Monthly Archives: September 2013

Open Access versus traditional publishing model

Creative Commons Screenshot(screenshot of cc licence)

A personal opinion by Andrew follows. (Though I suspect Emma feels something similar!).

I’ve had a few comments about how great it is that ‘Only Connect …’ is available for free online and has a good Creative Commons licence, so I’ve been reflecting on how different that is to the books I’ve published under more traditional models.

My previous books have sold a few hundred copies each. They are very expensive (to my mind!) to buy – in the UK they are between £40 & £50 (ish!). It is possible to pay (a lot of money) to buy them as ebooks for institutions, but not for individual use. The introductory chapter of each is available as a free taster after I asked for permission to upload them to my institutional repository, but that is all (and those chapters are “my” versions, not the typeset versions with proper page numbers, etc.). I suspect almost all the copies have been bought by university and college libraries (mainly in the UK & USA) and if I’m lucky they’ve been read by a couple of people at each place. At a rough guess, that means that well under 1,000 people have seen the inside of each book or directly benefited from the content. I’ve received a small income from them, but not a large amount of money – a few hundred pounds. I no longer own (the copyright on) the work that took me a MASSIVE amount of time and effort to create.

This book is very different.

Writing this one week after publishing the print and electronic version we’ve only sold 16 print copies (though it hasn’t percolated through to most of the ‘library’ type ordering databases yet). However, about 160 people have downloaded it from at least 14 different countries, and about 250 unique visitors went to the website to read it. By my reckoning that is roughly the same amount (or slightly more) than bought either of my print books in the first year. Add another week or so (being generous!) to allow for the fact that print copies  of other books may have been read by multiple people (as I suspect they are in libraries), then by the end of the first month I suspect more people will have read ‘Only Connect …’ than my other two books put together.

The content is free for as many people as possible to benefit from and this confirms we can expect many more people will be able to access that content than either of my other books. For anyone who wants a hardcopy they can buy it for roughly a third of the cost of either of my other books, so hopefully “real” people as well as libraries can afford to buy it! We’ve also put it at a minimal cost on device specific stores like Amazon for Kindle if anyone wants to buy it directly to their eReader for convenience. Instead of a small income, I start off with a small loss – a few hundred pounds to sort out ISBNs, distribution agreements, design of a book cover, legal deposit copies, etc. We need to sell about 80 print copies (which should be do-able if people recommend it to their library – HINT!) to roughly cover costs (the eReader stores are unlikely to sell enough copies to pay out!). If we sell around 100 copies it will pay for the contributing authors to have a complimentary print copy each as well. Any more and we make a small profit. Not much, but then that is the case for the traditional routes to publishing either. All the contributors retain their copyright and can re-mix and re-use the material and ideas however they want in future.

So for me, so far, this book has been a publishing success. Instead of a (pretty much guaranteed) small income I may make a small loss (but I may also make a small income!), but there isn’t a lot in it either way beyond a little up front risk. The big difference is that instead of the content being as innaccessible as possible and only viewable by the privileged few (normally in academic type libraries), it is available for free or at low costs in many formats and is as widely available as we can make it. Both now and in future guises as the copyright stays with the authors. The information is as free as possible to disseminate in the minds of others … isn’t that what writing and publishing should be about?


Some negative sides to self-publishing

Error message(Image from cowbite under cc licence)

I know we’ve sounded very positive about this whole process, which we are, but there are downsides to self-publishing! Here are a few for starters:

1) Getting to grips with self-publishing sites. We looked at a few self-publishing sites and ended up with Lulu. It seems set up for beginners (which we were!); included options for worldwide distribution both directly from their site and via book distributors (so libraries could buy copies); and you could bring your own ISBN along (which means we were the publisher, not the site). It was still hard work though! It wasn’t obvious how certain things worked or how to fix them … and we were responsible for everything. No-one to complain to or pass things to. It took a long time and lots of work to get files to work okay through the self-publishing site – which we wouldn’t need to worry about if we went to a traditional publisher.

2) Ebook standards! Blimey, it was hard work producing an ebook in multiple formats using free software on evenings and weekends. Again, passing the work onto other people just isn’t possible when you self-publish, unless someone with those skills owes you a favour or (more likely) you are willing to pay. The ebook still doesn’t do all the things we’d like it to, but at least it should work on most devices :-S

3) Promotional work. No chance of adding the book to a professional looking catalogue which is sent out to thousands of libraries. No staff waiting to take copies or take leaflets to major conferences on our behalf. No press releases sent out for us. We’ve had to do it all ourself. That said, although it was extra work, we think we’ve done a more focussed job than a publisher could have. It’s been sent for review to journals that match up well to our potential audience in Australia, USA and the UK. It’s been advertised on mailing lists in the UK and US. It’s been widely picked up on Twitter, We’ve written short articles and blog posts for people that have helped promote it. Just a lot more work than having a commercial publisher do it for you!

4) Cost. Instead of the only real cost being time, it has cost both more time (see above points!) and also money than if we went to a publishing house. We’ve had to pay for various things up front and it is a gamble whether we will cover costs at all. Still, at worst we’ll make a small financial loss as opposed to a reliable small profit with a traditional publisher.

5) Ongoing commitment. We can’t just sit back and relax once the book has been completed. We’re the publishers and have to make sure we keep an eye on things! Do we need more promotion? Is the platform we’re hosting the book on stable? Should we be pulling reviews into one place so we know how things are going? Should we update the book and bring out a new edition? What else do we need to worry about?!

These are a few negatives as the popped into my head, but the good news is they are outweighed by all the positives. Plus the negatives will be even less significant if we do another book in the future, as hopefully we now have a better idea of what we’re doing ;-)

Creating an (un)book

chatterbox chapter chooserThis has been the best bit of the project! The freedom to create an (un)book rather than one that fits a publisher’s expectations has been wonderful.

Instead of set expectations, restrictions, and set publisher models we’ve been able to create something that simply wouldn’t be possible without self-publishing.

We’ve got some chapters that look fairly traditional in style (though may struggle to find a home elsewhere because of subject matter); some that are textual, but are still completely different in style to any “library science” book we’ve ever seen (e.g. a library fairy story?) and some that mix text and multimedia in a way you won’t often find in a book. In the process we’ve created something a little bit hard to define, an eclectic mix of styles and contributions that do EXACTLY what we wanted – reflect part of the richness of information literacy and the information discovery journeys people set out on every day.

I’m really proud of our contributors for stepping up to the mark and giving us such a wonderful mix of material to share with the world.


We’ve published it!

Screenshot of book for salePhew! We’re about done!

The book was made live to buy on Lulu a week or so ago, it’s appeared on Amazon for the Kindle, it should appear on Nook and iBook stores soon and is available to download free as ePub and PDF.

All being well, in a few weeks time the print version will appear on bibliographic databases for libraries to buy and on Amazon as well (worldwide).

Besides a little tinkering it is also all online (with multimedia nicely embedded) on the innovative libraries website.

We’ve sent out a small number of review copies to journals and announced it to mailing lists and social media.

There is a copy sent off to the British Library for legal deposit and five more put to one side for the other legal deposit libraries.

It’s been a great and rewarding process to do, so the next few posts are likely to be reflections on the process :-)