The Hybrid Future of the University Press

  1. 1. Kathleen Fitzpatrick

    Pomona College

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Numerous arguments have been put forward in recent
years about the causes and effects of the crisis
in scholarly publishing, as have numerous more suggestions
about ways to ameliorate the situation (one
might see, just to name a few, Waters (2004), Alonso
et al (2003), and Greenblatt (2002)), but few of these
accounts seem to get at the heart of what is, admittedly,
a very thorny problem in academic publishing today: an
utterly insupportable business model. This paper, which
forms a small part of a book-length project exploring the
social and institutional changes required to make digital
scholarly publishing a reality, will not argue for ways
of creating supports for the existing system (whether
through subventions, book-buying funds, or other means
of funding production or increasing consumption). And
though it follows the work of authors including Willinsky
(2006), Borgman (2007), and Hall (2008) in arguing
that the future of scholarship must be digital, this
paper will not argue that such a turn to digital publication
can in and of itself rescue scholarly publishing
from its fi nancial crisis. Instead, this paper will argue,
scholarly presses must consider a far more radical shift
in their business models, in which they cease thinking of
themselves as providers of products for sale, and instead
understand the publisher as a provider of services that
facilitate scholars’ interactions with texts, and with one
another through those texts.
Clay Shirky argued as long ago as 1997 that an internet-
based business model focused on the sale of content
was destined to fail. The shift from content to services,
however, might best be understood within the model of
the “hybrid” economy described by Lawrence Lessig
(2008). The hybrid is neither a wholly commercial nor
a wholly gift-based economy, but rather one that creates
value for users by offering services they desire, thereby
encouraging them to contribute their labor to the enterprise.
Lessig explores the models established by several
successful hybrid businesses, including Flickr, Slashdot,
Craigslist, and others, suggesting that contemporary
content providers (like the music industry) who have the
sense that their bottom lines are being undermined by
network-based fi le sharing would do well to consider the
ways that their business models might change in order to
take advantage of peer-to-peer networks rather than attempting
to legislate or sue them out of existence.
The concerns of university presses about the digital future
are slightly different, but these presses nonetheless
might take advantage of these same principles. The relationship,
after all, of authors to the university press is
already based at least in part on the culture of the gift;
few academic authors earn much directly from their published
texts, instead benefitting from the jobs and speaking
engagements that their publications produce. And in
the digital age, as Bob Stein (2008) has explored, presses
will need to think less about selling the content of texts
they publish, and instead focus on the services that they
can provide to authors, in the development of their texts,
and to readers, in providing means of interacting with the
texts, and with one another around the texts.
Implied in this turn from products to services, however,
is a large-scale shift in the relationship of the university
press to its institution, as explored in Brown et al (2007).
Despite the fact that most U.S. based university presses
arose out of the desire of the institution to publicize the
work of its faculty, most presses today operate on a listbased
model, primarily publishing the work of scholars
from other institutions, and focusing on a select number
of fi elds. The result is precisely the untenable business
model faced by presses, which are expected to operate
as businesses rather than service organizations (even
where they are subsidized, if only minimally, by their
institutions). Changing the focus of the press from selling
the products of scholarly research to facilitating the
processes of that research will also require the academic
institutions that house presses to recognize that a press
that functions as a service organization within the university
cannot simultaneously serve as a revenue center.
I will argue that the survival of the university press in the
current economic and technological climate will require
that presses return to their earlier, service relationship to
authors within their own institutions, in order to more
firmly cement their position within the heart of the university’s
overall mission.
In these two respects — in turning from selling the products
of scholarship to facilitating the networked means
through which scholarship is done, and in shifting its
focus to serving the needs of their institutions, presses
might learn from libraries — and might, as Crow (2009)
argues, benefit from becoming more strongly allied with
libraries, as one serves the needs of the institution by
gathering published material from around the world for
its users, and the other serves those needs by distributing
locally-produced texts to users around the world. As
with libraries, however, this new position of the press
within the university’s overall mission will require that institutions fund their presses as part of their infrastructure,
rather than understanding the press as a revenue
center — and, not incidentally, it will also require that
institutions without presses establish them in order to remain
This presentation will thus explore not the new technologies
that will rescue the university press, but rather the
new business model that those technologies will require
the press to develop, arguing that a focus on services
rather than products, and a new relationship to the university’s
core mission, will enable the press, as a nexus
for new modes of scholarly communication, to thrive
into the future.
Alonso, C. J., Davidson, C. N., Unsworth, J., & Withey,
L. (2003). Crises and Opportunities: The Futures of
Scholarly Publishing. New York: American Council of
Learned Societies.
Borgman, C. L. (2007). Scholarship in the Digital Age:
Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet. Cambridge,
Mass: MIT Press.
Brown, L., Griffiths, R., & Rascoff, M. (2007). University
Publishing in a Digital Age. Ithaka. First published
23 July 2007, accessed 17 June 2008, http://www.ithaka.
Crow, R. (2009). Campus-Based Publishing Partnerships:
A Guide to Critical Issues. SPARC. First published
January 2009, accessed 8 February 2009, http://
Greenblatt, S. (2002). A Special Letter from Stephen
Greenblatt. Modern Languages Association. First published
28 May 2002, accessed 28 February 2009, http://
Hall, G. (2008). Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New
Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press.
Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making Art and Commerce
Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin.
Shirky, C. (1997). Help, the Price of Information Has
Fallen and It Can’t Get Up. Clay Shirky’s Writings About
the Internet. First published April 1997, accessed 28
February 2009,
Stein, B. (2008). A Unified Field Theory of Publishing
in the Networked Era. if:book. First published 4 September
2008, accessed 1 November 2008, http://www.
Waters, L. (2004). Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing,
and the Eclipse of Scholarship. Chicago: Prickly
Paradigm Press.
Willinsky, J. (2006). The Access Principle: the Case for
Open Access to Research and Scholarship. Cambridge,
Mass: MIT Press.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None