On paying for book publication
As for Mellon’s approach, Donald J. Waters, of the foundation’s scholarly-communications program, described it in an email as “a set of ideas to stimulate discussions with a broad range of constituents—presses, scholars, university leaders, libraries, and others.” In late May the foundation sent out a request for proposals to the AAUP’s member presses, soliciting ideas for partnerships that would make it easier to publish scholarship digitally. Mr. Waters’s presentation at the AAUP meeting explored several options, including the possibility that Mellon could provide seed money to universities to pay for the digital publication of some faculty members’ work and to make it openly accessible online.
Gregory M. Britton, editorial director of the Johns Hopkins University Press, moderated the AAUP session. Afterward, he shared some thoughts via email.
“It’s interesting that these ideas come from outside the university-press community, but that proponents of each have been quick to recognize that university-press participation is essential for its success,” Mr. Britton said. “I am pleased publishers have been invited into the conversation.”
But it’s not just publishers who need to be persuaded. “These plans will not work if scholars see these works as lesser than books published under a market-focused model,” Mr. Britton said.
Scholarly publishers will also want “good data on the usage of these books,” he said. “Having them openly available in a central location will ensure that we can measure their ongoing usage.”
Alan G. Thomas, editorial director for the humanities and social sciences at the University of Chicago Press, attended the AAUP session. “Mellon has made clear that this is not an attempt to overturn our model but to supplement it,” he said in an interview afterward. “I see the initiative as a worthwhile experiment.”
Mr. Thomas suggested that university-press editors were intrigued by the ideas being circulated but also have concerns: For instance, how many institutions would really benefit from Mellon seed money, and would it be a diverse enough group? With either the Mellon or the AAU/ARL approach, would university administrators instead of press editors decide which books got singled out for support?
“Many of the university-press editors believe it would be better for the presses to make the selection,” Mr. Thomas said, because the presses have a better sense of which fields would benefit most from open-access publication.