The End of the Printed Scholarly Tome?

Interesting item from Inside Higher Education … here’s the incipit:

The University of Michigan Press is announcing today that it will shift its scholarly publishing from being primarily a traditional print operation to one that is primarily digital.

Within two years, press officials expect well over 50 of the 60-plus monographs that the press publishes each year — currently in book form — to be released only in digital editions. Readers will still be able to use print-on-demand systems to produce versions that can be held in their hands, but the press will consider the digital monograph the norm. Many university presses are experimenting with digital publishing, but the Michigan announcement may be the most dramatic to date by a major university press.

The shift by Michigan comes at a time that university presses are struggling. With libraries’ budgets constrained, many presses have for years been struggling to sell significant numbers of monographs — which many junior professors need to publish to earn tenure — and those difficulties have only been exacerbated by the economic downturn. The University of Missouri Press and the State University of New York Press both have announced layoffs in recent months, while Utah State University Press is facing the possibility of a complete elimination of university support.

Michigan officials say that their move reflects a belief that it’s time to stop trying to make the old economics of scholarly publishing work. “I have been increasingly convinced that the business model based on printed monograph was not merely failing but broken,” said Phil Pochoda, director of the Michigan press. “Why try to fight your way through this? Why try to remain in territory you know is doomed? Scholarly presses will be primarily digital in a decade. Why not seize the opportunity to do it now?”

… I’m actually rather surprised that a pile of major journals haven’t done this already …

One thought on “The End of the Printed Scholarly Tome?

  1. The University of Michigan’s announcement obviously is a general, broad-brush statement about our additional new activities at the University of Michigan Press. Anticipated in the next few days are more specific statements relevant to the diverse disciplines in which we publish. Since I oversee the classical studies list, I can provide a preview here.
    Rest assured that publications in classical studies and archaeology continue to be an extremely important part of UMP’s publishing program, and we expect to be publishing works in those formats that are preferred by end-users, including but not limited to print. Authors should think of this as an opportunity for book plus, not book minus: the new digital initiative gives an opportunity e.g. for more illustrations, site plans, elevations, etc., and more color material – all categories that have long bedeviled publishers because of their production costs.
    We are looking forward to expanding the scope of our publication program, notably in ancient studies. In fact, we have recently begun significant new initiatives in print-based work for the classroom. I look forward to discussing all these exciting developments in person at the 2010 APA.

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