The scholarly monograph has been compared to the Hapsburg monarchy in that it seems to have been in decline forever! Many publishers, university administrators and academic researchers are still largely wedded to historical and Balkanized Web 1.0 monograph settings. While the ramifications of the fall of the Hapsburg empire are still being felt today in geopolitical terms, university presses can rise phoenix-like through 21st century digital environments and the reworking of scholarly communication frameworks. New e-press developments will provide greater accessibility to scholarly monographic content. Peer-reviewed, digitally constructed monographs, available within open scholarship institutional frameworks, will increasingly be the 2.0 and 3.0 models for scholarly publishing.

Back to the future

John Fell, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, was much involved with the expansion of learned printing at Oxford in the second half of the 17th century. In 1669 he hoped that a press at Oxford “by God’s blessing may not only prove usefull to us poor scholars but reflect some reputation and advantage on the Publick”. (McKitterick 2002, 201)

Bishop Fell’s ambitious program of publications for the Press led to the comment a decade later from the Master of University College, “the vending of books we never could compasse; the want of vent broke Bp. Fell’s Body, public spirit, courage, purse, and presse”. (Bodleian Library 1978, xiii)

Fast forward to the 21st century when Oxford University Press’s financial difficulties have long since been overcome. In late 2007 it announced net profits of £71 million to the end of March 2007, with total revenues of £453 million. The Bookseller (UK) reported that this turnover is greater than all the American university presses and Cambridge University Press combined!

The advantage now to Oxford University occurs in a number of senses, including OUP’s regular munificent donation of a proportion of its profits to the University and the rewards to the select body of scholars published by OUP. The element that is arguably missing in the 21st century, however, is the “advantage on the Publick”, namely the availability of OUP texts to the largest possible audience.

The high prices of academic monographs are often an insurmountable access barrier for many academics, let alone students. The strength of the UK pound in recent decades has also meant that UK publisher prices have significantly increased in Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, and South Africa. Numerous examples occur where monographs in the social sciences and humanities are priced at over $A200, yet the content is less than 150 pages. (Some American university presses, such as Yale and Harvard, are notable exceptions to this high pricing rule.)

Professor John Sutherland, of University College London, has reflected on the differing standards of presses: “There are, as every wide-awake academic knows, presses with acceptance hurdles so low that a scholarly mole could get over them. They edit minimally, publish no more than the predictable minimum library sale (200 or so) and make their money from volume. They repay their authors neither in money nor prestige. They put out a few good books; and a lot of the other kind. The best imprints (Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, for example) set the bar deterringly high. A scholarly kangaroo will have trouble clearing their hurdle”. (Sutherland 2007)

There is surely no point in institutions supporting the huge costs of academic research if there is no means of distributing and accessing monographic content effectively. The current scholarly publishing process is completely illogical from an access point of view. Many academics spend years researching and writing a scholarly book, but then find themselves either without a publishing outlet or with relatively few sales, and commensurate low exposure for their research.

The important question is, “assuming the primary research is original and important, what is the best means to disseminate that research to the wider world?” Richard Fisher, executive director, Academic and Professional Publishing, Cambridge University Press, posed this question at Sydney University last year. (Fisher 2007, 3) The answer lies in the opportunities provided for university presses through the 21st-century digital revolution and the reworking of scholarly communication frameworks to ensure a greater public accessibility to scholarship.

Cliff Lynch, Executive Director of the US Coalition for Networked Information, has argued:

Just because the existing scholarly publishing system has served the academy fairly well in the past does not mean that it has an intrinsic right to continue to exist in perpetuity. It should not, and must not, become a barrier to our aspirations and our innovations. If the day has come when the scholarly publishing system impedes scholarship, teaching, and learning it should—indeed must—be replaced by a new and more responsive system. As Don Waters of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation famously reminded us, “It’s the scholarship stupid.”

We need to remember what’s really important here, and what our ultimate goals are. (Lynch 2006, 7)

John Byron, executive director of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, has also cautioned that “a failure to disseminate research will be read as a failure of quality”. (Byron 2007, 10)

“It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures—but far and wide”. (Lewis 1998, 5) The often-quoted words of Daniel Coit Gilman, first president of Johns Hopkins University, fit appropriately into the 21st-century open access electronic press models.

A number of university presses were originally founded to make available the intellectual output of their own scholars. Thus Manchester University Press was founded in 1904 to publish academic research being carried out within the Victoria University of Manchester. Princeton University Press, when it was founded in 1895, had as its mission “the promotion of education and scholarship and to serve the University.” The University of California Press in the middle of the 20th century was publishing monographs mainly from UC faculty members.

Presses evolved into publishing manuscripts from any academic source, and also ventured into trade publications. A number of the new open access e-presses, because they are supported in whole or part from internal funds, focus on the peer-reviewed monographic output of their own scholars, available in digital format.

The “boom and bust” of university presses in the second half of the 20th century

The expansion of universities in the 1950s–70s saw both the growth of university presses and the rise of the multinational science, technology, and medicine (STM) publishing conglomerates. When the boom ceased, many university presses closed down or placed an emphasis on more popular publications that were aimed at a wider audience and thus an increased revenue stream.

“University presses thus found themselves . . . between an academic publishing rock and a financial hard place.”

Such initiatives, however, were not always successful and entailed a movement away from core academic business. University presses thus found themselves in a quandary. On the one hand, they had a foundation brief to publish original and often esoteric scholarship, but on the other, they needed to achieve financial viability. They were thus between an academic publishing rock and a financial hard place.

