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Category Archives: Open Books

TOME at Virginia Tech: A Progress Report

In 2017 Virginia Tech joined eleven other American universities in the launch of a 5-year pilot project called TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem)—a bold new effort to change the landscape of scholarly book publishing. TOME is sponsored by the Association of American Universities (AAU)Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and Association of University Presses (AUPresses). All three of these national associations have a stake in ensuring that scholars can continue to write and publish long-form scholarship at a time when university presses find it increasingly difficult to publish monographs due to market-based concerns. The goal of TOME is to move beyond the old, print-based model of publishing and towards a new, more sustainable model—one in which university-funded grants make it possible for presses to publish deserving scholarly monographs regardless of sales potential.

The TOME pilot recently passed its halfway point, which makes it a good time for a progress report. Much of the following comes from the report I gave last October at the third annual TOME stakeholders meeting. (The full presentation can be seen on this page of the TOME website.) Here I want to present just a few of the key takeaways, after which I’ll briefly report on Virginia Tech’s experience with TOME.

As TOME enters the fourth year of the pilot, the early signs are encouraging. Over the first three years we’ve seen:

  • The number of participating universities grow from 12 to 20.
  • The number of participating publishers grow from 57 to 66.
  • Over $1m in grants paid out to participating publishers, resulting in 70 monographs published in Open Access editions with Creative Commons licenses.

Of course, the true test of TOME—whether or not it increases readership—is difficult to judge at this early stage. Scholarly monographs, unlike journal articles, typically take 3-5 years to take root in the scholarly landscape. Nevertheless, here, too, the early signs are encouraging. A preliminary analysis of the first 25 TOME monographs shows that:

  • The OA editions are being downloaded (chapters or the entire book) on average 2,566 times. That’s over six times the average sales of the print editions (412).
  • The average sales of the print editions is only about 10% less than print sales of comparable books on the publisher’s list (412 v. 445). This suggests that the OA editions are having, thus far at least, a modest impact on print sales.

Now let’s step back and see how TOME is faring at Virginia Tech.

To date, Virginia Tech has funded a total of 10 monographs by faculty in the College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences (CLAHS) and the College of Architecture & Urban Studies (CAUS). The fields covered include Anthropology, Architecture, English, History, and Political Science. The books were published by four different university presses: University of Cincinnati Press, Cornell University Press, Duke University Press, and University of Florida Press. Altogether, the amount paid out to these publishers was $153,000 (9 grants of $15,000 + 1 grant of $18,000), with each grant being divided equally among the Provost’s Office, the University Libraries, and the faculty member’s college (CLAHS or CAUS).

Alas, it is too early to have much hard data on usage and readership because only one of the 10 Virginia Tech-funded monographs, A Colonial Affair by Danna Agmon, was published in time to be included in the list of the first 25 TOME titles. Still, the data on downloads and sales for Agmon’s book (shown below) are consistent with the previous graph.

Note that downloads of the OA edition (2,001) are more than eight times the sales of the print edition (237). Additionally, the OA edition has been accessed from at least 38 countries. This is especially important for scholars such as Agmon, who work on subjects outside of North America. (A Colonial Affair examines the history of French colonial India.) Indeed, one goal of TOME is to show that sales figures alone fail to capture the true value of scholarly monographs. An OA edition can reach a larger, more global readership both inside and outside the academy. In the end, this advances Virginia Tech’s core mission to be a global land-grant university.

Virginia Tech has committed to funding 5 more monographs between now and the end of 2022. If you are a faculty member at Virginia Tech and you are writing a monograph that you’d like to be considered for TOME, please contact me at PJP33atVT.EDU.

TOME books by Virginia Tech authors:

Announcing open textbook Fundamentals of Business, third edition

Cover of Fundamentals of Business 3rd edition

Virginia Tech Publishing and the Pamplin College of Business are pleased to announce the publication of Fundamentals of Business, third edition. This peer-reviewed open textbook is free to read and download online. Print editions are also available via print-on-demand. Fundamentals of Business, third edition is the required textbook for Virginia Tech’s MGT 1104 Foundations of Business course. This introductory course is required for all graduates of Pamplin College of Business and averages 1,650-1,700 students annually. Pamplin’s choice to use an open educational resource keeps student textbook costs for this course at zero. Fundamentals of Business, third edition is released under a Creative Commons license, and may be customized and redistributed non-commercially with attribution. 

Downloaded over 1.5 million times worldwide (excluding Virginia Tech downloads), the first and second editions of this book have been adopted by over 100 institutions beyond Virginia Tech. Multiple instititutions report customizing the content to fit their needs, for example producing this Canadian edition. Over fifty institutions benefit from the 4VA-funded faculty-only testbank collaboratively developed during a Virginia Tech-hosted 2019 test bank sprint in response to user requests.

