When Peter Berkerey was named executive director of the American Association of University Presses (AAUP), he undertook a listening tour of the membership. From this experience, he commented that he was struck most by the diversity of the membership and how that made it difficult to establish common programs for the organization. That diversity among university presses is clearly illustrated in The Cost of Publishing Monographs: Toward a Transparent Methodology, a report just concluded by Nancy Maron, Christine Mulhern, Daniel Rossman, and Kimberly Schmelzinger.

With planning grant support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ithaka S+R project team began this work in 2014 by convening a group of university press experts to develop a methodology for determining the true costs of publishing scholarly monographs in the most granular way possible. After the group arrived at a plan for gathering all of the costs associated with creating a digital file for a scholarly monograph, the Mellon Foundation awarded additional funds to employ the methodology at 20 university presses.

There were three goals for this project:

  • provide a comprehensive list of all of the activities needed in order to produce and disseminate a high-quality digital monograph;
  • generate empirical data on what it costs presses today (what activities they are undertaking today) to produce those books; and
  • offer recommendations of general principles to guide presses in seeking to establish price points for author-side payments for Open Access digital monographs.

The importance of this study is that it is a detailed, activity-based breakdown of operating expenses at the press level, aggregated to determine the true costs of publishing a scholarly monograph. The study looked at 382 titles from 20 presses, five in each of the four AAUP membership size brackets, and found a wide range of costs per title, from a low of $15,140 to a high of $129,909.

There are many explanations for this wide range, so it is important to look at costs with a careful eye. Still, the data from the presses suggest that monograph publishing is more expensive than current price points for publishers with OA models would suggest.

The curatorial work associated with manuscript acquisitions proves to be a notably high share of the total costs at many presses, which has substantial implications for business and service models going forward. A publisher able to rethink this aspect of the publishing process creatively may be able to drive substantial reform in the system.

Please take a look at the report and let us know what you consider the most important findings from this study.