Open Access books increasing sales of print editions

September 6, 2006 at 8:13 am | Posted in E-Books, Electronic Publishing, Monographs, Open Access, Print on Demand (PoD) | Leave a comment

An interesting report blogged by Peter Suber:

More evidence that OA books increase sales of print editions: David Glenn, Yale U. Press Places Book Online in Hopes of Increasing Print Sales, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 8, 2006 (accessible only to subscribers). Excerpt:

[Jack M. Balkin’s] Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology (Yale University Press, 1998)…was widely discussed in the late 1990s, but the book is now eight years old, and its sales have dwindled. So Mr. Balkin, a professor at Yale Law School, has concocted a new strategy for promulgating the spread of his own memes: He has persuaded the Yale press to release a free version of the book online. Anyone with Internet access can visit his Web site and download a high-resolution (but nonsearchable) PDF file of each chapter.

The idea, says the author, is that a small portion of the readers who sample Cultural Software online will decide to buy a printed copy of the book, producing a net increase in revenue for the press. (The online version has been issued under a license developed by Creative Commons….)

‘If this experiment succeeds,’ Mr. Balkin says, ‘it may change the way that university presses make money off their backlists. … What we are doing with Cultural Software may be a new and inexpensive way to create interest in the ‘long tail’ of scholarly works that sell only a few copies a year and would otherwise be a drag on profits.’

The director of the press, John E. Donatich, says Mr. Balkin’s experiment is one of several new explorations of electronic publishing there. Yale is among the six presses participating in the Caravan Project, a new program financed by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that will allow publishers to release books simultaneously in print-on-demand cloth, paperback, digital, and audio formats…..

The Balkin project follows on the heels of Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, which Yale published in May. Mr. Benkler, who also teaches at Yale Law School, released his book in a free online format together with wiki pages that allow readers to criticize and annotate his text. Mr. Donatich says he is confident that Mr. Benkler’s online playground has not cannibalized sales of the printed book. On the contrary, the press director reports….

Those instances are hardly the first in which readers have been encouraged to browse books online in the hope that they will buy printed copies. Most university publishers participate in the licensed browsing programs operated by Amazon and Google that allow readers to look at a finite number of pages. More ambitiously, the National Academies Press and the Brookings Institution Press have released free texts of many of their books online, often in an unusual format that lets the reader view the books page by page but does not permit the wholesale downloading or printing of chapters.

‘Our experience indicates that for many titles, free online access acts as a driver for increased sales,’ writes Michael Jon Jensen, director of Web communications for the National Academies, in an e-mail message to The Chronicle. ‘We still are seeing increased online sales and stable overall print sales.’…

‘The real question,’ Mr. Balkin says, ‘is what the vocation of academic publishing is. Academic publishers saw themselves as trying to spread knowledge’— high-quality knowledge’— as far and wide as they could … not just as a service that they provide to the universities that they’re associated with. Well, now they can promote that vocation even better than they could before. And they may even be able to make money off of it, which would be all to the good.’

(Via Open Access News.)

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