Friday, May 20, 2011

Blog LXXX (80): RIP Rice U. Press

With today's blog we return to the issue of electronic publishing.  Below is a news article, "Rice University Press Dies Despite All-Digital Approach School Pulls Plug as Budget Pressures Climb" that appeared in the August 21, 2010 issue of the The Houston Chronicle.  The author is Jeannie Kever, a reporter for the Chonicle:

Rice University is ending its attempt to change the world of academic publishing.

University officials said this week they will close Rice University Press next month, pulling the plug on an experiment aimed at making it less expensive to publish scholarly works.

But even as an all-digital operation, the press proved too expensive to sustain, former Provost Eugene Levy said in a statement released by the school.

Rice closed the press once before, in 1996. Levy, now a professor of astrophysics at Rice, provided funding for it to resume operations in 2006, when he served as the school's chief academic officer.

Every book accepted for publication was made available online for free, but none was printed until they had been ordered and paid for.

Subsidy had to end
The print-on-demand format was intended to make the project self-sustaining--there was just one full-time employee, no sales staff and no warehouse space needed to store the books. University spokesman B.J. Almond said Friday that the university subsidy was between $150,000 and $200,000 a year.

"Combined with pressures on the university budget from the broad fiscal crisis of recent years, the university concluded that it could not continue indefinite subsidy of the RUP experiment, as painful budget reductions were being absorbed across the entire university, including in the core of Rice's educational and research mission," Levy said.

Earlier this week, Rice said it had agreed to sell the student-run radio station, KTRU, to the University of Houston for $9.5 million.

Academic publishing operations have been under financial pressure for years, and a number have closed. Others have been saved only after the public - or at least the academic community - rallied to their defense.

And most are subsidized by the universities whose names they bear, said Richard Brown, director of the Georgetown University Press and president of the Association of American University Presses.The markets are, in most cases, not big enough to sustain the publishing presses," he said.

But Brown said he doesn't think the closing of the Rice University Press offers much insight into the future.

"It was a unique experiment," he said. "Universities, for the most part, are very supportive of scholarly publishing. Rice, for various reasons, decided not to continue the program."

Lacking printed products
Most academic presses have some digital operations, including making books available for electronic readers. But their revenue still comes mostly from printed books, Brown said.

"We have to strike some sort of balance," he said. "What was going on at Rice was unique and novel and new and different and interesting, but ... in terms of producing revenue, there's still a reliance on print."

Fred Moody, editor-in-chief of the Rice press, declined to comment on the decision.

Levy said books already published by Rice University Press will remain available through Connexions, an electronic publishing platform developed by Rice faculty.

Almond said no decisions have been made on what will happen to books that have been accepted by the press but not yet completed.
The reason for posting this article is simple but important questions: What if you had published a book with Rice? How long would it be available and accessible to other scholars? In 10 years will Connexions have updated;the formats in which these books are stored so that future versions of current operating systems can open them, much less new ones that have not been invented yet.  What if only 15 copies of your book had been purchased through the print-on-demand format? What kind of influence is that study going to have? Friends don't let friends do e-books.

No comments:

Post a Comment