Ron Poff, Assistant Professor of Practice in Management, and his team provided updates to this third edition. The 2020 team included Poff, course instructor Lisa Fournier, editorial assistant and recent Pamplin graduate Kathleen (Katie) Manning, design specialist Kindred Grey, Assistant Director of Open Education and managing editor Anita Walz, plus copyeditors Grace Baggett and Lauren Holt, and production manager Robert Browder. Poff and colleagues built on the work of Stephen Skripak, Anastasia Cortes, Anita Walz, Richard Parsons, Gary Walton, and Corinne Guimont, all of whom contributed to the development of previous editions. 

Virginia Tech’s first and second adaptations of Fundamentals of Business were published in 2016 and 2018. These editions were adapted from an existing openly licensed textbook with significant revision and addition of new material to ensure an excellent fit for the Foundations of Business at Virginia Tech. The 2020 team researched, redesigned, and contributed new content to update the learning resource. 

CC-BY-NC-SA logo

The book, licensed CC BY NC SA 4.0 is available in accessible HTML and interactive quizzing on the Pressbooks platform, in PDF, ePub, Mobi, ODT, and XML formats. Print on demand is also available at the manufacturer’s cost in color, and black and white. The third edition includes data updates, graphic redesign over 70 figures, updated content to reflect changes in technology, law, and economics, and inclusion of company examples more familiar to today’s students. The book includes images of people that are more representative of a diverse student body. The book’s publication on the University Libraries’ Pressbooks platform and through LibreTexts remix system enables customization and localization to fit various audiences.

This project was supported in part through by the University Libraries’ Open Education Initiative Faculty Grants program, Virginia Tech Publishing, and Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.

Instructors evaluating, adopting, or customizing this book are asked to complete the following form: http://bit.ly/business-interest.

Book Review: Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts

Cover of Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication ContractsUnderstanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts, prepared by Brianna L. Schofield, Robert Kirk Walker, Katherine Bridge, Alfredo Diaz, Karen Graefin vom Hagen, Anna Kuksenkova, Henry Nikogosyan (Berkeley: Authors Alliance, 2018).

The latest and largest of the series of guides from the Authors Alliance covers publication contracts for all types of books (previous guides on open access, rights reversion, and fair use were covered on this blog).  The guide covers contracts from both trade and academic publishers so some aspects of the discussion will be more relevant for trade books rather than academic books.  (Also worth noting is that neither the book nor this blog post constitute legal advice, and in the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the Kickstarter backers for this book.)

The guide is the product of interviews with many authors, publishers, agents, and copyright experts, as well as more than fifty survey responses from authors.  Some of those responses are captured in text boxes for “success stories” and “cautionary tales”; in addition, fictional “literary lessons” are also set apart from the main text.  A book publication contract “outlines what rights you as an author are granting to your publisher and on what terms” (p.4): it is certainly not something to accept as easily as software terms of use.  Indeed, the authors insist that signing a contract without negotiating is a mistake.  A book publication contract must be in writing and signed, and it is especially important to save copies of it for future reference.

Prior to negotiation, authors should determine their goals for the published book.  Is it important to retain copyright, or to be able to re-use the content in certain ways, or to keep the price low, or to have final say on design choices like cover art?   The guide recommends that authors “devote extra attention to clauses in their contracts that affect the long-term availability of their books” (p. 14).  The guide explains what “in print” and “out of print” mean in the era of print-on-demand and digital publishing, and recommends a threshold of yearly sales to be called “in print.”  If a book does not meet that threshold, an author may be able to regain rights to the book.   At a minimum, don’t assign rights to the publisher that the publisher can’t use.

Copyright is a bundle of rights: “the exclusive right  to reproduce, distribute, make derivative works, publicly perform, and publicly display the work.” (p. 51).  The grant of rights from an author to a publisher can come in three forms: assignment (copyright transfer), an exclusive license, or a non-exclusive license, but most contracts will involve either assignment or an exclusive license.  Regardless of which form the grant of rights takes, the scope of those rights can be limited, for example, by language, geography, format, and/or duration.  Duration may particularly be worth considering, since the current term of copyright is life of the author plus 70 years.   If a publisher goes out of business, for example, it may be difficult if not impossible to recover rights for the book.  In an interesting “success story” on limiting duration of rights, an author granted exclusive rights to a publisher for five years, after which rights were non-exclusive.  This allowed the author to post an openly-licensed version online, while enabling the publisher to recoup costs during five years of book sales (though there is some evidence that the online availability of books can help print sales).  If a publisher won’t  accept a limitation on the duration of rights, an author can ensure that there is a rights reversion clause or a “license-back” in which certain specific, limited rights are returned.  It’s also possible to include a “revert-back” clause, sometimes known as “use it or lose it” clause, in which rights that are unused by the publisher in a certain period of time revert back to the author.  Another way for authors to hold on to rights is to include a sentence specifying that any rights not granted in the contract belong to the author.  Subsidiary rights, which are specific rights that the publisher can license to a third party (such as translation or movie rights), can be an important revenue generator, and are usually shared with the author.  If a publisher is unwilling to change the subsidiary rights language, an author can stipulate a right to approve these licenses, or at least be consulted.

