It’s Apps Away

The first app marketing announcement.

One of the problems in the e-book market is the proprietary nature of many readers. To get the full features of some offerings, customers must choose their platforms—I-Pad, Kindle, Nook, etc. While PDFs can be read across many platforms, the media richness of the documents does not always meet customer demand. For example, the new I-Author tool allows user to incorporate video, audio, and other multi-media options, but only I-Pad users can get the full benefit of those titles. In its infancy, some companies are now offering services to convert book content into apps that run on multiple platforms. Using this method a publisher can provide the greatest distribution for their products and do much to eliminate the need to develop for each proprietary system.

Looking ahead along the online course development path, apps will become quite common, one would guess. There could be the Psychology 101 app, an app that could provide links to lectures, readings, and other rich materials to improve learning. One thing that is apparent in this information stream is that some courses will become commodities – low price will determine enrollment as long as a range of universities accept the credits toward a student’s graduation. The State of Ohio might have, for example, an Introduction to Sociology app that is available to all students at Ohio public institutions.

One benefit of creating apps for introductory courses is that, if handled well, universities can enhance the preparedness of their graduates by concentrating on higher level instruction. Students could take app-based courses without worrying about the circadian rhythms of semester-based classes. Further, app-based instruction could fit within the business culture allowing companies the option to certify their employees in certain areas as technologies disrupt operations and call for new practices. Instructional apps could be developed and deployed for specific needs.

As students and individuals consolidate their lives onto their chosen communication devices, apps might be the key to gaining market share.  In this environment, as with all products, uniqueness and high-quality brands will win out. Universities will need to maximize their best programs and turn them into available apps.


Georgia State and Copyright

The Lord of Copyright Arrives

The right to make fair use of copyrighted material is key component to extending the knowledge base of individuals and developing advancements that ultimately lead to a better life. Theft is still theft, though. While much is made of the recent ruling, not much is made of the cautionary note in the ruling which indicates that in deciding fair use the combination of the four factors and if the factors were a bit different in this case, the outcome could have weighed in favor of the plaintiffs. In fact, the court came quite close to giving a percentage of text (@ 20%) that might be “close to the loss of fair use protection.” If you steal the tires off of a car (20% of the vehicle), there would be no question about punishment. Obviously copyrighted ideas are different, but…

Many people have indicated that authors don’t really care about monetary remuneration but in a capitalist system the drive to create is not always a moral imperative. Academics get paid by being awarded tenure which provides financial stability well beyond the royalties of a particular book. The naïve view that publishers simply package already compelling, well-written, and cogent material paints a simplistic picture of the process.

Libraries and faculty are given large amounts of leeway to aid their teaching missions. Publishers are aware of this. Movements to create open-access content are growing. Digital environments can lead to mass copying and distribution no matter what level of policing is available. The improper use of copyrighted material is not a new phenomenon, but the digital age has exacerbated the impact. Universities and faculty would certainly be averse to having their online classes pirated and sold through third parties.

The problem of unintended consequences will rise if this ruling stands without some remediation. Content providers will circumvent copyright and create closed licensing systems. Few people will benefit from this practice. Good scholarship has its costs. Use of that scholarship comes with a fee.

Innovative University Presses

The Greeks Tweet!

Recently Peter Dougherty the director of Princeton University Press published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education with the title, “The Global University Press.” The thrust of Dougherty’s piece was that the growth in higher education around the world coupled with English becoming the standard language of universities provides financial opportunities for university presses that are strapped for income. Dougherty’s analysis has some validity, but his opinion that the scholarly monograph will be the cornerstone for future university press growth doesn’t coincide with trends at universities.

Only one of the several technologies that Dougherty identifies, digital collections of non-serial, university press material, will become a monetary stream for publishers. The other technologies Dougherty mentions are areas presses should have already invested in — creating international online distribution channels;  creating print on demand global distribution channels; using online publicity mechanism to market titles; and using social media to inform their international sales representatives. These technologies have been around for years and the failure to capitalize on them, or doing so now, is like buying a Corvair while the world is driving Priuses.

Dougherty piece tacitly identifies a point that clearly demarcates university presses from each other. Many university presses have already used these technologies to survive. The internet and its communication mechanisms have given a larger footprint to small and mid-sized university presses, allowing them to compete on content and not sheer size. Smaller university presses also had more compact organizational structures, a nice way of saying very small staffs, precluding large decision-making apparatuses. Small presses could move much faster. In many ways, the smaller presses can be likened to business startups with cutting-edge ideas, but not enough capital to bring them to market.

A few other points that Dougherty makes don’t seem to align with global realities. The hegemony that many university presses have will give way to the growth of presses in developing countries as those countries become better educated and their literacy rates increase. Those countries will create structures to publish and distribute their own researchers’ works. Revenue opportunities might not be as abundant as Dougherty contends.

Second, the behavior of graduate students and faculty will impact university presses ability to sell entire monographs – the bread and butter of scholarly communication, especially in the humanities. Graduate students and faculty will discover content by searching the internet or university OPACs. After discovery, researchers will piece together articles and excerpts for their particular “book.” Undoubtedly, some complete monographs will be purchased online or in a paper version and these books will likely be printed, one off, at a campus outlet or library.

Second, presses need to create open access materials, especially textbooks. Many faculty members have authored textbooks under Creative Commons’ licenses. Many adopters have the view that open-access textbooks are simply not as good as commercially-published alternatives. University presses can use their current vetting and reviewing systems to begin to alter this perception. Further, presses can create ancillary materials, and negotiate with online testing services like WebAssign to fulfill students’ expectations. Presses’ marketing and distribution systems would allow for wider awareness of open-access texts.

