University presses have a remit to assist the dissemination of the results of scholarship by producing books, journals and other forms of publication on behalf of the academic community. Except for the largest ones, which have become sizeable businesses and have ventured into more mainstream book publishing, university presses have tended to keep their focus on publishing research outputs and, in the case of monographs, often to very small niche markets.
The Web has offered new opportunities to university presses. It has been hard for all except the largest presses to compete with commercial publishers, or to fulfil the demand from the academy for the publication of monographs for economic reasons, but the advent of electronic publishing has meant that new business models can be explored and costs re-examined. In particular, print-on-demand (POD) free up small presses (and even large ones) from having to undertake a guessing game with print runs and from the holding of inventory at substantial cost. Single copies of a book are printed and bound when required.
A number of university presses are moving into Open Access and developing business models that work for this purpose. Open Access enables a university press to disseminate the results of scholarship as widely as possible so it an attractive option. Presses that publish journals adopt one or more of the range of Open Access journal business models. Those publishing books use Open Access book business models appropriate to that sector.
Here are two short case studies - one of a university press established centuries ago and one just a few years old. One printed its first book only two years after Caxton engineered the first printing press, the other has lived only through digital times.
Some (not all) other examples of university presses offering Open Access publications are:
The OAPEN Project
Seven European university presses are partnering on a project funded by the European Commission to explore Open Access publishing models for the humanities and social sciences. The project is called OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks). The goal is to develop robust and sustainable ways of publishing in these disciplines whilst maximising accessibility and although it is funded and being carried out in Europe the project aims to produce models that are applicable across the world:
"The project will find useful, exciting and beneficial ways of publishing scholarly work in Open Access, enhancing access to important peer reviewed research from across Europe. Most importantly it will find a financial model which is appropriate to scholarly humanities monographs, a publishing platform which is beneficial to all users and create a network of publishing partners across Europe and the rest of the world."
Greco, Albert N, Wharton, Robert Michael (2008) Should university presses adopt an open access [electronic publishing] business model for all of their scholarly books? ELPUB2008. Open Scholarship: Authority, Community, and Sustainability in the Age of Web 2.0 - Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Electronic Publishing held in Toronto, Canada 25-27 June 2008 / Edited by: Leslie Chan and Susanna Mornati. ISBN 978-0-7727-6315-0, 2008, pp. 149-164