University presses, which have seen declining academic monograph sales, have often moved into general trade publishing areas in order to gain a wider readership and greater revenue. Some have been successful in this, but others have failed and consequently lost their academic support on campus. Examples of readable scholarship on the larger publishing stage include authors such as Simon Schama, Jared Diamond, and Richard Dawkins, but such bestselling academic authors are relatively few and far between.

Joe Esposito, in a cogent overview of the issues for university presses, argues that except in special cases “university presses should steer clear of general books and focus instead on the core scholarly market and the secondary markets of government, research, and planning departments of corporations.” (Esposito 2007)

Writing for a wider public: two Australian case studies

Two recent Australian initiatives are relevant in the context of writing for a wider public. “Promoting Scholarly Writing for the Public Sphere” was an Australian Learned Academies Special Project, funded by the Australian Research Council, which ran from early 2005 to September 2006. It was aimed at encouraging humanities scholars, particularly those at early stages of their academic careers, to acquire the skills to write accessibly for non-experts.

The March 2007 Final Report for the project states it achieved its aims inter alia by delivering a completed survey of Australian writing programs; the successful staging of a ‘travelling showcase’, which delivered public lectures, seminars, and master classes and the establishment of a comprehensive Web site (http://www.humanitieswritingproject.net.au), which features details of project aims and events, transcripts of selected lectures, and other relevant reference material.

Unfortunately, the Humanities Writing Project Web site was inaccessible on several occasions at the time of writing this article. It is incumbent on such projects to ensure that benefits from the project remain accessible as long as possible. Nonetheless, this program did reach a large sector of the relevant university communities and it would be useful to follow up in a couple of years as to the long term impact of the program.

More specifically focused, and arguably less effective in its cost-benefit ratio, is another Australian Research Council–funded project “From Thesis to Book” (http://www.rihss.usyd.edu.au/research/projects/thesis_book.shtml), which was designed to produce “outstanding, accessible works of non-fiction from manuscripts which began their lives as doctoral theses”.

The chief investigators were a leading Australian writer Drusilla Modjeska and Margaret Harris from Sydney University’s English Department, working with the publishers Pan Macmillan, whose project key executive was Nikki Christer. When Christer left Pan in April 2007, the project lost its publisher champion.

Another hurdle was the relatively slow receipt of manuscripts from the selected doctoral students. (Harris 2007) The only title so far published has been Cassi Plate’s Restless Spirits: The Life and Times of a Wandering Artist (Picador, 2005), which was based on Plate’s thesis on her grandfather, a German sailor and artist. Pan decided not to take one manuscript, while two other manuscripts are still under consideration. “The recipients of residencies have been slower to deliver their mss than we in our optimism imagined they would”. (Harris 2007) The transformation of scholarly theses into well-written commercial trade publications is not an easy path, despite the involvement of very well credentialled mentors in this project. Six theses, moreover, being reworked over three years is also not an example that many others could follow.

“The normal trajectory for an academic monograph is for limited sales and thus access, followed after a period by remaindering and then disappearance into a few secondhand bookshops.”

The normal trajectory for an academic monograph is for limited sales and thus access, followed after a period by remaindering and then disappearance into a few secondhand bookshops. The Thesis to Book Project results in traditional print books. The opportunity for long-term preservation of the textual content was apparently not considered. The Project could have worked with, for example, the University of Sydney’s eScholarship repository for long-term preservation.

Library budgets and the decline of the scholarly monograph

University libraries employ a merchant model in dealing with publishers and a community model in dealing with staff and students. This institutional dysfunctionality in the scholarly communication system is heightened by the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome of the academic researcher who adopts one set of aspirations and protocols as a creator of knowledge and a markedly different one as the reader of research publications.

Universities in the 21st-century are intrinsically competitive and are often unable or unwilling to come together to maximize scholarly communication infrastructure resources. It is too easy to argue in hindsight that university presses should not have abrogated much of the content of scholarly publishing in the 1950s and 1960s to the then embryonic multinationals, but by the time they realized the rise of the multinational publishers it was too late to occupy that space, especially in serial print publishing.

Sherman Young, multimedia lecturer at Macquarie University, laments in The Book is Dead that, in the last half of the 20th century, the business of books has changed. “The intellectual butterflies of the publishing industry devolved, not into caterpillars, but slugs, as they were absorbed borg-like by multinational corporations ... the idea of public good has been largely cast aside”. (Young 2007, 13) Young’s subject is the general book publishing industry. In the academic world, it is even more of an issue.

The rise of the large STM publishers has had dramatic effects on the budgets allocated to monograph purchases by universities, and inter alia, on learned societies and their budgets. When this author arrived at the Australian National University in 1976, the ANU Library acquisition budget was roughly 50:50 in terms of the ratio between serials/standing orders and monographs. When I left in 2002 the ratio was roughly 83:17 serials to books. This trend was also reflected in the other major Australian university libraries.

A major influence in the change in purchase resulted from the serial Big Deals, in which major publishers offer libraries their entire packages of serial publications at discounted rates. While serial Big Deals may have proven politically attractive, particularly for desktop delivery on campuses, the unfortunate collective consequences have been the reduction in library acquisition budgets for monographs and the decline in acquisitions of material from many smaller publishers and learned societies. (Hahn 2006) The Big Deals have also resulted in national homogenizations of university library acquisitions.

