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New models, technologies discussed at university publishing symposium

A one-off symposium on ‘reinventing university publishing’ was held at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra from 17-19 March, bringing together representatives from university presses, universities and libraries.

Nathan Hollier, director of Monash University Publishing, reports:

‘Why does university publishing require reinventing?’ you may ask. Or why would it be good for university publishing to be reinvented?

These questions—rather vexed ones in recent years—were not directly addressed in the symposium call for papers or on the event’s website, which did note, however: ‘Academic publishing and the scholarly communication environment is in a period of considerable change. A wide range of new models and ventures are emerging as a result of technological opportunities and the open access agenda.’

These were really the driving concerns of the symposium: can new business models and developing technologies bring about better and more cost-effective publishing outcomes for scholars, readers, universities, libraries and taxpayers (if not necessarily for commercial publishers)? And if so, how?

As the second day of the symposium came to a close the answers that had emerged to these questions were, not surprisingly, inconclusive. I for one wondered if there was not a danger that the emphasis on removing barriers of communication between authors and readers might result in the removal also of what I would contend is the essence of publishing, namely the adding of value to a work curatorially, editorially, and in terms of design, production and marketing.

Nonetheless, it was clear from speakers’ presentations that there are systemic challenges to scholarly book publishing (leaving aside journals, which are doing very nicely and which are, rightly, the central target of open-access advocate anger), and that a lot is being done to try to overcome these.

Aidan Byrne, CEO of the Australian Research Council, spoke positively of open-access initiatives and legislation in Australia and around the world in his opening keynote address, and plumped squarely for an ‘e’ rather than ‘p’ scholarly book future. He was critical of the recent Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) report on monographs and open access, in that regard.

There were interesting open-access and multimedia publishing success stories from McComas Taylor and Grazia Scotellaro (who teach Sanskrit into India via ANU e-textbooks); Linda Barwick from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (which, with Sydney University Press, publishes audio and text versions of traditional Indigenous songs); Shiro Armstrong, publisher of the East Asia Forum (a partly student-run publication that syndicates through Australian Financial Review); and Mal Booth, Belinda Tiffen and Scott Abbott of UTS ePress (producing electronic high-art works), among others.

There were more technical presentations on publishing in its wider digital context from Dom Hogan at CSIRO; Jason Ensor and Michael Gonzalez of the University of Western Sydney; and Virginia Barbour, director of Medicine and Biology at PLOS.

And there were accounts of broader developments in enriched-content publishing from Agata Mrva-Montoya of Sydney University Press, now an expert in this area, and of emergent business models from near and far. Sarah Lippincott, program manager of the US Library Publishing Coalition, discussed library-publishing developments in the US; Ben Johnson of the HEFCE, fresh from some verbal sparring with Byrne in the morning, spoke on monographs and open access in the UK; and Kevin Hawkins, director of libraries at University of North Texas (and formerly of University of Michigan, a pioneer open-access scholarly publisher), described how he was attempting to rethink monograph publication.

Lucy Montgomery of Knowledge Unlatched gave an account of the very positive experience to date of this international initiative to lower scholarly-book prices for libraries, provide security of return to publishers, and reach wider reading audiences through open-access publication. This was at least the third Knowledge Unlatched presentation I’ve sat through and the gist of it is I think finally sinking in, though like a number of others I spoke to I still have some questions to ask should I ever make it to the front of the queue of interrogators that invariably forms at the end of one of Montgomery’s talks.

The symposium organisers intend to make the presentations available online. For more information, visit the website here.


Category: Local news