Project MUSE: Celebrating 20 years of sustainability and transformation

photo(68)I received a message at 4:23pm on December 23rd from MUSE financial manager Nicole Kendzejeski about the status of a payment from a Russian consortium. She’d been working on the issue since last summer along with our international sales manager Ann Snoeyenbos and had previously communicated that the necessary paperwork to make the deal go through was not going to happen in 2014. Still, she didn’t throw in the towel.

That’s not what the MUSE staff is made of. Her note confirmed that payment would be booked this year. The amount was not huge, but our book and journal publishers rely and appreciate every dollar from our sales efforts during these challenging times.

As we celebrate our 20th year in 2015, we have nothing but results like these to show for our efforts.

On January 1st, MUSE will have launched more than one million units of content (journal articles and book chapters) for the first time. More than 35,000 books will be on the platform and 635 journals. Usage continues to grow.

A new hosting program has been introduced for journal publishers by our content acquisitions department. A place for publishers to experiment with new ways to engage their communities, MUSE Commons launched in April. The first two volumes of The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot published on Project MUSE in July—including many of Eliot’s works that have never been accessible in any form.

The history of Project MUSE is rife with innovation and outstanding results. The journals of the Johns Hopkins University Press first appeared on the MUSE platform in 1995. Journals from ten publishers–mostly university presses — launched in 2000. In 2006, the MUSE sales and marketing group devised one of the first tier-based electronic journal pricing models completely decoupled from historical print spend. MUSE technology and production introduced one of the first journal XML workflows in 2007. In 2012, MUSE launched one of the first integrated eBook and e-journal platforms in the humanities and social sciences. In 2014, the content acquisition team brought in content from more than 200 publishers.

MUSE has balanced the interests of publishers and libraries for two decades. Not-for-profit scholarly publishers have received in excess of $120 million in royalties from Project MUSE. These monies allow publishers to acquire and produce books and journals. Academic libraries have received savings off subscription list prices—in excess of $100 million since 2000. Developing strong relationships with libraries is a core value.

Sustainable and transformative–yes, that’s who we are.  We’re also transparent, customer-focused and reliable. We don’t like to talk about it. It’s much more fun to deliver.

As I write this MUSE has never been stronger or more prepared to meet the challenges of the future.Today, the staff are testing the viability of receiving ONIX3 feeds from publishers.

We don’t spend enough time reflecting on the great things we have done for the scholarly publishing community. That’s not who we are. We’re too busy working for you.

Have a great new year,

Dean Smith
Director, Project MUSE


Project MUSE 2014: Engage


Mark Saunders presenting at MUSE2014

I’m back after a long hiatus and promise to be more diligent about posting. Over the past year and a half, I have been marketing two books –one that I published with Temple University Press entitled Never Easy, Never Pretty: A Fan, A City, A Championship Season and a new edition of a classic, Football in Baltimore that I helped update for the Johns Hopkins University Press.

Book publishing these days is a labor of love and one that I will gladly participate in. Finishing the manuscript is just the beginning. The author needs to be everywhere—investigating all possible pathways to reaching an audience and helping fuel the engines of university press scholarship.

Last week at the Hilton Camden Yards, we had one of our most successful publisher meetings ever under the theme of “Engage.” The venue is great. It even has a conference room named after Babe Ruth. The Sports Legends Museum is located across the street in the old Camden Station where one of the first battles of the Civil War took place. Edgar Allen Poe began his last walk across town from here. An old rail yard and its historical figures encompass many of the subject areas on Project MUSE including history, literature and cultural studies.

When I took the podium, there were more than 100 people in the audience. University press book and journal publishers, society journal publishers, librarians and thought leaders with one thing in common. All of us are trying to make sense of a shifting industry landscape. Consultant Judy Luther talked about “transitioning to transform” and this describes where Project MUSE is today.

Despite the disruptive publishing ecosystem, we have more ideas and services planned for publishers, libraries and scholars than ever before. For the first time in my tenure, we have a clear vision of where we are going and more importantly, how we are going to get there.

We continue to expand access worldwide and drive usage of our content. Usage is up for MUSE Journals, now available in 2,800 institutions. Our eBooks have surpassed 1 million chapter downloads and are available in 27 countries.

We will seize the opportunity to transform.

One of the best presentations of the meeting was given by Mark Saunders, Director of the University of Virginia Press. It was entitled, “Acquisition Anayltics: Or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Project MUSE.” Saunders presented a case study on how the University of Virginia Press is mining usage data from their participation in the UPCC collections and what the early results have shown.

The staff had predicted that one of their books about Thomas Jefferson would be the highest downloaded title. Book publishers for decades have long been without an answer to the question, “Do you know where your readers are?”