The British Academy was greatly concerned in 2005 about the impact of such trends and decline of the scholarly monograph:

In the 1960s and 1970s, far fewer monographs were published than now, with routine global sales of 1500 or more. But these sales levels were not sustained, and a declining sales step-curve has been evident throughout the past quarter century, with a vicious circle of declining sales driving higher prices driving declining sales. Individual publishers have responded by issuing more and more individual titles, but with lower expectations of each. Global sales can now be as low as 250 or 300 in some fields. At some point in the 1990s, the UK academy ceased to be a self-sustaining monographic community: the subjects that have survived and/or thrived in this context have been those (like economics or linguistics or classics) with international appeal. (British Academy 2005)

But like many other reports that alert the academic community to a generic problem, the ability by universities to confront the problem in an individual setting does not always eventuate unless earmarked funding or central action accompanies the reports. Academics are also often helpless at an individual level to understand global trends and coordinate action.

J. B. Thompson, of Cambridge University, has argued that while many academics “depend on the presses to publish their work ... they generally know precious little about the forces driving presses to act in ways that are sometimes at odds with the aims and priorities of academics ... the monograph can survive only if the academic community actively support it”. (Thompson 2005) Lucy Neave, from the Australian National University, aspires to “a future in which it is hoped that academics will not only be more informed about publishing but more active participants in the process”. (Neave 2007, 191)

The 2007 “Ithaka Report” University Publishing in a Digital Age reaffirms the relative isolation of many university presses from their core administrative structures: “Publishing generally receives little attention from senior leadership at universities, and the result has been a scholarly-publishing industry that many in the university community find to be increasingly out of step with the important values of the academy”. (Brown, Griffiths, and Rascoff 2007, 3)

“Now is the time for universities to reassess the role of their press and to realign them as an essential part with overall institutional scholarly communication frameworks of the university.”

Now is the time for universities to reassess the role of their press and to realign them as an essential part with overall institutional scholarly communication frameworks of the university. The Ithaka exhortations will certainly need some work. David Shulenburger, Vice President for Academic Affairs of the US National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, has noted, however, that when he asked 215 American university provosts whether their university had formal, written research publishing strategies, he found only the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had a formal strategy. (Shulenburger 2007).

The overwhelming majority of provosts who responded had no strategy! Universities clearly need strategies, both individually and collectively, to establish more effective research distribution frameworks. Neither university presses nor institutional repositories in American universities are thus currently seen by provosts within the overall context of “research publishing strategies”.

Research universities spend hundreds of millions of dollars on acquiring information in library acquisition programmes which are far from “businesslike” in terms of cost-benefit analyses. Much of the material acquired by libraries on behalf of their universities is either often not read or little read, as evidenced by various print collection use statistics in the 20th century and by digital download analyses of the 21st.

Richard Charkin, former CEO of British publisher MacMillan and president of the UK Publishers Association, was particularly revelatory when he stated in the UK Bookseller for 23 September 2005 that “most of our words aren’t read, so it’s how you package it that really determines the profit.” Universities thus need to look holistically at all scholarly communication costs on campus and identify and rework the public good benefits. (Houghton, Steele, and Sheahan 2006)

Publish or perish still prevails

In 2004 Blaise Cronin and Kathyrn La Barre surveyed major US universities and found that a scholarly monograph was still an essential prerequisite for promotion and tenure in those universities and highlighted the need for new measures of scholarly evaluation, other than simply the monograph publication itself. (Cronin and La Barre, 2004) The Modern Language Association of America has regularly outlined its concerns on the scholarly monograph crisis and the need for new metrics to demonstrate scholarly value. (Modern Language Association 2006)

“the vast majority of doctoral students in the social sciences and humanities will never see their theses published in traditional monographic form by university presses.”

Publishers continue to comment on the lemming-like rush of doctoral students to try to get their dissertations published. The blunt fact is that the vast majority of doctoral students in the social sciences and humanities will never see their theses published in traditional monographic form by university presses. Australia alone has around 35,000 students undertaking doctorates by research. The vast majority of theses in the social sciences and humanities are of no commercial interest and only a small minority can be rewritten for a general trade readership. Students would be better served by their supervisors advising them to make their theses available on the Internet through the various national digital theses programs.

In The Book is Dead, Young reflects that that his doctoral thesis was read by only four people and that his journal articles never reach a wide audience. (Young 2007) Young is clearly aware of the electronic publishing alternatives, as he maintains an extensive blog, but since his book was published by a traditional university press in print format, he presumably felt he had to follow the traditional book route, for reasons related to tenure and the reward systems within Australia.

An Australian case study

The difficulties doctoral students face in getting published were outlined in a publishing vade mecum, Arts of Publication: Scholarly Publishing in Australian and Beyond, but the process of its own publication history exemplifies traditional print monograph problems, particularly for collected works. (Neave 2007, 191)

The book was published in November 2007, yet it was based on papers given at a symposium at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra in August 2004. If the papers had come out in a reasonable time, their effectiveness would have been increased, particularly in terms of currency. A gap of three and a quarter years in publishing papers that did not involve detailed original research highlights a recurring problem in academic publishing.

One of the authors in Arts of Publication indicated that he had submitted three other chapters in 2004 and 2005 to publishers and these had still not appeared by late 2007. This is far from a rare academic case. It could be argued that once book chapters were completed for Arts of Publication, they should have been made available digitally. The print publisher, however, had the contract and the ultimate say on production.

Few librarians were involved in the National Museum symposium. They could have counselled that instead of trying to encourage the large number of doctoral students present to turn their theses into “readable commercial texts,” the Australian Digital Theses program (http://adt.caul.edu.au/), which was not promoted, would make a more viable option for most students in terms of content distribution and promotion.

