/ CIAO: A New Model for Scholarly Publishing

During the last several years, many of us in the field of scholarly publishing have been thinking about what it means to be a university press publisher. The financial constraints affecting academic libraries and publishers, along with new developments in digital technologies, have made it necessary for those of us in this field to ask some very basic questions:

  • What is our role in the broader scholarly community?
  • How can we continue to publish the kind of high-quality work that for years has been the basis of university press publishing?
  • How can we reconcile the new realities of our economic environment with the goal of publishing the best work being produced?
  • Are there developments that can help us in achieving our goals?

I believe that the fundamental role of a university press publisher should not change in this new environment.

The tools available to us, however, have changed dramatically, and we must make use of them. In using those tools responsibly, intelligently, and creatively, we can maintain what is best about our traditional role, and we can also affect positively the way in which scholarship is produced and disseminated. I believe that it is the responsibility of scholarly publishers to use all of our creativity, experience, and skills to find new ways in which we can utilize these tools so that we can continue to play a meaningful role in the process of scholarly communication.

Columbia's Approach

The model we are using to explore those issues at Columbia University Press is Columbia International Affairs Online(CIAO), an online publication that was launched in August 1997. CIAO contains a wide range of scholarly materials in international affairs, including a selection of working papers from a group of sixty academic institutes in the U.S. and abroad, conference proceedings, abstracts from the leading journals in the field, the full text of books published by Columbia, a schedule of events, and links to related online sites.

The project, funded for three years by a grant of $360,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is designed to evaluate whether it is possible to provide a cost-effective means for publishing high-quality scholarly material in a particular discipline. CIAO is produced in collaboration with the Columbia University Libraries and Academic Information System. It will be sold on annual subscription to libraries and other institutions, and it is designed to be self-supporting in three years.

The overarching idea behind the creation of CIAO is that, by establishing a venue in which international-affairs scholars can disseminate their best work at different stages and in different forms, we are making available creative, cutting-edge scholarship quickly and widely to a large community of users. In addition, by linking our material to other selected online scholarship, we provide scholars and students with a product that is of additional value because it provides editorial guidance through the vast array of unfiltered information available online. In effect, we are providing one place where scholars and their students can go to find a wide range of high-quality scholarship in their fields.

Focusing on the Publisher's Role

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the CIAO model of electronic publishing is that it is blurring the lines between traditional forms of print scholarship. On this discipline-based Web site, which includes books, journals, conference proceedings, and working papers, the significant fact is that readers can find and make use of that material quickly and easily in one place. The role of the publisher thus remains that of identifying and developing the most important work in a field. However, the job of organizing, coding, linking, updating, licensing, and maintaining that wide range of material takes on new significance. In the future, users may look to particular publishers to maintain vast amounts of scholarly material online in a specific field, rather than seeking out particular publishers for certain publication formats. Whether that is an effective model from the publisher's editorial and business perspective remains to be seen, but our user and cost studies for CIAO will provide at least some data from which to examine those questions.

"It is often more effective to create partnerships among leaders in the field than try to remain completely independent"

In addition to the editorial questions CIAO raises, one of the most interesting and challenging aspects of that project has been the opportunity to work with other parts of our university community to create and shape CIAO. It is a truly collaborative publishing project, incorporating shared responsibilities and skills of the Press, the libraries, the computing center, and the faculty. It is difficult to imagine such a model in the print publishing world, where the roles of content producers, designers, and disseminators are generally seen as less collaborative and more discrete. Staff from the Press and the libraries wrote the grant proposal for funding; the Press provided editorial-acquisitions skills, the organization and structure of the project, as well as most of the content; the computing center's technology staff provided the site design, markup of content, the server, the security system, and technical support; the Press provided marketing and sales staff and infrastructure; and the advisory board of scholars and librarians provided guidance and advice concerning content, organization, pricing structure, and overall direction for the project.

That collaborative model has raised the questions of whether, in the future, the most effective publishing projects may in fact arise from those sorts of partnerships. As the range of expertise needed to design, produce, price, and distribute electronic publications becomes increasingly broad, and the needs and requirements of users become more complex, one must ask whether university presses can work effectively without partnering formally or informally with other organizations on their campus — such as computing centers and libraries — that can contribute necessary expertise.

