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University of Michigan Press: The Future of Scholarly Communication: On the Other Side of the Digital Tipping Point
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Two years ago, the University of Michigan Press (UMP) and the Scholarly Publishing Office (SPO) of Michigan's University Library embarked on a joint publishing project, digitalculturebooks, whose aim is to publish books about new media in both a printed (for-sale) version and an open-access (OA) online version.1 The intention was to publish innovative and accessible work about the social, cultural, and political impact of new media; to collect data about the ways reading habits and preferences vary across different scholarly reading communities; and, implicitly, to explore the opportunities and the obstacles involved in a close, full-partnership working relationship between a press and a technologically savvy library unit with a very different business model, orientation to clients, and digital and archival competence. I won't discuss this project, still in a very early stage of development, in any detail here, other than to mention what a pleasure it has been and how instructive it has been to observe, close up, the digital skills and the public commitment of our library colleagues. I do, however, want to share some provisional observations concerning the future of scholarly communication – observations prompted, in large part, by early experiences with this hybrid publishing model.

Interesting recently announced digital collaborations between various university presses and university libraries (at, for example, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Purdue, and California) seem premised on uniting the long experience and hard-won competences of the presses in locating, recruiting, assessing, and editing the most original and significant scholarly authors and projects (with less emphasis on the presses' skills in producing, marketing, promoting, distributing, and selling printed books) with the libraries' deeply ingrained orientation to organizing, archiving, tagging, storing, preserving, and freely disseminating scholarly – in these cases, primarily digital – materials. Though this division of publishing labour between presses and libraries on shared projects will likely persist for a while, these rigid boundaries will eventually be breached and traditional roles reconfigured, since, in matters digital, it is undeniable that 'something there is that doesn't love a wall,' whether the limits challenged are traditional publishing functions ('editor,' 'designer'), nodes in the wider production and consumption cycle ('author,' 'reader,' 'publisher'), or the book itself.

Although the AAUP as an organization continues to defend the most restrictive version of the traditional print copyright regime, and AAUP representatives frequently react with gloom to the growing number of open-access mandates and initiatives, individual university presses are demonstrating adventurousness and creativity by developing (often in collaboration with other university units, both within and outside of their own university confines) digital OA projects that bypass conservative precepts. And I believe these will be the very projects – or perhaps the precursors of the precursors of the projects – that will salvage university presses' declining stature within their parent institutions and secure them a valued position in the transformed and transforming world of digital scholarly communication.

The stick of the failing scholarly print model, coupled with the many attractions of the digital carrot, is leading inexorably to a fundamental reconfiguration of scholarly book publishing. The strident apocalyptic ideologues holding forth on both sides of the digital divide notwithstanding, even the broadest outlines of a new publishing system – never mind the specifics of the new digital pathways and functional linkages that it will generate, both within and beyond the university boundaries – are still quite dim (this is, I suspect, inevitable at the moment of a fundamental paradigm shift), not least because any movement at all is contested, as many groups with strong investments in current arrangements resist, to some degree, new digital opportunities that threaten traditional procedures and prerogatives. And, at least in the short term, some of this resistance is rational: for example, presses that are now struggling with almost impossible financial burdens in the terminal stages of the print era but remain largely tethered to the traditional pay-as-you-go university mandate are at a loss to see how or when digital revenues will be sufficient to cover the high costs of publishing in either print or digital formats, much less both. What is clear is that the imminent digital tipping point will not just transform what is published and how but also topple many...



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