A section of the guide covers an author’s obligations, such as those relating to the manuscript’s length, delivery date, and procedures for copyediting, proofreading, and indexing.  Contracts typically require permission to use third-party material included in the manuscript (which is also common in the copyright transfer agreements for peer-reviewed journal articles).  While this generally applies to only those materials that require permission, an author might ensure that the requirement does not cover all third-party material, which overlooks fair use of copyrighted works, as well as materials that are openly licensed or in the public domain.  For the book’s copyright, the contract should specify which party will register the copyright and when.  Although copyright is automatic under U.S. law, registration within three months of publication will protect against infringement and allow for statutory damages.

What about the money?  Academic authors shouldn’t expect much here.  Advances, however, are common in trade publishing, and are credited against income from book sales.  Royalties are usually expressed as a percentage of the publication price, net income, or net profit– it’s important to understand each calculation (there’s a chart on p. 204).  Both trade and academic book contracts may include an escalation, or an increase in the royalty percentage once a sales threshold is reached, and most contracts provide for regular accounting statements to be sent to the author, and should be insisted upon even if you don’t expect significant sales.

Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts, like the other Authors Alliance guides, is a clear, easy-to-read guide focused on an author’s control of their works, particularly the ability to make the work available in whatever form the author wishes.  The guide is a valuable resource for all authors, and is an open access book (licensed CC BY) available online in PDF.   Those readers who prefer print can order a copy ($30) from the Authors Alliance, or check it out from Newman Library.  For more information, see the Authors Alliance’s Publication Contracts resource page, which includes a link to author success stories in negotiating book contracts.  Also of possible interest is the Model Publishing Contract for Digital Publishing, a Mellon-funded project of Emory University and the University of Michigan.

(Thanks to Peter Potter, director of Virginia Tech Publishing, for reviewing a draft of this blog post.)

Is There a Place for DIY in Scholarly Publishing? Lulu Says Yes (and may not be wrong)

Art from Frankfurt Bookfair, 2010 (CC0 1.0)

Lulu has announced the launch of a new online publishing platform that it is calling Glasstree. If you’ve heard of Lulu before you probably know it as one of several heavyweight players in the self-publishing arena, alongside Amazon (Kindle Direct), Apple (iBooks Author), and iUniverse. What makes the Glasstree announcement intriguing is that Lulu is explicitly setting its sights on “academic and scholarly authors and communities.” In other words, Lulu wants to be a scholarly book publisher.

What are the chances that Lulu’s experiment will succeed? At first glance, it sure seems unlikely. As popular as self-publishing has become (DIY titles account for over 40% of all trade eBook sales), any impact it has had on the academy has thus far been modest. After all, one of the bedrock principles of scholarly publishing is gatekeeping (i.e. letting in the good; keeping out the bad), a principle that seems fundamentally at odds with the self-publishing tenets of fast, easy, and low-cost. Indeed, DIY publishing companies pride themselves on minimizing the barriers to publication—surely a sign that Lulu faces an uphill battle. And yet, a closer look at the Glasstree website suggests that Lulu has a strategy that is at least worth watching.

To its credit, Lulu doesn’t hide its intentions. Visitors to the Glasstree home page are immediately greeted with a barrage of not-so-subtle one-liners aimed squarely at appealing to scholarly authors:

PUBLISH AND PROSPER

 

Glasstree Returns Control to Academic Authors

 

Experience Scholarly Publishing in a Whole New Way

 

A Better Publication Model for Academic Authors

What author doesn’t want more control over the publishing process or, for that matter, a chance to publish and prosper? You’ve certainly got my attention. Then comes the real sales pitch:

The existing academic publishing model is broken, with traditional commercial publishers charging excessive prices for books or ridiculous book publishing charges to publish Open Access books.

