Breaking down monograph borders

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Sian Harris looks at the dawn of a new era in the story of university presses - the cross-press platform

There was a time when publishers were completely separate from each other. But, as the possibilities of the internet have grown, the boundaries between publishers are being broken down.

This trend is illustrated in recent developments from university presses. The past few months have seen a plethora of announcements of platforms offering the e-books from a range of university presses.

The model of university presses bringing their content together is not a new one. Although some university presses approach the sizes of major commercial publishers, most are much smaller, with a handful of journals and a small monograph list. As digital access became more common, many small presses have struggled to compete with the technical capabilities of larger publishers.

Against this backdrop, initiatives such as Project MUSE and JSTOR grew up. These platforms bring together journal content from many university presses, along with the search capabilities and functionality that users increasingly expect.

Fast forward a few years and e-books have replaced e-journals as the pressing concern for smaller publishers. At particular risk of being sidelined is that staple of the university press, the scholarly monograph.

Of course, there are some very large university presses that have had monograph platforms for many years. Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) from Oxford University Press (OUP), for example, was launched in 2003 and is now available in 60 per cent of research libraries, according to the publisher. Cambridge University Press also has its own book platform, Cambridge Books Online, which it says has been very popular with academic libraries since its launch last year.

These presses have used their existing platforms as the models for new cross-university press monograph platforms, both of which were launched in October. And 2012 will see the launch of further initiatives when Project MUSE (in January) and JSTOR (in June) extend their existing journal services to books.

‘The unprecedented speed of change in the electronic publishing environment presents both challenges and significant opportunities for publishers,’ noted Timothy Wright, chief executive of Edinburgh University Press, which has already announced its participation next year in three of these initiatives: Cambridge University Press’s University Publishing Online, Oxford University Press’s University Press Scholarship Online and Books at JSTOR.

The benefits for other presses of these ‘super platforms’, according to their creators, are alternative revenue streams, greater visibility and impact, as well as important attributes such as discoverability and preservation.

‘OSO has been well received by libraries for many years and we had the idea that there is content relevant to our users beyond our content. We have taken the functionality of OSO such as XML and tagging to other university presses,’ said Scott Beebe, online publishing manager at OUP.

OUP launched its platform with research monographs from Fordham University Press; the American University in Cairo; the University Press of Kentucky; University Press of Florida; and Hong Kong University Press. Edinburgh University Press and Policy Press will be among the additional presses that will become available in the platform’s first update next March.

Cambridge University Press’s platform, which launched within a few weeks of OUP’s, has similarly attracted support from other presses. ‘University Publishing Online provides aggregated content from Foundation Books of India, the Mathematical Association of America, and Liverpool University Press and Cambridge University Press in the UK. Access to content from Edinburgh University Press and Nottingham University Press will be available from early 2012,’ said Hannah Perrett, the company’s strategic development director of digital partnerships. ‘The new platform means that customers will be able to access important academic works and research from various publishers, in one place.’

Hannah Perrett

Books at JSTOR has also been busy building partnerships with publishers and expects to have content from almost 30 presses when it launches in June. This, it anticipates, will equate to more than 20,000 e-books. All books will be preserved in Portico, says the organisation.

Before that, the University Press Content Consortium (UPCC), which emerged from a collaborative e-book initiative from the Johns Hopkins University Press and the University Press eBook Consortium, will be launched by Project MUSE. The UPCC Book Collections promise over 14,000 titles from 66 university press and scholarly publishers.

‘End users want an integrated experience – MUSE is already a “go to” source for many – and library customers have been asking for some time that MUSE content expand to books,’ explained Melanie Schaffner, director of sales and marketing for the organisation in a recent presentation about the project.

Search and discovery

One of the key benefits promised to researchers of such platforms is the increased ease they should have in discovering content.

'MUSE’s new integrated search engine will default to searching all book and journal content currently available on our platform. Search results clearly indicate which full-text content is accessible to users via their library. Users will be able to view only book results or only journal results, and to limit the results to only content to which they have full-text access,’ says Project MUSE. In addition, MUSE will make metadata files available for its digital books to abstracting, indexing, and discovery services.

‘Users no longer necessarily go to the library catalogue. We’re paving the way for them to have multiple routes to content,’ commented Beebe of OUP. ‘Keywords and abstracts are free on the open web so users can go in through Google. They can search across all the platform’s content and all the presses are given equal weight.’

Differentiation and integration

Preserving the individual natures of the presses is also important. ‘We have dedicated partner press home pages. It’s great to put everything together but also important that each has their own identity,’ said Beebe.

Andrew Brown, director of academic publishing at Cambridge University Press, commenting at the launch of the new Cambridge platform, agreed: ‘A key concept of University Publishing Online is to preserve the individual identity of each of its publishing partners, as every academic press makes a unique contribution to the world of scholarship through its own particular process of selecting, editing and presenting material.’

Alongside efforts to differentiate between the presses on each platform, integration goes beyond searching across the monographs from different presses. The ability to search across not just books but also electronic journals and other content is an important feature that some projects are emphasising.


‘The search facility also encompasses Cambridge Journals Online (Cambridge’s journals platform), providing users with access to hundreds of the latest academic, research-rich publications,’ noted Hannah Perrett of Cambridge University Press.

Speaking about Books at JSTOR, Laura Brown, JSTOR managing director, explained: ‘Delivering deeply linked, vital scholarly research to libraries, scholars, and students worldwide is our number one goal. We are laying the foundation for a collaboration that will offer a transformative integration of book and journal literature that can enable new models for scholarly communication in the future.’

Formats and mobile plans

For OUP, one of the key features being discussed is the use of XML. ‘One of the main benefits of our platform is that it is XML based. That’s given us immediate advantage in terms of keywords and discoverability and we’ve been working with partner presses to get their content to XML,’ commented Beebe of OUP. ‘Converting to XML for university presses is a significant undertaking but we’ve already done it for our own content so we are familiar with the challenges.’

‘XML makes it easier for libraries to put content into their catalogue,’ he continued. ‘And if you have XML you can deliver it as HTML, PDF of whatever. We are really content type neutral, which is especially important when talking about accessing the platform from mobile devices.’

Project MUSE is also talking about mobile plans. ‘MUSE books will be accessible on any mobile device with a web browser and the capability to open PDF files, such as the iPhone or iPad. We are currently in the process of developing a new interface for mobile devices that will improve a user’s experience when searching and retrieving MUSE content on mobile devices, and expect this interface to be in place by the time MUSE/UPCC book collections are available,’ says the organisation.

The business

With so many resources being brought together on several platforms, potential partner presses and customers will be eager to know how the content can be purchased. ‘Each press has a contract with us. Each is different but they all get percentages of the sales,’ said Beebe of OUP. ‘Customers can buy content from individual presses or subject collections.’

The models are similar for the other platforms too, with a range of collections of frontlist and archival content available.

The number of university presses that have already signed up to one or several of these initiatives reveals a strong level of interest in bringing this content together. And they are not mutually exclusive of each other or the presses’ existing sales channels, both directly and sometimes through aggregators.

‘From the beginning we’ve said it will be on exclusive. Our argument is that you wouldn’t put all your books in one bookstore,’ said Beebe of OUP.

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