Finally, Arts of Publication required two financial subsidies from the Australian National University, “otherwise it could not have been published,” according to the book’s Acknowledgements. Therein lies another debate in the digital era: Do subsidies constitute a form of vanity publishing, and would they be better used to improve access rather than just print publication? The ANU now requires publication subsidy requestors to consider ANU E Press as their first port of call on publication.

Monographic issues for faculty

When it comes to the relationship between publishing and promotion and tenure, academic perceptions remain rooted in historical models. As Richard Fisher has noted, “putting the finished copy of [your book] in the hands of your Dean or Head of Department remains a tangible moment that no click can yet replicate, and one to which tenure and promotional committees in our worlds remain highly susceptible”. (Fisher 2007, 6)

A recent survey notes the printed journal, compared to e-versions, faces a steep decline in the coming five to ten years in the institutional marketplace. (Johnson and Luther 2007) The limited distribution of print monographs may also be contributing to destroying the intellectual vitality that monographs were originally meant to foster.

One of the major issues for getting E-press monographs accepted is faculty conservatism, for example, in terms of the use of print books for review purposes and the belief that electronic content is somehow less prestigious than its print equivalent. The restructuring by Columbia University Press of its Gutenberg-e monographs to open access has highlighted some of the structural issues in regard to faculty perceptions. (Howard 2008)

The February 2008 Harvard University Declaration on its commitment to making Harvard research available through its open access repository involves books as well as articles. Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer university professor and director of the Harvard University Library, has noted that “most university presses are going through a very, very rough patch. It seems to me that the future for university presses lies in electronic communication”. (Darnton 2008)

Jean-Claude Guédon, of the University of Montreal, makes a similar point in the Canadian context where the Aids to Scholarly Publishing Programme supports over 170 print titles per year with a subsidy of $8,000 per title. “It seems to me that if a book is subsidized to this extent, the granting agency could mandate OA access to these monographs”. (Guédon 2008).

The recent establishment of an open access journal fund at the University of California, Berkeley, is another attempt to stimulate access within existing publishing guidelines. The Berkeley Research Impact Initiative (BRII) supports faculty members who want to make their journal articles free to all readers immediately upon publication. The program is funded by the discretionary budget accounts of the University Librarian and the Vice Chancellor for Research. The same approach could be extended to monographs, which in terms of dollar value per page would offer better access returns.

It will be interesting to see how much of a take-up occurs, given the recent studies of faculty behavior at the University of California which highlighted academic perceptions and the impact on publishing habits of the traditional reward systems. (Harley et al. 2007)

The early 2008 correspondence on the Liblicense and American Scientist email discussion lists have reflected a view by some correspondents that open access monographs are not part of the open access debate. Such comments typically come from those with an STM background who seem unaware of the importance of the book in the social sciences and humanities and the problems of the last two decades. The open access debate is about all disciplines and all scholarly publishing, not simply STM articles, and needs to be linked into university-wide missions of disseminating knowledge. (Thatcher 2007)

The Australian University Press scene: issues and challenges

In Australia, the number of university presses diminished, in line with global trends, in the 1980s and 1990s. Thus ANU and Sydney University Presses ceased trading and did not survive their links with Pergamon and Oxford University Press respectively. The principal traditional monograph publishers within universities are the university presses at Melbourne, New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia, each with distinctive mixes of academic and non-academic titles.

The current press situation is a mixture of traditional, hybrid, and new business models. Some presses, such as those of the Universities of New South Wales, Western Australia, and Queensland, have moved significantly into trade type publications. Several require subsidies for academic publications, while some like Melbourne University offer a combination of print trade publications and e-books. Others, like the Australian National University and Sydney University, have moved into the e-press and eScholarship arenas, with electronic access being the main provision, supplemented by print copies through print-on-demand (POD).

The following Australian press vignettes illustrate the models outlined above. Queensland University Press has been a notable success story in Australian publishing for a number of decades, particularly in the publication of fiction through authors such as Peter Carey and David Malouf. Carey’s move to Random House and the academic monograph crisis coincided with a downturn at QUP. By 2003, QUP had incurred losses of $A3.5 million and the consequent press restructure shed senior publishing staff members. Currently a significant proportion of Queensland University Press titles are in the field of children’s and young adult literature.

Melbourne University Press (MUP) also incurred a significant staff turnover following a restructure after the appointment of its new CEO, Louise Adler, in 2003. Adler was quoted in The Age newspaper: “People think that the reader is our customer, but it’s the bookseller. And when booksellers don’t want to stock academic monographs, you’ve got to think anew”. (Cassin 2007) Adler is talking here about placing trade-type titles into general bookshops. Nonetheless, a number of MUP titles, about 15 to 20 of a total of 60 to 80 released each year, are now published electronically.

Cassin writes, “Some academics believe that MUP’s increasing emphasis on books that will sell to a general readership is a betrayal of the traditional role of a university press, the publication of works of scholarly excellence”. Adler, honoured in the 2008 Australia Day Awards for her services to publishing, said that she aims to publish “books that matter and create public discussion”. (Rout 2008) While Adler has been notably successful in this context, it is not the publishing solution for the majority of research monographs produced by academics in the social sciences and humanities in Australia.