The give-away here is the mention of “traditional commercial publishers,” an obvious reference to the handful of conglomerate publishers that now control a sizable share of the academic monograph market—publishers including Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, and Taylor & Francis, which together churn out thousands of monographs each year at list prices that routinely exceed $100 per volume. Indeed, as one reads on it becomes clear that Lulu is appealing not so much to scholars working on their first (i.e. tenure) book but to experienced scholars; specifically, experienced scholars who have published previously with a commercial academic press and who feel burned by the experience. The following paragraphs reel off a familiar litany of complaints that one might hear outside the book exhibit hall of pretty much any scholarly conference:

Academics or their supporting institutions are poorly paid for their content. Profit margins are strongly skewed towards the publisher, with crumbs for the author and/or their employers. Submission to publication times are far too lengthy and service and marketing support insufficient.

 

Besides the lack of editorial assistance, marketing support, and a complete absence of urgency, traditional academic publishers are now often viewed as cherishing profits over the advancement of knowledge, and accommodate their shareholders over their authors.

Some of these complaints surely could be leveled against university presses, but the real target here is obviously commercial publishers, viz. the presses that cherish profits over advancement of knowledge while accommodating the interests of shareholders over authors. Indeed, it is this resentment-stoking aspect of Glasstree’s appeal that surely has a chance of resonating with a specific subset of authors—those both inside and outside the academy who are not subject to the pressures of tenure and promotion and therefore can afford to publish their books wherever they want. While it is hard to imagine most research universities taking a Glasstree book seriously for tenure, I can certainly see established scholars, particularly productive ones who are no longer in need of a monograph for promotion, using a service like Glasstree to publish “labor of love” books or books that grow out of side projects that wouldn’t count anyway toward career advancement—or simply books that no university press will take on. In short, Glasstree could be an attractive outlet for any number of books that typically would go to commercial academic publishers more so than university presses.

Of course, some will argue that commercial academic publishers, despite their faults, still employ peer review. It may not be as rigorous or as consistent as the peer review done by university presses, but it is certainly more than what one gets from a self-publishing company. But this is where Lulu’s plans for Glasstree really get interesting. According to the Glasstree website, Lulu is also launching Glassleaf Academic Services, which offers “peer review, all forms of editing, illustration and design, translation and professional marketing services. These services are designed for the academic community and are offered at affordable prices.” Lulu does this by offering tiered service packages (1-Star, 2-Star, & 3 Star) that start “as low as $2,625” and can go up over $8,000. Books can then be published in a variety of formats—both softcover and hardcover as well as eBooks, including Open Access eBooks.

It is unclear who will be doing all of this work but it seems that Lulu actually plans to hire living and breathing people—Content Project Managers—to at least oversee some form of peer review, copyediting, design, and marketing, even if they have some way of automating the work to exploit economies of scale. Here’s what the website specifically says about peer review:

Peer Review: Strengthening Your Content
This service is designed to save you time and effort in gathering peer reviews of your work. A Glassleaf Content Project Manager will manage the entire peer review process and consolidate feedback for you. Your Content Project Manager will compose a questionnaire and share it with you for review prior to distributing it with your content. The number of reviewers will vary according to discipline and your preference.

 

After the review process is complete, your Content Project Manager will provide you with the actual peer reviews and, in a summary report, will highlight significant and consistent commentary from your peers’ comments. After the report is compiled, you will meet with your Content Project Manager to review the summary of the reviewer’s commentary.

It is also worth noting that Glassleaf plans to offer 3 types of peer review: open, single blind, and double blind. Authors will be responsible for paying reviewer fees although the Content Production Manager will “negotiate the lowest possible fees on the author’s behalf.”

Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster (Source: Cassell’s History of England, Vol. 2, 1909)

Once again, I want to reiterate my overall skepticism that this type of DIY publishing will have a serious impact, at least for now, on scholarly monograph publishing as it interlocks with the current T&P system. In this, university presses still have a unique role to play. Still, one can’t help but wonder if Lulu isn’t onto something. Might they have found a sweet spot between the two endpoints of the scholarly publishing spectrum, non-profit university presses on the one end and commercial publishers on the other? The missing piece for self-publishing companies like Lulu has always been quality control, but as the quality of commercially published books continues to fall and price tags continue to rise, the Glasstree model has some definite advantages. Even the pay-for-services aspect doesn’t seem so foreign now that various proposals are being considered for subvention-funded (i.e. pay-to-publish) OA monographs. Perhaps the emergence of companies like Glasstree will force us, at last, to get a grip on what it costs to produce scholarly books and, more importantly, find ways to actually drive down those costs.

