October 31, 2020

University Presses: “Opening Monographs in an Age of COVID-19”

From a Guest Blog Post by Charles Watkinson (Associate University Librarian for Publishing and Director of University of Michigan Press) via Digital Science:

Many publishers have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by relaxing access restrictions, and various library communities have developed resources for maximizing this temporary free access. University presses have been particularly vigorous in responding to support the rapid move to remote learning and research. More than 80 members of the Association of University Presses have opened up a wide variety of their books (as well as journals) since early March.

John Sherer, director of University of North Carolina Press (which has removed paywalls from its collections with aggregators),…reflects on the pragmatic opportunity this offers: “One of the perhaps unintended consequences I’m hoping for in this crisis is that our books will actually be used a great deal, validating the idea that the type of publishing we do is worthy of support, whether it is through cost-recovery (selling stuff) or more creative models (like ‘subscribe to open’).”

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Tony Sanfilippo, director of The Ohio State University Press (which opened up all its monographs, textbooks, and journals early) graphically describes his decision process:  “What I had to weigh was the lost revenue versus the continued access that scholars and students needed through this extraordinary crisis. How I could help hundreds of students, graduate students, and scholars. Considering the current collapse of book sales, in retrospect, the lost revenue becomes less relevant because there’s little reason to believe those books, in particular, would have earned much revenue currently anyway. And at this point in the annual textbook cycle more books are being returned than being purchased.”

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From a quantitative perspective, Google Analytics unique pageviews of the University of Michigan Press Ebook Collection have increased over 650% since the collection was made free-to-read on March 20, COUNTER 5 unique title requests are more than double what they were for the equivalent period in 2019, and over 95% of authors in the collection have indicated that they are supportive.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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