"Supporting mission-driven publishing amid unprecedented challenges"

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A Q&A session with Peter PotterVice President, Publishing Services at De Gruyter and Executive Director of eBound

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications…

One way or the other, I’ve been a part of scholarly communication and publishing for over 30 years. After studying ancient and medieval history in college (BA, Virginia Tech) and graduate school (MA, University of Virginia), I started my publishing career at Wesleyan University Press, where I had the good fortune to learn about book publishing from one of the great editors of her time, Jeannette Hopkins.

I held senior editorial positions at Penn State University Press and Cornell University Press. At Cornell, I collaborated with library colleagues on one of the first fully OA scholarly book series, Signale. In 2016 I returned to my alma mater, where I started a digital-first, open-access publishing program based in the library.

All of this has led me to engage ever more deeply with the problem of how to build a sustainable model for OA monograph publishing, which included serving as the lead for TOME (Toward an Open Access Monograph Ecosystem), a five-year pilot project of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and the Association of University Presses (AU Presses).

You've recently become Executive Director of eBound. Please tell us a little about the organisation and its aims...

eBound is a not-for-profit foundation launched by De Gruyter Inc. in 2022 to tangibly support mission-driven scholarly publishing at a time of unprecedented challenges. Funded in part by revenues generated from our University Press Library program, eBound offers grants to small and independent publishers to support the open dissemination and global usage of monographs and other content. Examples include making a book or series of books open access or digitising a corpus of print content and then releasing it open access.

We also envision eBound funding original studies that help the industry develop new solutions to the most pressing issues facing scholarly publishing today. Also, eBound is guided by an Advisory Board of leading figures from the academic library and university press communities.

How has the project progressed so far, since its launch last year?

So far eBound has given out grants totaling $150,000 to a number of recipients including Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute, SUPRR (Supporting Ukrainian Publishing Resilience and Recovery), and Duke University Press. We’ve also provided seed money to support the creation of a university press at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which will focus especially on knowledge exchange in STEM from researchers in the global south.

How does the ethos of eBound fit in to the wider world scholarly communications?

As I see it, eBound represents the creative thinking we need in scholarly publishing today—especially in HSS (humanities and social sciences) publishing, which has many specific challenges that differ from those of STEM publishing. Of course, a single venture like eBound can only do so much, but it is an example of the sort of creative collaboration between mission-driven commercial and nonprofit publishing that I believe will help us find workable solutions to eminently solvable problems.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the industry at the moment?

Sustainability. Anyone who reads The Scholarly Kitchen or other industry publications knows the challenges facing the scholarly communication system as we try to find sustainable business models in an increasingly open access world. The truth is that OA is here to stay, but I’m also convinced that we will have a hybrid ecosystem for years to come.

I’m old enough to remember the early 1990s when many predicted print's demise and the eBook's inevitable triumph. Well, as usually happens with prognostications, the future was more complicated than anyone envisioned. While eBooks have finally arrived, they continue to share the stage with print. I suspect the same will be true with open access – especially outside of STEM. Sustainability will require a balance between OA and paid content.

Looking forward 10 years, what developments would you like to see in scholarly communications?

I would like to see a more balanced ecosystem in which library budgets aren’t weighed down unduly by journal agreements that turn out to be less than “transformative.” I’d also love to see a more equitable system for publishing scholarly books – equitable for authors regardless of where they teach and equitable for readers regardless of where they study or live. From my work with the TOME initiative, I’m convinced this is possible, but it will take collective will on the part of the entire scholarly community.

Lastly, do you have any fascinating facts, hobbies or pastimes you’d like to tell us about?

I wouldn’t call it fascinating, but I’ll say that I am, and always will be, an inveterate collector of books, especially used books. To this day, I can’t walk by a used bookstore without stopping in for a brief visit (“Honest, I’ll only be 10 minutes…”) and then staying for an hour or more without ever leaving the main floor.

To me, there’s still nothing better than curling up on the couch with a good book to keep me company, and even though my years of studying medieval history are behind me, I can think of no more comforting image than Durer’s etching of St Jerome in his study with a dog (and lion) at his feet.

Interview by Tim Gillett