No matter how you look at it, the once-staid world of scholarly publishing is getting messier and messier. And it’s only going to get more so. According to the Glasstree website, Lulu has its sights set on more than just books:

Glasstree, in its initial phase, will publish books—monographs, thesis, series, serials, textbooks, etc. (both soft and hardcover, with a range of paper types, binding types, etc.), and eBooks (including Open Access eBooks). Future phases will focus on article based publishing, journals, conference proceedings, data sets, etc.

We all need to brace ourselves for what lies ahead.

Book Review: Understanding Rights Reversion

Open Access

Nicole Cabrera, Jordyn Ostroff, Brianna Schofield, and the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic. Understanding Rights Reversion: When, Why & How to Regain Copyright and Make Your Book More Available (Berkeley: Authors Alliance, 2015).

Although I am familiar with copyright and licensing agreements for journal articles, I am less familiar with book publishing agreements. Rights reversion for books was a new concept to me, so the first guide published by the Authors Alliance had my attention right away (the group has since published a second guide, Understanding Open Access). This guide is intended for authors who, for whatever reason, may wish to reclaim rights to their books– rights that they transferred to their publishers when they signed a publishing agreement. It’s the result of “extensive interviews with authors, publishers, and literary agents who shared their perspectives on reverting rights, the author-publisher relationship, and keeping books available in today’s publishing environment.” The guide follows an “if-then” organization, referring readers to specific chapters depending on their situation, though I read it straight through (full disclosure: I’m an Authors Alliance supporter).

Early on, the authors define rights reversion and its availability:

“a right of reversion is a contractual provision that permits an author to regain some or all of the rights in her book from her publisher when the conditions specified in the provision are met… in practice, an author may be able to obtain a reversion of rights even if she has not met the conditions stipulated in her contract or does not have a reversion clause.” (p. 6-7)

This guide is intended for authors with publishing agreements already in place; it is not a guide to negotiating contracts (though it may inspire authors to examine the details of rights reversion clauses in new contracts).

The authors note that rights reversion becomes an issue for academic authors especially when their books fall out of print, sales drop, or their publishers stop marketing their books. In such instances, authors may wish to reclaim their rights (so that they can find another publisher to reissue the book or perhaps deposit the book in an open access online repository) but they find themselves constrained by the terms of their publishing agreements or they may not understand how how to go about reclaiming their rights. With these concerns in mind, the Authors Alliance “created this guide to help authors regain rights from their publishers or otherwise get the permission they need to make their books available in the ways they want.”

An important first step in the process is for authors to learn about different ways that they might increase their books’ availability (for example, electronic, audio, and braille versions as well as translations). Next, the guide helps authors determine if they have transferred to their publishers the rights necessary to make their books available in the ways they want. Older contracts may be ambiguous regarding e-book versions; the guide advises authors on how to negotiate the ambiguity. An additional consideration is that permissions for usage of third-party content may no longer be in effect.

Some examples of reversion clauses are provided in chapter 4, pointing out triggering conditions (such as out of print, sales below a certain threshold, or a term of years), written notice requirements, and timelines. It’s important to understand how the triggering conditions are defined, as well as how to determine whether they have been met, and the authors provide good suggestions for finding this information.

The publisher’s plans for the book should be discovered, and the guide emphasizes reasonable, professional conversations with publishers. The success stories throughout the book are particularly valuable in this respect.

Chapter 6 details how to proceed if a book contract does not include a rights reversion clause:

“Ultimately, whether a publisher decides to revert rights typically depends on the book’s age, sales, revenue, and market size, as well as the publisher’s relationship with the author and the manner in which the author presents his request.” (p. 77)

Before requesting reversion, an author should have a plan in place, review all royalty statements, and discover the publisher’s plans for the book. Being reasonable, flexible, creative, and persistent are the golden rules for negotations with a publisher. Precedents can be persuasive, so inquire with friends and colleagues who are authors. If electronic access is important, be aware that many publishers are actively digitizing their backfiles. In this respect, an author might draw a publisher’s attention to the increasing evidence that open access versions don’t harm sales, and can sometimes increase them as a result of improved discovery.

Understanding Rights Reversion is itself an open access book (licensed CC BY) available online in PDF. If you would prefer a print copy, it’s available in Newman Library, or you can order one ($20) from the Authors Alliance. For more information, see the Authors Alliance rights reversion portal, which includes rights reversion case studies that occurred after the publication of this guide. The Guide to Crafting a Reversion Letter, a companion to the guide containing sample language and templates, has just been released.

Thanks to Peter Potter, Director of Publishing Strategy at the University Libraries, for his feedback on this blog post (contact him if you have questions about book publishing- he has a wealth of experience). Thanks also to the Open Library for the cover image.