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The Pro-Vice-Provost’s View

By Paul Ayris, on 19 August 2017

The future of monograph publishing

The future of the scholarly monograph is much debated in academic and publishing circles. Dwindling print sales and pressure on library acquisition funds mean that the future of the scholarly monograph as a unit of output is in some doubt. A recent report, The Academic Book of the Future, underlined the drop in sales figures being experienced by such monographs.

In a recent letter, published by the THE (Times Higher Education), 17-23 August 2017, p. 29, I offered evidence from the experiences of UCL Press to cast light on this thorny topic. Here is the letter as it was published:

Open optimism

Annual Report 15-16In her article “Open access monograph dash could lead us off a cliff” (Opinion [in THE], 27 July), Marilyn Deegan warns of the dangers of open access monograph publishng”. As head of UCL Press, the UK’s first fully open access university press, let me look at some of these concerns in more detail.

UCL Press has been in existence as an open access press since June 2015. In that time, we have published 42 books. These have been downloaded, along with our journals, 448,524 times. The most downloaded book, How the World Changed Social Media, has been downloaded 127,836 times. It is still possible to purchase copies of all UCL Press books in other formats, digital and paper, and these comprise 4,795 copies to date – an average of just over 114 per title. In addition, UCL Press titles are downloaded in 218 countries and dependencies around the world.

If it is true, as The Academic Book of the Future report shows, that monograph sales have fallen from an average of 100 to 60 per book in the UK in the past decade, the figures from UCL Press seem to show that open access represents a lifeline. Far from killing the book, open access is a possible route to salvation in an area of publishing that otherwise seems to be in terminal decline.

Paul Ayris


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