Press could find online salvation

Marisa Maldonado

Electronic publishing could help stave off financial difficulties facing university presses at Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago, said Frank Cervone, assistant university librarian for information technology.

A consortium of those schools has started working to publish some of their books online, a move some say would improve research access and save money. Northwestern’s University Press lost $877,000 in fiscal year 2001.

“University presses have a hard time making money,” Cervone said. “Unlike commercial publishers, most of the material they produce is of a very specific interest and the distribution channels are not the same as they are for commercial publishers.”

The consortium will begin with a trial run of five books from each school, said Bruce Frausto, a University Press employee who will help draft a proposal for the service.

Scheduled to debut late this year or early 2003, the service will make available about 1,000 books from the 12 university presses in an effort to expand the accessibility of academic works to students and faculty at the schools.

“Students would be able to use this for their research,” Cervone said. “The whole purpose of all this is to make the research process easier and to expose the researcher to resources they wouldn’t normally know were available.”

Frausto said there could be concerns with presses losing money because the consortium would reduce book sales. Consortium members will explore business models to prevent this from happening, he said.

Most authors with recently published books have clauses in their contracts that allow for some royalties if books are electronically reproduced, Frausto said. Others could negotiate with the presses for additional money, he said.

The service also would improve availability of books checked out for long periods of time, Cervone said.

“If it’s available electronically, your possibilities are much broader – you could make it available to an unlimited amount of people,” he said.

Online books also will benefit scholars who need to read only a part of a book, but should not make printed books obsolete.

“A lot of books in the computer field are very temporary, for instance, an Office 2000 book,” Cervone said. “It has a lifespan of two to three years and those types of books are ideally suited for online. For the most part, traditional literature is a printed form, and I don’t really see that changing.”

The consortium is part of the “Online Archives Initiative,” which Cervone said aims to make publications available for students online through “more accurate and more focused” search engines.

Searches for the online books would highlight electronic materials already available from NU, including a collection of World War II posters and a series of Native American images, Cervone said.