Monday, November 27, 2006

Is E-publishing in Australian Universities Sustainable?

Greetings from the National Library of Australia in Canberra, where Vic Elliott, Director, Scholarly Information Services and University Librarian at The Australian National University talked on Electronic publishing and some recent developments in Australian universities.

He used as examples Sydney University Press, Monash University ePress , UTS ePress and ANU ePress. These have a range of approaches from pay-per-view to open access, on demand printing, e-books, e-journals, and conference e-proceedings.

What stuck me was how small the publishing output of these presses were. As an example the ANU has about 55,000 downloads from its e-press per month and has produced 2,300 printed books for sale so far this year. That might sound like a lot, until you realise that the downloads were free and would be a tiny fraction of information downloaded from the ANU web site (even my own web site has about 50,000 page views a month).

The ANU is selling books for around $40 each, so will bring in about $120,000 a year. After paying the cost of printing and distributing the books, this would be hardly enough to pay for one employee and not enough to run a viable book publishing operation.

The ePress web sites shown from the different universities looked very similar and I noticed that two were promoting each others products. This raises the question as to if they would be better off forming one virtual publisher to jointly produce and sell their publications.

The universities seem to have been concentrating on humanities publishing and on the hardest type of publications (books). This might be because science and the easy stuff (conference proceedings) are already catered for. But the ACS, for example, has now published about 60 volumes of conference proceedings on-line, with about 1,200 papers. I suspect there would be demand from other areas of science, if the universities were to offer their publishing services.

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