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Survival -- Through Open Access

November 4, 2009

For the last nine months, the survival of the Utah State University Press has been in doubt, with fears that deep cuts being made to public higher education in Utah would end up killing off the publishing outlet.

This week comes news that the press will survive -- in part by embracing a new model of organization (becoming part of the university library) and a new business model (embracing open access, in which most publications would be available online and free). While both of those changes are significant, key aspects of the press's identity and mission will not change. It will continue to be a peer-reviewed scholarly publisher, and plans to continue its highly regarded work in fields such as composition studies, folklore, poetry, environmental studies, and the history and culture of the West.

"This is going to be a way for us to extend our reach and build momentum," said Michael Spooner, director of the press.

The Utah State operation is small as university presses go; last year it published 21 books and this year it will probably publish fewer, due to budget cuts. But Spooner said that the press can now hope to return to 21 a year, or even grow, through the new model of university support. By becoming part of the university library -- as several other university presses have done -- the press will gain support for much of its overhead operations and thus reduce costs.

But the more significant philosophical shift is to open access, with digital publication as the norm, in which Utah State is embracing a model being pioneered by the University of Michigan Press. Michigan announced in March that it would convert most of its monograph publishing to digital formats. Spooner noted that Michigan has always said it would continue print on demand, and that Utah State plans to do so as well. The key difference is that there will be no presumption that publication is in print form.

Spooner said that the Utah State press had just been starting to experiment with digital publishing, and that the budget crisis led to an acceleration of plans to look for a new economic model.

A statement from the university noted that budget considerations played a role in the shift, but stressed that the university and the press believed that the time was right for it.

Spooner said that he believed that what was most important was that the press will survive and that in digital format its books will have "the same rigorous scholarly peer review" as print books.

 

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