While MUP’s total revenues are up—$A1.2 million in 2002, $A4.06 million in 2005, and $A7.3 million in 2005—the university still subsidizes the press to the tune of $A1 million a year. The University of Melbourne’s Vice-Chancellor, Glyn Davis, says in the Cassin article, that there are no plans to phase out the subsidy: “We have put a cap on how much subsidy MUP receives . . . But we are asking it to publish books that speak to a wider audience, and we’re asking in particular that it publish books that will be of lasting value. And to do that we are prepared to pay a subsidy”.

The University of New South Wales Press (UNSWP) does not receive a university subsidy. UNSWP’s Phillipa McGuinness commented to the Sydney Morning Herald, “What has changed is we’re doing less academic publishing. It’s unsustainable. Australian academics do research that is too specific to work in book form in the Australian market”. (Wyndham 2007) The article further states, “Whether university presses should be supporting scholars or making profits is a question they can no longer afford to ask. McGuinness encourages academics to pitch their books at a wider readership or to write journal articles and opinion pieces”.

Robin Derricourt, managing director of UNSWP, has indicated that its growth in recent years has not come from specialist academic monographs, which now only account for a minority of UNSWP titles. The academic monographs which they publish are “mainly important manuscripts supported by external grants to match our necessary internal subsidy”. (Derricourt 2008, 19) Derricourt notes that a significant proportion of Australian academics research Australian topics, but monographs arising from that research are often unappealing to northern hemisphere publishers.

Derricourt believes “scholarly books are losing out, not only from the problems associated with publishing scholarly monographs but also from the ‘Publish or Perish’ syndrome involved with the quantitative publishing reward system that is operated through the Australian Department of Education, Science and Training”. (Derricourt 2008, 16)

He notes that from 1995 to 2005, Australian government funding of scientific research increased by 187 percent. Scholarly books published increased by only 36 percent (to a total of 675 titles), while book chapters went up by 75 percent, peer-reviewed articles by 90 percent, and refereed conference papers by 128 percent. These figures reflect Australian scholars following that quantitative publishing reward trail which allows more immediate financial rewards to universities for articles and chapters rather than for books.

Derricourt proposes another solution to the problem of press finances and the inability to publish purely academic works, namely that the publication costs of research should be funded when researchers receive Research Council or Foundation grants. He argues that “the nominal sum of, say, A$10,000 (a little more for a complex technical and illustrated title) could allow a well-written, strongly peer-reviewed manuscript to appear in a reputable imprint, priced at a level such that specialists in Australia could acquire personal copies, and distributed worldwide. . . . This is a small cost to pay to achieve impact and productivity from publicly funded research”. (Derricourt 2008, 20)

Nothing wrong with the logic here. When academics have obtained grants of up to half a million dollars to undertake research in the social sciences and humanities, it is nonsensical to then find that the monographic output of their research is unable to be made available. The amount of money that would be needed to ensure publication outputs is relatively small in proportion to the total amounts of grants awarded.

To date, the Australian Government, through the Australian Research Council, have not given any indication of providing the costs of publication within future grant funds. The new Labor Government in Australia has made a number of statements alluding to “public funding, public access”, but the accompanying funds to support the full cost of infrastructure within research grants still seem some way off.


The four major university e-presses in Australia, the Australian National University, Monash, Sydney, and University of Technology Sydney, were either created by the university librarian or report to that position. Cathrine Harboe-Ree, the librarian of Monash University, has provided an overview of the philosophies in the establishment of these e-presses. (Harboe-Ree 2007) This is not to say that librarians see themselves as publishers, nor to decry the difficulties that university presses face, but the library, in scholarly communication terms, is well placed to facilitate a wider distribution of university research.

A better model for the long term is to embed the press within the scholarly communication frameworks within a university. This arguably offers the best hope for presses in the 21st century. The recent five-year strategy document from Emory University Libraries for 2008 to 2012 states, “The digital production and management of information is central to the redefinition of university libraries. Through digitization and the development of new tools and systems for information management, libraries are poised to play a pivotal role in the production of knowledge, replace university presses as 21st-century disseminators of knowledge, and contribute to the internationalization of scholarship by building and integrating access to global resources”. (Emory University Library 2007).

At the Australian National University this author, with several key academic directors, proposed to the University Executive in 2003 to start an electronic open access publishing arm, the ANU E Press (http://epress.anu.edu.au/). The E Press received $A1.2 million over three years from the vice chancellor, after he had sought and received comments from the university’s deans and directors. In 2006, following a review by this author of all publishing on campus, the future of the ANU E Press was reaffirmed by the vice chancellor, within a university-wide approach to the publishing of ANU scholarship.

The ANU E Press is seen as an essential part of the scholarly communication infrastructure and thus not isolated within the University, as many presses currently are.The E Press has a continuing budget line of circa $A250,000 per annum, within the overall budget of the ANU’s Division of Information, which includes the library, digital infrastructures, and administrative and supercomputing. As such, the Press is a relatively small component cost within the Division’s budget, which runs into the tens of millions of dollars. The debates on press budgets and new e-press models need to be seen in the context of the very large budgets currently existing on campuses to support scholarly communication.

The aim of the E Press is to distribute ANU research effectively within global networks and is particularly focused on research publications in the social sciences, humanities, and Asian studies. The vice chancellor of ANU, at the launch of the Spanish version of a major ANU work on the Spanish in the Pacific on April 7 2006, stated that the “E Press was a result of a strategic decision to get our scholarship out to the rest of the world . . . free and online”. (Chubb 2006)

ANU colleges and their 20 editorial boards take responsibility for all processes from initially commissioning publication proposals through peer review to final copy editing. The academic areas also take responsibility for most if not all costs associated with these processes. Central E Press services include quality assurance in relation to style and editorial standards; digital system-based services supporting document preparation, publication, discovery, access and preservation; print on demand; and marketing and reporting.

