University Press Week: Q&A on the Scholarly Publishing Collective

We’re celebrating University Press Week by participating in a blog tour! Today, we’re joining several presses in describing how we #KeepUP by innovating and collaborating. After reading our post, visit the Temple University Press blog to learn about North Broad Press, check out the University of North Georgia Press’s post about their collaboration with Affordable Learning Georgia, and read the University of Cincinnati Press’s post on when a book is more than the printed word. Syracuse University Press writes about audiobooks today, Texas Tech University Press spotlights collaborations with organizations dedicated to publishing early-career writers, and the University of Notre Dame Press highlights its new grant-funded projects. Oregon State University Press describes local collaborations addressing climate change, Leuven University Press posts about the KU Leuven Fund for Open Access, Princeton University Press discusses its Supporting Diverse Voices Grants, and Athabasca University Press presents a collaboration with the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. Finally, Clemson University Press launches a new imprint with a local library consortium, Bucknell University Press discusses partnerships between small and large university presses, the University of Toronto Press covers the relationship between editors and marketers, and Columbia University Press presents a Q&A about changes in book publishing and design. We hope you’ll take some time to check out a few of these great projects!

In 2021, Duke University Press partnered with Longleaf Services to provide journal fulfillment services to Cornell University Press, Texas Tech University Press, and UNC Press. In January 2022, Duke University Press will debut an expanded set of services with the full launch of the Scholarly Publishing Collective (“the Collective”). The Collective will provide journal services including subscription management, fulfillment, hosting, and institutional marketing and sales and will welcome four new partners: Michigan State University Press, Penn State University Press, SBL Press, and the University of Illinois Press. For University Press Week, we spoke with Allison Belan, Director for Strategic Innovation and Services at Duke University Press, about what the Collective is, what it hopes to do, and what it means for the future of university press publishing.

What is the Scholarly Publishing Collective?

The Scholarly Publishing Collective is an initiative from Duke University Press, begun in response to needs we were hearing from fellow university press journal publishers (“UPs”). UPs face a dearth of options for infrastructure, sales, and hosting. The Scholarly Publishing Collective affords these publishers, especially those who don’t have the resources that we have built over the last fifteen years, a vibrant and sustainable option. 

Essentially, the Collective offers the nonprofit scholarly publishing community—largely UPs or society publishers—some core services: subscription and fulfillment management for print and/or electronic subscriptions; direct collection sales to the institutional and consortium market; and digital content hosting and access fulfillment.

What is Duke University Press’s role in the Collective?

Duke University Press has developed infrastructure for our own publishing program that we can share with our fellow UP journal publishers and society publishers, to support them at a time when sustaining their journals program is critical to sustaining their overall mission. Our technology toolkit lets us scale our hosting infrastructure to support 150 additional journals on top of our sixty and more in the future. More than fifteen years of investment and experience and skill-building have gone into being able to do this, and we want to leverage our experience for our Collective partners. 

Part of the theme for this year’s University Press Week, “Keep UP,” is a celebration of how UP publishing has changed over the past decade. Do you think something like the Collective would have been possible ten years ago?

Another way to think about the question might be “Was it needed ten years ago?” And the answer is probably “No.” There were a greater number of providers in these different service spaces then. In addition, there were ways other than direct subscriptions for UP journal programs to basically generate the revenue they needed and make the scholarship available in the formats that librarians wanted, such as by licensing the journal content to aggregators and earning royalties on it. 

In the last ten years, though, both the services marketplace and the institutional marketplace have changed significantly. There are many fewer options available to nonprofit journal publishers to offer and fulfill institutional subscriptions to electronic journals, and revenues from aggregation royalties have leveled off or are not as easy to access for new journals. Several UPs eliminated their subscription sales and content platform management capabilities between 2010 and 2015, turning to JSTOR’s hosting and direct subscription services and the Project MUSE aggregation, as well as others, to generate revenue. When JSTOR announced the sunset of its Journal Hosting Program at the end of 2021, it left a lot of nonprofit publishers without institutional order management and digital hosting capabilities. In addition, consolidation means we’re down to just a handful of commercial platform service providers and a handful of journal subscription and fulfillment management services.

But the piece of the puzzle that’s really been missing in recent years is marketing and sales to international institutions and to consortia. These markets have become so much more critical in the last decade as sales to North American institutions have slowed. And when you move into the international market, you’re often trying to get the attention of consortia who can only engage if the publisher brings a certain bulk to the table. They cannot manage deals with a multitude of smaller publishers. It’s more important than ever to reach these markets to grow and sustain the overall mission, and UPs and societies don’t necessarily have the in-house marketing and sales expertise necessary to navigate this really specific context.

The other part of the University Press Week theme focuses on how UPs produce “forward-thinking work,” making them “a force to keep up with.” How does the Collective contribute to that?

I see “Keep UP” as an imperative, one that then requires “forward-thinking work.” The Collective is happening now because several UP journal publishers saw the need to keep up at the same time that they were losing the capacity to do so, as the services market consolidated and the consortium market changed. That drove the group to have conversations that weren’t possible in the past. I remember times—2007, 2010, 2014—when folks in the UP journal world tried to explore collaborations, saying “We have a shared set of interests. Could we combine our resources? Could we cooperate more?” Those conversations typically faltered at “But we’re competitors, and we’re doing okay on our own. Maybe we don’t need to.” 

Clearly, we’ve reached a point where we need to collaborate. That’s especially true given that so many services out there are geared toward marketing and presenting STEM content. The Collective is a recognition that university presses know humanities and social science journals the best and understand the market for them the best. 

Do you see the Scholarly Publishing Collective as a way for university presses to demonstrate to their journal editors and societies that, yes, UPs are the right place to be?

Absolutely. Very few UPs on their own can offer what the commercial publishers can in terms of raw resources and income. But through the Collective, the partners expand their ability to disseminate, promote, and increase the impact of scholarship.  

The Collective’s online platform provider is Silverchair. In addition to hosting Duke University Press’s e-book and digital journal collections, Silverchair is home to publications from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Wolters Kluwer. The Collective publishers can say to their editors and members, “You are getting the best digital publishing platform technology there is, while also benefiting from the responsive and individualized care that a university press provides.” 

Through the Collective, the publishers can also offer journals sales representation to the global library market, including large consortia that wouldn’t otherwise be able to engage with a single publisher. The Duke University Press sales team has long-standing relationships in that market. Our team is known and respected and appreciated by consortia representatives and sales agents, and we can tap into that to bring attention to the publishers’ collections and journals.

Do you see increased collaboration along these lines as the future of UP publishing?

I do. It’s my hope that we, the scholarly journals community, will continue to find ways to leverage our knowledge, expertise, and skill to enrich the entire community. Journal publishing is a complex business and it’s challenging to do it well. We see the Collective as a space in which current and future partners can all get a closer look at what each is doing particularly well and then share that knowledge and these strategies and tactics, as well as cultivate new collaborations. The UP community is noted for its generosity; as our publishers gain insights that could benefit the whole, we can share them through all the channels that AUPresses makes available to us, like UP Commons, webinars, and annual meeting sessions.

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