The speed of information creation and distribution requires organizational change in the areas of procedures and focus. Smaller university presses work more like entrepreneurs. Larger university presses can gain a lot from looking at innovations created at their smaller counterparts. If presses work to create content for distance learning systems and impact the cost of textbooks by working in the open-access environment, they will pay back universities for their investments and still be able to publish monographs and regional titles.

Don’t Stop the Presses: Information and Research at Risk

A 1920 history of Yale University Press notes, “The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else he builds ever lasts.”  As a young boy growing up near Cleveland, Ohio, I spent many hours in the public library experiencing the lasting value of books. Books were a vehicle to take me places and show me different cultures. Books opened other worlds and diverse views.

While I was spending time in my local library, the AAUP (Association of American University Presses) held its 1978 Annual Meeting at Notre Dame University. Among the panels, one was entitled “The Now and Future Crisis.” The oil-embargo had led to an economic downturn forcing universities to restrict budgets, and university presses were faced with uncertain futures. In fact, the university presses at Duquesne, Michigan State, and Catholic University had withdrawn from the AAUP because they could no longer support the publication of books. I had no idea at the time that I would become a director of a university press, and the word “crisis” would continue to be a topic at annual meetings.

Fragmentation has impacted university presses. Libraries have become publishers. Individual faculty members, aided by technological advances, self publish their works. Blogs and other digital environments allow new forms of scholarly communication. The book had a unity all to itself. Now, content is pieced together to create a whole, and like the music industry, entire collections (albums) have given way to individual tunes. Customers are creating their own playlists, and reading lists.

As we move into the era of apps, the disintegration of the book and other institutions are leading to individually-selected existences. Customers are explicitly defining what features they wish to have in products and companies need to react quickly. Education, with its antiquated committee bureaucracies, is facing the threat of privately-funded knowledge entities. As this commercialization grows, the influx of funds to public institutions will be diminished. Brand identity and competitive advantage will allow many premier educational institutions to survive, but many lesser brands will end up like the old five and dimes which were decimated by larger warehouse stores.

University press functions will survive in any educational setting. Editing and dissemination of research and scholarship is critical to advancement and innovation. The market barriers to the art of making books aren’t very high anymore. However, the failure to maintain information for the longer term might prove fatal. In our haste to digitize the world, we might actually be dismantling problem solving. Speed of informational retrieval doesn’t build better bridges. Texting doesn’t lead to deep thinking. The best solutions come from a thorough understanding of the total body of research.

A history of Oxford University Press, published in 1922, contains the following passage: “The endowment of research is a difficult subject…The support given to the Press in the past, whether by individuals or by other institutions devoted to learning, has been trifling in consideration of the work which it has produced. The need of such support is now far more urgent; and the record of the Press is proof that financial support would be turned to good account. ”  University subsidies to their university presses rarely reach the level of one percent of a university’s total budget. Most are very far below that. Many don’t reach the level of a university president’s total financial package. Let’s not stop the presses.

Access to Research Funded by Governmental Agencies

“Publishers do add value, so I think it’s fair that they recoup their costs. We give them six months of exclusivity where they should be able to recoup those costs,” Doyle said. “We are not trying to put publishers out of business. We are just saying that they don’t have exclusive rights to research funded by taxpayers.” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.)

The battle over publically-funded research is heating up again. On one side are legislators and information organizations like libraries and on the other side are publishers of all variety. The issue in all of this is truly how much should publishers get for adding value—editing, page-make-up reliable retrieval, etc. —to research that is funded by the NSF, NIH, and other governmental institutions. The bill’s main sponsor, Representative Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), does admit that publishers should recoup their costs and can do so within a six-month window of exclusivity.

Part of the problem is that when research is funded, other than some modest instructions to make research available, an amount is not allocated for open access publication. If all researchers were good writers, a panacea that never will exist, publishers would not have to get involved. Doyle notes that high subscription costs have indeed limited access to information, but he doesn’t call for more funding to institutions of higher learning. Universities with a rich tradition of graduating the best and the brightest, in other words institutions that can charge substantial fees and tuition, have the best resources. This is a typical example of supply and demand economics.

A much too simplistic approach would be to provide a $1500-$2000 stipend to hire an organization to edit and format an article of a researcher’s findings for upload to a digital site. Then again, while Doyle contends that releasing data doesn’t impact publishers’ bottom lines currently, the realization that results would come without costs within a reasonable amount of time would definitely impact the purchasing habits of public information entities.

The other issue that Doyle does not in fact understand is that the researchers raw data is only in very rare cases the same as the finalized article. What Doyle is asking then, is for a publisher to provide a different version to the government for free. This is hardly fair. The government doesn’t require graduates of public high schools to pay royalties on their future discoveries.

Finally, while Doyle’s plan might work for scientific research, it would not work for research that is funded in the humanities. This type of research has a much longer revenue tail and can still provide publishers income decades from initial publication. When the unfortunate 9/11 incident occurred, previously-published books and articles on Osama bin Laden became vital reading.

University presses act as deterrents to commercial publishing monopolies. University press monograph average list prices are @$20 less than commercial presses like Elsevier and John Wiley. The sad part about today’s environment is that small subsidies to university presses are coming under attack, see the Missouri Press story. As universities find ways to gather their faculty’s work and instruction in more effective ways, institutions with university presses will be far ahead of their colleagues in framing that work in ways that are easily distributable and digestible by the worlds’ scholars.