The ANU E Press publishing framework is thus a distributed editorial model, supported centrally by a set of IT services. Some STM publishers argue that the use of university infrastructures constitutes a hidden subsidy to presses. At the same time the same STM publishers overlook the often larger subsidies contained in the provision of the original academic research, university infrastructure services, and subsequent free peer review and editorial board services.

ANU E Press titles are freely available in HTML, PDF, and mobile device formats and are discoverable through Google Book Search and Google Scholar. A total of 2,400 print-on-demand copies were sold from January to November 2007, but since the press monographs are downloadable, free, around the world, high print sales were not expected.

Download statistics, cited below, have been most impressive, particularly when compared to average sales of traditional print monographs, as exemplified in the British Academy Report, cited earlier. Staff are conscious of the late 2007 e-mail discussion list comments on the issues of downloads, hits, and the impact of spiders. (Dittrich 2007) Thus the preamble to the ANU E Press statistics for 2007 notes that “the ANU E Press undertakes additional filtering of these statistics in order to differentiate between human visitors and web crawlers, and to eliminate the latter from presented statistics. While we believe that the statistics provided by ANU E Press are largely accurate, a margin for error should be recognised”.

Nonetheless, even given conservative margins, the figures are impressive for complete downloads, particularly in the context of the traditional sales and thus global penetration of academic monographs. PDF and HTML downloads from January to November 2007 totalled 1.16 million. Top countries in order were Australia, United States, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Fiji, Canada, Indonesia, France, Germany, and Japan.

Table 1. the top five ANU E Press titles downloaded from January to November 2007

TitleNumber of times downloadedTop 5 countries downloading
El Lago Espanol62,480Austrailia, Spain, Mexico, Indonesia, Venezuela
Ethics and Auditing44,204Austrailia, Belgium, US, Turkey, UK
The Islamic Traditions of Cirebon23,507Austrailia, Indonesia, US, Germany, Slovenia
Indigenous people and the Pilbara mining boom20,227Austrailia, New Zealand, US, Germany, India
Information Systems Foundations: Constructing and Criticising18,473Austrailia, UK, US, Canada, France

As an aside, the fact that complete monographs are downloaded does not necessarily mean that they are read, just as books borrowed from libraries or bought in bookshops may not be read.

Sydney eScholarship

Sydney University Press (SUP), which was re-established by Sydney University in 2003 under library management, places the press within a wider perspective of e-scholarship in order to address the challenges of scholarly publication in the networked environment. SUP has a “hybrid production and philosophical approach to scholarly publishing ... expressed in terms of delivering both digital and print (on demand) content as appropriate, and a mix of open and paid delivery of publications”. (Coleman 2008)

SUP (www.sup.usyd.edu.au) operates as part of the University Library’s eScholarship program (http://escholarship.usyd.edu.au), which is a set of innovative services for the University of Sydney that integrates the management and curation of digital content with new forms of access and scholarly publication.

The new SUP takes advantage of the digital library expertise developed through the Library’s SETIS (Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service) program. SETIS provides a platform for the development and archiving of XML-based text collections. Open access e-books in PDF format of Australian literary and historical works are provided via SETIS. The print on demand service was developed taking into account existing university services, namely the SETIS digital collections, the digital print capacity of the University Printing Service (UPS), and the secure e-commerce facility of the central university IT services. SUP also provides print-on-demand and sale services for two other e-presses, Monash ePress and UTS ePress.

SUP published 21 titles in 2006 and 17 in 2007. SUP sells 156 titles, the majority being SUP titles, but they also include a small number of Monash and UTS ePress titles. In addition, there are about 360 titles available free as PDF e-books from the SETIS collections.


UTSeScholarship was founded in 2004 by Alex Byrne, the UTS University Librarian and past president of IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations). Byrne, an ardent advocate of public access to global knowledge, clearly sees the UTS press in that context. Its purpose is to provide a “stable, digital home for the scholarly output of the University’s staff, students and colleagues with whom we collaborate”. (Gardiner 2007)

UTSeScholarship has two elements: UTSePress (http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/), which publishes scholarly journals, books, and conference proceedings, and UTSiRepository, which includes preprints, articles, and other repository type material. All scholarly publications are peer reviewed with typical editorial advisory boards and peer review processes. In 2008, the library will develop an interface for UTSeScholarship, which will make information discovery easier, as well as provide clarity about the various publishing components of the site (i.e., student content, post prints, original scholarly works, creative works, Australian Digital Thesis, learning objects). The contents of both the press and the repository are harvested by Google Scholar.

UTSeScholarship itself currently has 384 titles, including three e-books and 12 journals. In 2008 the library plans to unveil a new interface that will make information discovery easier, as well as identify the various publishing components of the site (i.e., student content, postprints, original scholarly works, creative works, Australian Digital Thesis, learning objects). Even with the current interface, UTSeScholarship is widely used. In November 2007 it had 21,967 hits, 16,047 from unique visitors who averaged 4.98 hits per visit. (Gardiner 2007)

Monash University e Press

Monash University e Press (http://publications.epress.monash.edu/), established in 2003, has focused on e-serials rather than e-monographs, so its publishing work will not be analyzed in detail here. Its aims are to advance scholarly communication by reducing the costs of and barriers to scholarly publications; provide a more direct link between readers and writers of scholarly material; promote the best of Monash University’s research activities and intellectual capital; provide a sustainable electronic publishing model that facilitates the identification and pursuit of commercial opportunities; and use innovative information technology to capture, publish, retrieve, read, and present scholarly material.

