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It has taken more than two years and two industry reviews, but momentum appears to have finally built for the creation of a consortium of government and university presses in Australia.

The idea is to collaborate on cutting production and marketing costs, thereby making loss-making scholarly monographs and books sustainable.

This week's announcement by Australia's Labor government, which puts $12 million over three years toward a joint consortium with matching funding from university presses, goes further than the recommendation of the Book Industry Collaborative Council, which had suggested that development of a shared production and marketing platform be explored.

Big commercial presses such as Melbourne University Press, which have long pushed the idea, welcomed Labor's policy to create the so-called Australian Universities Press.

But the thinking among some of the small, largely electronic presses is that large investments in production platforms aren't needed and that money should go to content and open access.

"The devil will be in the detail," said Colin Steele, emeritus professor at Australian National University and one of the founders of ANU E-Press.

"You don't need to build huge commercial infrastructure. The emphasis needs to be on supporting open access monographs."

However, as the BICC report points out, while there is strong support for open access in the sector, there is a cost in ensuring the quality of such material in terms of peer review and production values.

And, while the BICC was equally supportive of publications regardless of format, it noted that "academic values prize the bound hard-copy book with the high production values above all other forms of scholarly communication, and much of this high-end publication is undertaken on a commercial basis."

When the Melbourne press's chief executive, Louise Adler, championed the original idea for a collaborative network to reduce costs, she drew the ire of the e-presses by claiming that they had little international impact. Now, following wider consultation by the BICC, she is careful to talk up the benefits of AUP to the entire sector, including e-presses and demands for open access, and the need to cover all forms of publication and distribution.

"It should be open and inclusive, open to everyone," Adler said. She believes that any university press would be "mad" not to participate.

Kathy Bail, head of UNSW Press, which, together with MUP, Queensland University Press and UWA Publishing have been pushing the idea of a network or consortium, said she believed there was now wider support in the sector for collaboration.

"The reason this had legs is that we are now getting buy-in from a broader group of university presses. We need buy-in from across the sector," she said.

Innovation Minister Kim Carr also said that AUP aimed to be inclusive.

"This initiative will establish a formal consortium," he said. "It is important to note that this initiative will benefit all university presses, both the traditional established university presses and the newer e-presses, some of which are library-based, and potentially, down the track, the non-university scholarly book publishers."

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