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University Press Try Out New Models

Last week, InsideHigherEd’s Scott Jaschik looked at how University Presses are moving – or not – towards the Digital Age. Now he zeroes in on the model adapted by Rice University Press, which was eliminated as a standalone press in 1996 but came back last year with the idea that it would publish online only, using low-cost print-on-demand for those who want to hold what they are reading. Since the announcement that the press was coming back – and using a unique model by not publishing in traditional book form – many in academic publishing have wondered how Rice would shift to a new format for publishing while maintaining the rigor associated with a university press.

The answer, Jaschik discovers, is that Rice is getting started in a way that points directly to the economic logjam in academic publishing. Rice is going to start printing books that have been through the peer review process elsewhere, been found to be in every way worthy, but impossible financially to publish. In this way, Rice will be linking established peer review systems – sometimes in tandem with Stanford University Press – with its new model of distributing scholarship. The end result? Long Tail Press, as Rice is dubbing it. Alan Harvey, editor in chief at Stanford, said he saw great potential not only to try a new model, but to test the economics of publishing in different formats. Stanford might pick some books with similar scholarly and economic potential, and publish some through Rice and some in the traditional way, and be able to compare total costs as well as scholarly impact. “We’d like to make this a public experiment and post the results,” he said.

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