The National Library of Australia

The National Library of Australia (NLA) has facilitated another e-publishing open access model, via its “Open Publish” Web space. (http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php) While this is currently being used to support journal production through the Open Journal System (OJS), the same supportive publishing approach could be used for books by modifying OJS to include necessary book functionality.

The NLA’s objective is to establish “new ways of collecting, sharing, recording, disseminating and preserving knowledge”. (Graham 2007) Online access is free of charge and content is generally free of copyright and licensing restrictions. One of the supported journals, JASAL, The Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, has a print journal run of 350 copies per annum. The journal had three digital issues in 2007 with an average of 550 downloads per article.

US press developments

California eScholarship (http://content.cdlib.org/ucpress/subjects_public.html) provided the inspiration for the Australian e-publishing initiatives at ANU and Sydney. The developments of Australian university e-presses have been noteworthy, although they have received relatively little attention in the international library and publishing professional literature compared to later e-press developments at Rice, “the first fully digital university press in the United States” (Henry 2007), Penn State, Purdue, Pittsburgh, and Michigan.

Several recent US university press initiatives derive from foundation support. While these are to be applauded, it does mean that issues such as sustainability will still need to be addressed in the long term. Thus MIT Press is able to publish six open access books with the support of the MacArthur Foundation.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is also assisting five university presses in a collaborative project to reduce infrastructure costs of scholarly publishing for copy editing, design, layout, and typesetting. The initial grant from Mellon of $1.37 million over five years is relatively small in the context of the library and information budgets on campus, let alone the profits of multinational publishers.

A critical comment on this initiative has come from Jim Reische of the University of Michigan:

The Mellon program doesn’t so much promote a new vision of scholarly publishing as shore up the old one against the forces of transformation: some of those forces being the healthy byproducts of the industry’s evolution; others the corrosive effects of shortsighted press management, an overemphasis on revenues and lack of imagination in the tenure and promotion process. The earlier suggestion that “most” UPs outsource their copyediting and design may be a bit of an overstatement, but the basic argument holds. This Mellon program doesn’t do anything to move publishing toward a new and sustainable model . . . but overall it looks like a misguided effort to temporarily sustain a status quo that has already been shown to be unsustainable. (Reische 2008)

E-press developments in Europe

In Germany, the picture of academic publishing problems is familiar: escalating price rises, decreasing library budgets for monographs, increasing academic output, and new possibilities of publishing in the digital age. (Meinecke 2007) Recently-founded German university e-presses are seen as a response to the decline of traditional means of monographic production. Often associated with academic libraries, these presses support open access publishing and offer print on demand services.

One such example is Karlsruhe University Press (KUP), which has decided to make its titles available via open access. KUP avows four main goals:

  • Speed: Electronic publishing allows information to be spread quickly and makes it directly accessible to users.
  • Quality control: Karlsruhe University Press publishes only scholarly works of high quality written by members of the University. The documents are prepared optimally for electronic publication.
  • Long term availability: Long term availability of works is guaranteed by archiving the documents in the University’s text archive.
  • Free access: Research results of the University are transferred by the University Press to the scholarly community in accordance with Open Access, to help ensure the free access to scholarly information. (Karlsruhe University Press 2008)

KUP combines the two concepts of Creative Commons and open access in its scholarly publication model.

Other European initiatives reflect this flavor, for example, in the work of the OAPEN consortium (Amsterdam UP, Firenze UP, Göttingen UP, Museum Tusculanum Press of Copenhagen, and Presses Universitaires de Lyon, http://oapen.com/), which aims “to develop a model (economic model, workflow) as well as tools for the publication of digital/printed/printed-on-demand monographs in the social and human sciences”. (Kempf 2008)

One of the OAPEN members, Amsterdam University Press, “supports open access (http://www.aup.nl/) in order to make scholarly content freely available to the academic community and the general public, and to enhance worldwide retrievability, access and use of content, and the visibility of authors. AUP is actively involved in OA initiatives from the universities of Amsterdam and Leiden, and has created print on demand services directly linked to their institutional repositories. AUP’s publications are made freely available through its own repository, either immediately or within 6 months of publication”.

The economy of openness and intellectual property

Many publishing houses demand the exclusive rights to the use of the printed and electronic versions of their authors’ publications. In the digital environment, the author’s retention of rights gains greater importance not only for the authors themselves, but also to allow educational use and global access. As part of the integration of publishing within scholarly communication frameworks, academic authors need to be educated in digital copyright issues such as the use of Creative Commons.

Trisha Davis, a librarian at Ohio State University, addressing the 2008 Midwinter conference of the American Library Association, noted that the Ohio State University repository has over 21,000 articles. However, faculty members who submit research papers to the repository are often unaware that they have given away their rights to their work to a journal publisher, and then “they are stunned that they have not retained the copyrights”. Nonetheless, “they’re vehemently adamant that they still have rights to the work”. (Foster 2008)

The Australian Government, through the then Department of Education, Science and Training, has, in this context, funded the OAK Law Project to create “a legal framework for copyright management of open access”. (Fitzgerald et al. 2006) It is ironic that when universities such as University College London and Leeds have tried to protect authors’ copyrights within their universities, they have been pilloried for alleged administrative dictatorship.

