chunking content

Our content is being actively solicited at the chunk level by commercial publishers targeting large revenues. [This wasn’t in the session, but I can add it from the Rights and Permissions perspective.] For years, commercial pubs have attempted to “tack on” custom pub platform use to reprint permission requests. Now, we are seeing a rise in direct requests from commercial publishing houses to place our chunks into their custom pub platforms. [This too has been going on for some; but, it is becoming more common.] By analysis of the requests, discussions, and trends, they are projecting considerable growth and revenues from the custom pub/chunk segment. This conclusion was supported by Michael Cairns’ presentation. Chunking our own content more creatively will provide additional channels for increased dissemination, course adoption, and revenue. This session provided a gloss of current examples how u presses are working to access direct-to-consumer platforms and chunking their content in new ways.

Custom Pub

Michael Cairns (AcademicPub) gave an excellent overview of market trends and prospects for custom pub. Major takeaways: Custom pub is a growing source of revenue for commercial scholarly presses. Permissions revenue will be a larger portion of overall revenue than ever before. In this space, survival will be a matter of the fittest metadata, i.e., chapter-level metadata.

All commercial houses and some institutions are fielding custom pub platforms of their own. Custom pub fits the changing needs of universities and faculty. It is growing at a faster rate than the overall market. IU, MIT, and UC are all leaders in this space. IU and UC platforms are powered by Courseload in Indianapolis. MIT has worked with Open Courseware since the later nineties. AcademicPub allows scholarly presses to host their own content, in aggregate and on their own sites—direct-to-consumers. NB: AcademicPub allows scholars to self-publish works into the platform.

Research has indicated a correlation between improved metadata and increased sales. Permissions/chunks will likely be a greater portion of publishers’ revenue in the future. With each university press and each commercial press currently publishing thousands (and in some cases many thousands) of new “chunks” per season, chapter-level metadata (key words, abstract/summary) will be key in increasing the amount of revenue generated within custom pub platforms. In a separate context, Nic Newman, BBC, is quoted as having said: “You can’t afford to create a piece of content for any one platform. Instead of crafting a website [book], you have to put more effort into crafting the description of the different bits of an asset, so they can be reused more effectively, so they can deliver [generate] more value.” Early movers can gain leverage with enhanced, chapter-level metadata. E.g., Duke, who already has chapter-level metadata for all of its books.

Shorts & Briefs

Alan Harvey (Stanford u press) and Marjorie Fowler (UNC press) shared experiences with and views on eShorts and Briefs. Major takeaways: Both the UNC eShorts and the Stanford Briefs programs are driven by editorial and marketing working closely together; editorial makes final decisions. There is no clear answer as to whether either approach will drive sales & revenue; however, both presses are continuing the projects, and Stanford expects the new form may be attractive to certain disciplines, especially Philosophy and Lit Crit, providing a new product category for academics and u presses in the long run.

UNC eBook Shorts program: Though UNC has started with Shorts (excerpts/chapters from UNC books), they are looking to original shorts as well (a.k.a., Briefs). Editors have been discussing the approach with authors for a long time. They felt shorts would be the easier to bring forward as finished products, and strategic goals include driving book sales; so, excerpts again seemed a best fit, in the short term. To maintain a connection between short and long forms, “Excerpted from…” is included in the subtitle to each UNC eShort.

As to the question of whether this is all worth it = no clear answer. 100 total Short units have sold to date across all 7 titles. Not clear if Shorts have increased long-form sales. There was some thinking that shorts could be adoptable as texts. No results. They are looking at marketing them as such; but, value remains in question here as well. Selection of chunks from texts = the editorial department/director makes the final decision.

Stanford Briefs digital imprint: SUP noted that while long-form sales plummeted, rights/permissions revenue spiked. They started experimenting in-house with what else might be done to access “chunk-level” sales/revenue. Acquisitions editorial (Harvey in particular) observed that if one removes all the interstitial bits from a monograph: long intro; summaries; references/treatment of existing literature; traverses between sections of the text, you are left with a Brief draft of an argument. Here one hears faint echoes of both David Simon (The Wire) and Grant McCracken (Transformations and Culturematic) from last year’s meeting.

Business was seen as the most remunerative subject area and so is where they started: The Physics of Business Growth: Mindsets, System, and Processes. As mentioned, SUP feels Philosophy and Literary Studies lend themselves well to such lengths; Philosophy in particular might be receptive as a discipline. The form might also lend itself well to “updates” to an existing book.