University presses move to e-books

Universities’ scholarly publications are turning toward electronic publishing to help them stay relevant in a shrinking market.

But they have yet to figure out how to use this technology to increase revenue.

The transition to electronic publications — such as e-books for Kindle — is meant to help university presses stay competitive. But electronic sales only make up a small portion of revenue.

Kate Douglas Torrey, the director of UNC Press, said the challenge facing university publishers is keeping up with their evolving audience.

Professors, students and libraries have already transitioned toward electronic resources while university presses are still trying to determine a new business model, she said.

UNC Press publishes about 100 books annually, and about 85 to 90 of them are also published online, Torrey said.

“We are publishing nearly all of our books simultaneously in print and digital format,” she said.

As a result, fewer books are being sold by university presses.

Director of the University of Minnesota Press Doug Armato said e-books make up about 5 percent of the press’ budget.

“It is contributing a little bit but still a small amount of money because it takes a while to get people to read them that way,” he said.

Steve Cohn, director of Duke University Press, said e-book sale prices are lower than those of traditional books.

“The prices are way lower than we are used to,” he said. “We will see if sales will pick up in a big way and that becomes possible.”

Cohn said that Duke’s press mainly sells its electronic books to libraries and is able to sell them for a higher price.

Although the price is higher, it also means there is a risk that the number of people reading the electronic book exceeds the number of print editions sold.

The move to collaborative electronic publishing is a nationwide trend, Cohn said.

“People are trying a lot of different ways to make academic publishing work,” he said.

“People that read books want to receive them in forms they use.”

Torrey said UNC Press is working with other university presses, including Princeton University Press and Yale University Press, on a collaborative project with JSTOR — a website housing academic articles — to integrate their material with other electronic resources.

The project will allow a person to read an electronic book and be connected to journals from JSTOR which accompany it, Torrey said.

“It is a seamless connection of scholarly material,” she said.

Armato said the University of Minnesota Press is publishing electronically to be more efficient.

“We all want to find a way to have our books distributed to campus networks and come up with other ways to get it out,” he said.

“Really the digital future and e-books are emerging. Almost every book we publish is published electronically with Kindle or Google books.”

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