Similarly, Bernard Rentier, Rector of the University of Liège, was attacked at a meeting in January 2008 on institutional repositories for requiring that faculty members post all their papers in the university repository. “I was very unpleasantly compared to Stalin by one of the attending faculty,” he said. But the university’s intent was “to benefit all: the author and the university.” Rentier’s conclusion was to be “very sensitive to words.” (Rentier 2008)

Measuring the value of the academic monograph

"Real estate agents cite “location, location, location” as the three most important factors in selling a house. Similarly, publishers and academics might increasingly call the three most important factors for them “citation, citation, citation”"

Real estate agents cite “location, location, location” as the three most important factors in selling a house. Similarly, publishers and academics might increasingly call the three most important factors for them “citation, citation, citation”, given the profound impact in northern Europe and Australasia from research assessment exercises and university league tables in which publication metrics play a significant part.

The assessment of research excellence through books, a key issue in the humanities and social sciences, is a neglected topic. In the monograph context the assessment of citations through databases such as Thomson’s Web of Science is not a quick exercise due to the lack of automated source material. Butler and Visser have demonstrated the implications of “extending citation analysis to non-source items” like books in ISI databases, but this is one that needs a considerable investment of time, effort, and money because books are typically not available electronically for citation purposes, and so must be searched manually for references. (Butler and Visser 2006)

There are now significant download and usage statistics available from e-presses and institutional repositories that can provide meaningful data for assessment exercises. New “authority metrics”, which are statistically produced from Web 2.0 and 3.0 environments, such as downloads, will surely eventuate and these need to be built in to future research assessment models. (Jensen 2007)

Equally, the dominance of Thomson ISI metrics needs to be judged within a wider basket of metrics including Elsevier’s Scopus, Google Scholar, and Harzing’s “Publish or Perish Index” (http://www.harzing.com/pop.htm). Each academic discipline must also work out the metrics most appropriate for its needs. This is a thorny issue for many areas of the social sciences, humanities, and creative arts where metrics for assessment purposes are not readily available.

As part of the 2007 Australian Research Quality Framework, listings of journals by discipline have been constructed to provide disciplinary panels with guidance in assessment. One of the first rankings of book publishers was that compiled by the Australian Political Studies Association. (APSA 2007) The APSA list reveals that a simple grading of book publishers is open to calls of subjectivity and also inevitably reflects a northern hemisphere bias in the reputation of presses. Listings of publishers by title also fail to take into account that some university presses are strong in certain disciplines, but not across the whole spectrum. The scholarly communication flow-on effects of such lists are rarely taken into account. (Steele, Butler, and Kingsley 2006)


Governments are increasingly moving to view publicly funded research as a public good that thus should be publically accessible. Peter Shergold, who recently retired as head of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department in Australia, cited his own publishing experience at an ANU seminar in October 2007.

His monograph, Working-Class Life: The “American Standard” in Comparative Perspective, 1899–1913 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982), sold just under 2,000 copies in over 20 years. The American library market would have been a major source of purchases. Improving Implementation: Organisational Change and Project Management, an ANU E Press title, in which Shergold has a chapter, was downloaded 8,906 times in 10 months in 2007 alone. Shergold’s chapter itself was downloaded 1,283 times. Shergold reflected on the benefits of open access electronic communication for governments as well as academic content

The Internet is increasing pervading scholarly life in all its aspects. As the Google generation of future research scholars emerge, they will not be willing to remain within historical publishing frameworks and reward systems that echo back to the 20th century.

The recently completed CIBER study funded by the British Library and the UK Joint Information Systems Committee stated:

The World Wide Web will become just that: survey research is showing us already that a remarkably unified set of online attitudes, activities and behaviours is beginning to emerge across many different countries as a few powerful brands (e.g. eBay, Amazon, FaceBook) become globally dominant. These services will become more personalised, more mobile, and even more intuitive: values that librarians both respect and are, in some cases, already emulating....Outside of leisure markets, we expect print sales to diminish sharply as electronic publishing initiatives such as blogs, RSS, integrated media players, podcasting and publishing on-demand devices become established parts of the information landscape. Electronic books, driven by consumer demand, will finally become established as the primary format for educational textbooks and scholarly books. (University College London, CIBER, 2008)

Richard Fisher has compared the academic monograph to the Hapsburg monarchy in that it seems to have been in decline for ever. (Fisher 2007, 5) The current situation in publishing and university institutional settings is certainly Balkanized in terms of the scholarly monograph and the distribution of its content. Scholarly communication frameworks need to be reassessed so that the presses become an integral part of the research framework of the university.

In that context, open access e-publishing is a viable alternative when placed within institutional settings. Costs are relatively low but the rewards are high, locally, nationally, and globally. The 21st century may be one in which university press publishing goes “back to the future”, in that institutions return to take a responsibility for the effective distribution their scholars’ research. This process will result in scholarship that combines authority with public accessibility within digital frameworks.

Colin Steele is Emeritus Fellow of the Australian National University, an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and a Knight Cross of Spain. He was University Librarian 1980–2002 and Director Scholarly Information Strategies 2002–2003 at the Australian National University. He is the author/editor of seven books and over 300 articles and reviews. He is currently Convenor of the National Scholarly Communications Forum, whose 2007 Forum addressed the issue “Improving Access to Australian Publicly Funded Research—Advancing Knowledge and the Knowledge Economy” (http://www.humanities.org.au/Events/NSCF/NSCF2007/NSCF2007.htm).

Email colin.steele@anu.edu.au

Website: http://anulib.anu.edu.au/about/steele/


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