Thinking Different(ly) About University Presses

Lynn U organizes its faculty-created textbook initiative into a digital press. But can a university press survive on Apple's electronic textbooks alone? 

May 7, 2015
 

Lynn University, to further its tablet-centric curriculum, is establishing its own university press to support textbooks created exclusively for Apple products.

Lynn University Digital Press, which operates out of the institution's library, in some ways formalizes the authoring process between faculty members, instructional designers, librarians and the general counsel that’s been taking place at the private university in Florida for years. With the university press in place, the effort to create electronic textbooks now has an academic editor, style guides and faculty training programs in place to improve the publishing workflow.

“We’ve felt we really needed infrastructure around our faculty so they could concentrate on the right content and not necessarily on being experts in being an author or editing or rights and permissions,” said Christian G. Boniforti, the university’s chief information officer. He compared Lynn’s decision to create its own university press to the larger push to promote technology in the classroom generally, which he said can sometimes “get in the way of the faculty teaching.” With the electronic textbook initiative, he said, “we found ourselves in that same situation.”

The Digital Press is yet another part of the campuswide reorganization around tablets at Lynn, where course content is delivered on Apple’s iPad minis -- both in person and online. iTunes U, Apple’s course management software, now serves as Lynn’s makeshift learning management system, though the university has had to supplement that platform with its own grade book and attendance tracking software.

Unlike many university presses, which are exploring new business models and products to sustain their scholarly publishing efforts, the Lynn Digital Press does not yet have to worry about financial viability. Its immediate goal, which precedes any expansion plans, is to help faculty members create textbooks to cover the university’s core curriculum, known as the Dialogues.

Kevin M. Ross, the university’s president, said about 80 percent of that work is finished. Textbooks created by faculty members and other ebooks so far cover the first two years of the core curriculum, but 300- and 400-level courses are “a little scattered.” he said. In total, faculty members have created 24 textbooks, and another 12 are on the way.

Faculty members receive both a new laptop (the textbook authoring software, iBooks Author, runs only on Macs) and a $2,000 stipend when they volunteer to create a textbook. The first two faculty members are planning to make their books available for purchase through iTunes, which will result in a 30-20-50 revenue split between Apple, Lynn and the author, Ross said.

Beyond financial incentives, creating a textbook also factors into promotion decisions, Ross said. But don’t expect the university press to compete in the market for digital scholarly monographs. Lynn does not offer tenure, meaning faculty members there focus on teaching -- even in their research and service.

“That’s what makes it different from some of the university presses out there,” the library director, Amy Filiatreau, said. “At the moment, these books are written by Lynn faculty for Lynn students. That’s not something you see very often.”

That also means the Digital Press won’t generate much revenue apart from the university’s cut from the textbooks that are made commercially available. Students pay for the tablet when they first get to Lynn, but receive faculty-created textbooks free once they enroll in the corresponding courses. The university is still working out the cost of producing the books when time commitments and overhead costs are added to the total, Filiatreau said.

“From the students’ perspective, it’s saving them a lot of money on books,” Filiatreau said. “We see it as a recruitment and retention tool and not just a cost.” She added that placing the university press in the library expands its mission to include content creation.

The university’s long-term plans for the press include establishing an outside peer review process, which would mean creating an editorial board. Once the university has created enough textbooks for its own students, the Digital Press may expand to include submissions from authors outside Lynn.

“Obviously that adds a great deal of time and expense to the process,” Boniforti said. “Since this project was a very organic, faculty-driven process and we wanted to get the materials into the hands of students as quickly as possible, that has not happened yet -- but that is part of the plan for the future.”

An expansion likely won’t include more file formats, however, suggesting the Digital Press will remain an outlet for electronic textbooks that end in “.ibook.”

“We would risk a little bit of mission creep if we decided to produce ebooks across multiple platforms,” Filiatreau said. “For now, we’re wedded to the [Apple] ecosystem.”

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