Raising Hard Questions

That proposition also raises many questions concerning economic models, business plans, revenue sharing, and staffing structure, none of which are easily answered. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that in many fields involving new technologies and distribution models, it is often more effective to create partnerships among leaders in the field, rather than try to remain completely independent. If the scholarly publishing field is to keep pace with other leaders in the information industry, it may be necessary to rethink some assumptions concerning business plans, organization, research and development, and staffing. For example, a press might share its development costs, as well as its revenues (or losses) with its collaborators.

In the case of CIAO, we have been able to integrate much of the traditional work that we do as publishers with the new opportunities created by online technologies. The editorial work of acquiring, shaping, and organizing large amounts of high-quality content is what scholarly publishers do. The online format in which we are providing that content allows for global accessibility, rapid dissemination and updating, interaction, and the availability of many forms of scholarship in one place. In the focus groups that we conducted in our planning phase, scholars expressed frustration with the increasing amount of information available to them and the decreasing amount of time in which to locate and organize that material. Rather than seeking an ever-expanding stream of information, scholars were requesting that we filter that flow of scholarship, and give them guidance about the quality of that information. In effect, they were asking us to do in this completely new environment what we have always done. Those comments provided the basis for the concept of CIAO.

In putting theory into practice, of course, a whole range of issues quickly emerged concerning how to transform a print-publishing model into one suitable for an online product. How does a university press staff such a publication: with existing staff who expand their jobs to encompass another type of scholarly publication? With new staff trained in the technologies that will be used? With a hybrid group of professionals from both fields who must learn new ways of working together, dividing up job responsibilities, etc.?

"We have tried to think about how technology can open up new opportunities for the way in which scholarship is created, presented and disseminated"

Differences Between Print and Online Production

At Columbia, the last option is the one that we have found to be the most challenging, but ultimately the most practical, as it allowed for an unusually innovative and yet effective approach to the job at hand. But how does an organization cope with the new realities of editors who must also be responsible for search-and-navigation functions of the site containing their content, technologists who must develop a product that can be used by scholars with an unusually wide range of technical skills and equipment, and marketing staff who must develop multiple pricing models for massive library consortia, while still selling books to individual scholars? We are as interested in understanding the differences between a print and an online-publishing model as we are in creating a specific product, and in the end, our ability to face the challenges of staffing and infrastructure will, in many ways, determine whether we can develop an effective publication program.

Rather than thinking of technological developments as a means by which we could duplicate print publication in a new form, we have tried to think about how technology can open up new opportunities for the way in which scholarship is created, presented and disseminated. In considering how CIAO might serve as a model for future online publications, the following seem to be issues to consider:

  • Is the material you are publishing needed on a timely basis?
  • Is it scholarship that is not otherwise easily accessible?
  • Is there value in publishing in one place working papers, articles, conference proceedings, books, or other forms of scholarship in a particular field? Will users welcome the opportunity to retrieve that material in an online format?
  • Are links to other material useful for scholars in this area?
  • Is it necessary or helpful for users to have access to research materials from a variety of locations?

The goals in our evaluation of this project are: to understand how scholars and libraries use online publications, and what type of publications are most useful electronically (books, journal articles, working papers, etc.); to examine costs throughout the life-cycle of the publication; to test whether scholars receive professional recognition for publication on CIAO; to analyze user responses and sales results from our subscribers; and to examine the effects on a print publishing operation of incorporating an online model. We will approach these goals through questionnaires, user interviews, and focus groups conducted during the first three years after launch of the publication.

Scholarly presses should continue to publish the best work being produced. That is our job. We need, however, to deliver that scholarship to our readers in the format they find most useful, most supportive of their own work, while maintaining a workable financial model to support its publication. That means exploring new formats when they become available. New technology, used intelligently and effectively, offers the opportunity to provide scholars and their students with the material they need in a useful form, and it offers scholarly publishers one way to maintain their role as creative and skilled disseminators of that work. It is our job to figure out what is intelligent and effective in the digital/online format. That is the purpose and goal of CIAO.

Kate Wittenberg is editor in chief of Columbia University Press. She is also chair of the Electronic Information Committee of the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers, and chair of the Press/Library Relations Committee of the Association of American University Presses. In addition to directing Columbia International Affairs Online, she is currently developing several other online-only publications.

Links from this Article

Columbia International Affairs Online (http://www.ciaonet.org).