exploring new business models for scholarly publishing—part 1

Given everything we’re facing, this session was the most exciting, informative, helpful, and hope-filled of the talks I attended. (Though I hear How Good Is Your MetaData was a close second.) If you only listen to one section of the AAUP recordings and/or only get to pick an attendee’s brain for a few minutes, make sure it’s on this session.

Colin Robinson, Founder of OR Books, showcased a thriving new business model for us—OR Books’ approach to market. Joe Esposito analyzed the industry from the u press perspective and gave us a breakdown of what we will need to look for in our new b-model components; and, Bob Stein rolled out what was basically a concept car of a new book format, calling it "the Social Book." Probably not breaking any news here, but Greg Britton is an evil genius—what a lineup!

First, OR Books: The Movie is required viewing. According OR Books founders, OR Books has reached the point of “no returns.” (Their pun, not mine) They have no warehouse and no inventory; they do only POD and e-pub.

Strategy is about tradeoffs. This tradeoff allows them to shift monies that traditional publishers (we) spend on distribution 100% over to promoting authors and titles, driving greater sales with each dollar spent.

The masterstroke? OR Books works with Amazon as an independent vendor, filling orders themselves. Hence, the model of POD & e-pub products shipping straight from OR Books is preserved, no monies are spent on moving inventory between warehouses, and Amazon’s reach is put entirely at the publishers’ disposal—with the least profits given away in the bargain. Schmart.

The b-model component of a renegotiated relationship with Amazon seems neatly excisable and implementable—I wonder how many u presses will be moving in this direction?

Joe Esposito—what can I say? Esposito held class. Check out his slides, and get the audio. Esposito stressed the need for hybridized approaches; one solution will not cure all of our ills. Also stressed: we are not-for-profits in a commercial arena; with this comes drawbacks and advantages—we will have to be mindful of both. Last, we have major players reshaping the industry in their favor—namely, Amazon, Wiley, SAGE, etal.—and we are overly dependent on one sales channel—Amazon. The combination is a killer. Solutions we seek will have to reshape the industry in our favor AND decrease our dependence on Amazon.

The kicker was Bob Stein giving us a live demonstration of his "Social Book." For those familiar with The Institute for the Future of the Book, what we saw looked to be the next evolution of Commentpress; so, I'm going to call it Socialbook from here on out. Socialbook brings a fixed text into a dialogic space wherein readers can select and comment on passages. As with Commentpress, users work in the margins rather than scrolling "away down below" like traditional blog space, but in Socialbook the text breaks out into chapters intuitively with tabs, and users can work in real time together; i.e., they can occupy the live critical space as a group.

The new coordination(s) of space, text, users, and time, will have clear applications in academic settings (including but not limited to): peer review, book clubs, distance learning, homework, lectures, and author events. Stein said that practical applications for much of what they are working on at the Institute may not hit the mainstream for decades—possibly a century. However, aspects of concept cars usually find their way into production models within a few seasons. We may be lining up Socialbook events sooner than he thinks.

This was a good day in publishing.