Next Chapter for E-Books

New program from SUNY Press makes front-list, hardcover titles available simultaneously in electronic form at price it hopes students can afford.
April 9, 2008

That great new book is timed for release this summer, and you'd love to have it on your syllabus for the fall semester. But like many a high-demand scholarly book, the one you have your eye on is being released only in hardcover. If you're willing to spring for (and have your students pay) the full hardcover price, you can choose to buy now or, in some cases, make an electronic version of the book through a service like NetLibrary.

More likely, though, you're going to decide to wait the year or more until the paperback edition comes out, bringing the price down into a reasonable range for students.

The State University of New York Press hopes its new "Direct Text" program provides another alternative for the college faculty member and her students. Under the program, which was announced Tuesday, the press will simultaneously make available, for $20, electronic copies of front-list books that are released only in hardcover. Professors, students or others have several options: They can download or print copies of the book, or they can gain online access to it for 180 days. About 20 such titles are available now, and the press expects 100-plus books to be available in this format each year, many in its core fields of philosophy, political science and Asian studies.

"In the past, a professor may not or probably would not have been able to assign that book until it came out in paperback," said Dan Flynn, marketing director for SUNY Press, adding that oftentimes, by then, the content of some scholarly books has lost currency. "This approach takes those books, which are important as a teaching tool for their students, and makes it an affordable purchase for them."

Flynn said SUNY believed it to be the first press making hardcover-only, front-list titles available simultaneously in a lower-cost electronic form. Alex Gendler, founder and president of Publishers Row, the company whose software undergirds the Direct Text program, said that while Hebrew University's Magnus Press was using a similar technology, he too believed SUNY was the first American press to take such an approach.

Flynn and Gendler noted that many presses want to keep publishing hardcover books so that they can be sold to libraries -- an important source of income -- but need to find ways of making the titles affordable to students for use in courses.

SUNY Press's latest effort, Flynn said, shows that the press is "continuing to adjust to the new paradigm of publishing. Really what this is about, first and foremost, is giving the purchaser of the book what they want in an affordable way. We're trying to make it available, make it affordable, and make it accessible."

By mid-day Tuesday, within hours of launching the new program, the press had its first sale: David Janssens's Between Athens and Jerusalem: Philosophy, Prophesy and Politics in Leo Strauss's Early Thought.

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