are problematic inasmuch as there are currently too many options, rather than too few.” With most UPs having only limited resources to devote to digital publishing, presses need to have a reasonable expectation of earning back their investments in digital products and processes. As one press noted, in a statement that could apply to independent trade houses as well, there are limitations to what smaller and mid-size houses can do: “As we are a small publishing house, there are usually no resources available to scan books, pay for two workflows, allow for digital editions, review contracts with a new digital asset aggregator, or consider the big picture in terms of digital publishing and open access.”

Another significant stumbling block in moving ahead with digital initiatives is rights, with 37% of presses reporting that rights is a cause for concern, especially in clearing permissions for images. Piracy is not seen as a big problem, with only 20% citing online piracy as a serious concern.

Association of American University Presses Digital Survey

Digital Publishing Strategies

Source: Association of American University Presses.
Backlist SRDP*/POD Programs 92%
E-books Through Aggregators 88%
Frontlist SRDP/POD Programs 69%
E-book Individual Sales 66%
*Short-Run Digital Printing

Most Popular Vendors/Aggregators

NetLibrary 84%
ebrary 84%
Questia 63%
ACLS Humanities E-Book 41%
Ingram Digital 36%

Free Content/Access on Web Site

PDF Excerpts 53%
Readable/Searchable Online Text Excerpts 30%
PDF Full Text 21%
Readable/Searchable Online Text 14%
None 19%