U-M redefining scholarly publications in the digital age

by University of Michigan Press on March 23, 2009

U-M Press refocuses on disseminating ideas, adding authors, printing on demand

Ann Arbor, Mich — The scholarly monograph isn’t going anywhere. But exactly where and how scholarly works appear is undergoing nothing less than a revolution comparable, some say, to the invention of the printing press nearly six centuries ago.

To maintain its leadership role in scholarly publishing in the digital age, the University of Michigan will restructure its largest publishing affiliate, University of Michigan Press. With the changes, the press will shift its focus to the recruitment, production and dissemination of primarily digital monographs.

“Digital publishing helps the U-M Press to adopt a business model more consistent with the university research goal to disseminate information as widely and freely as possible,” said U-M Provost Teresa Sullivan. “In addition, the change aligns with the university’s ongoing effort to digitize its library collection, enhances U-M Press’ print-on-demand capacity, and increases the range and means of expression of published ideas and authors.

“We believe this helps the university to use leading communication technologies to greatly improve the dissemination of the U-M Press imprint and thereby cultivate discourse on the ideas inherent in scholarly works,” Sullivan said.

“Change is difficult, but there’s no denying that the realities of how people learn and access information are changing traditional notions of education and scholarship,” she said. “The move to refocus U-M Press is not motivated by profit, although all our endeavors are examined from a cost-effectiveness standpoint.”

The move also realigns U-M Press from a financially self-sustaining university unit to a department that reports to the dean of libraries as is the case with several other university presses, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University. In addition to this organization shift, the current U-M Press board will be disbanded and a new board with broader oversight and expanded responsibilities will be created by July 1.

The move also offers an opportunity for closer coordination between the press and existing U-M Library publishing services offered by its Scholarly Publishing Office. A closer alliance of these two efforts will offer the university and its scholars a rich, functional and efficient publishing environment.

The ongoing challenge is to utilize all the emerging technology without compromising the integrity of published scholarship, said Phil Pochoda, director of U-M Press.

“Freeing the press, in large part, from the constraints imposed by the print-based business model will permit us to more fully explore and exploit ever-expanding digital resources and opportunities,” he said. “Scholarly texts will continue to be subjected to rigorous peer review and will still be available in printed versions, primarily on demand.

“This new incarnation of the press will not only allow it to share in the renowned digital resources of the University of Michigan as a whole, but to link it with a library and its director, who have already achieved much deserved renown as digital visionaries,” Pochoda said.

With a more efficient publishing process, U-M Press will likely broaden its current offerings and increase the number of authors. At the same time, all contracts will be honored with current authors.

“While almost every university press is currently installing digital processes and products, these unprecedented new arrangements at the University of Michigan should allow U-M Press to accelerate the universal publishing migration to the digital future, and provide helpful information to all presses about the opportunities and pitfalls lying in that direction,” Pochoda said.

Among the new line of books could be specialized publications based on papers presented at conferences. “The technology allows us to be even more topical and nimble and disseminate works that until now were generally not considered by many beyond those attending a conference,” Pochoda said.

Among the most significant changes from printing on paper to making scholarly works available in digitized formats will be an emphasis on interactive design, which will include much enhanced digital options, including hot links, graphics, 3D animation and video. “The multimedia options for authors to communicate the subtleties of their work will be greatly enhanced,” Pochoda said. Print on demand—the ability to turn electronic works into bound volumes quickly and in small batches—will be used extensively by the revamped Press.

Long-term plans also call for the U-M Press’ backlist to be digitized and made freely available throughout the world.

U-M has been a leader in the use of print on demand technology. In addition to selling reprints of thousands of volumes from its collection through distributors such as Amazon, last fall, U-M Libraries installed a state-of-the-art book-printing machine at the Shapiro Library on Central Campus. The library offers printing and bound reprints of out-of-copyright books from its digitized collections as well as thousands of books from the Open Content Alliance and other sources.

“This is an exciting time for book publishing and distribution,” said Paul N. Courant, dean of libraries at U-M. “Digital technologies reduce the importance of the physical locations of books and libraries, enabling us to provide readers and researchers with information wherever they are, and whenever they need it.”

Read more about this in an article from Inside Higher Ed here

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