They didn’t expect that the highest number of chapter downloads would come from the book, “Ecocritical Theory: New Critical Approaches.” This book was going to be one of the last titles from a dying list that was on the chopping block…until it was “saved by Project MUSE.” Saunders and his staff are digging deeper into the institutions that have downloaded the title and are focused on targeted email marketing to faculty at those schools.

He believes that market intelligence like this is more valuable for long-term planning and strategy than potential lost course book revenue in the short term. Saunders is the first UPCC publisher to embrace the data in this way.

It is also an example of what we are calling “evidence-based innovation” at Project MUSE. We will continue to enhance the platform and make data available for ourselves, our publishers and our libraries to thrive. We have never been a one-sided street and technology will only take us so far. We will need to build and develop together—engaging the full participation of our publishing community.

We are the new platform.


Helping University Presses As An Author

I love working with University Presses.  As director of Project MUSE, I engage  with this community on a daily basis in helping to provide a sustainable distribution model to ensure their long-term success in the digital realm. I began my career at Columbia University Press in 1987 while studying for an MFA in poetry and worked with great people like Kate Wittenberg, Jennifer Crewe, Charles Hames and Leslie Bialler.NENP1Smith final_cover_071113

Presses are about the people. My colleagues at the Johns Hopkins University Press are talented and amazing.

The UPCC collections on Project MUSE reveal a diverse array of content being published by the UP community – works that embody the mission of an entity founded to disseminate knowledge and enrich our society.

Over this past year, I’ve been given an opportunity to help UPs in a different way—as an author.

I am a diehard Baltimore Ravens fan and attended the Super Bowl in New Orleans last February. In the aftermath of that football journey, I developed a proposal for a book that would tell the team’s remarkable story from the standpoint of a fan. I shopped it around and Alex Holzman of Temple University Press offered me a contract. The book, NEVER EASY, NEVER PRETTY: A FAN. A CITY. A CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON published last week.

During that time, I spoke with Greg Britton, editorial director of the Johns Hopkins University Press about the book — “A thinking fan’s memoir about a  championship season and what it meant for the city and its people.”  I knew from the beginning that it wasn’t a book for Hopkins but he advised me to speak with legendary JHUP history and regional studies senior editor Bob Brugger anyway.

JHUP had published a book written by Ted Patterson, FOOTBALL IN BALTIMORE: HISTORY AND MEMORABILIA in 1999 and Brugger’s vision involved a new edition that would include the two Ravens Super Bowl victories. I had used this book in writing a piece on Baltimore’s historic Catholic school rivalry between Loyola High School and Calvert Hall College. Patterson2E

Similar to H.L. Mencken’s experience during one of his early visits to the Baltimore Sun, Brugger instructed me to “get going” on the update.  In late September, the new edition of this classic will be out.

Suddenly in the evenings and early mornings of late winter into spring, I was feverishly writing two books on the Ravens Super Bowl season. I have developed an even deeper appreciation for the hard work being done within Presses to drastically shorten production cycles and bring books out.

There are three words that come to mind in describing the publishing experience with a University Press: quality, craft and dedication. At both JHUP and Temple, these core values reign. Hopefully, these two books will generate sales in challenging times for publishers.

I am deeply honored and humbled to be a University Press author.

UPCC Breaks Even in its First Fiscal Year

I am pleased to announce that the University Press Content Consortium (UPCC) has broken even in its first full fiscal year.  This is a tremendous accomplishment by the MUSE staff, our publishers and the more than 160 libraries that have purchased collections and single titles.16b_marliegregdonna3

            The program has only been in existence for 18 months and we continue to learn a great deal about the evolving landscape of eBooks.  We have generated more than $8 million in library sales since January of 2012 with 70% of revenues going to our publishers.

            An emerging trend this year has been the preference for current year or 2013 eBook content from our libraries. Sales of collections have been heavily weighted towards 2013 titles this year.

One reason for this is the emergence of customer loyalty.  Many of the “early adopter” libraries purchasing collections in 2012 have returned to expand their corpus of UPCC content. Libraries have also expressed to us that they had already purchased older titles in print.

UPCC Publishers will receive smaller payments in the first six months of 2013 as a result of this buying pattern. With 68% of sales focused on current year content, the payments reflect only a fraction of revenues for already published titles and zero revenues for books scheduled to appear later in the year.  Year-end payments will recognize the full amount of revenues and are expected to be more substantial.

Usage continues to grow as more institutions purchase collections. Downloads in the first five months of 2013 have surpassed all of the usage in 2012.

                 In 2014, for the first time we will include titles from the University of California Press, the University of Minnesota Press, the University of Missouri Press, Cornell University Press and several others.

“The UPCC community is now 95 strong and we expect this pathfinding initiative to flourish in the years ahead,” commented Terry Ehling, associate director for content acquisitions and publisher relations.

            We continue to monitor the results of our single title program through YBP and are exploring models for Patron Driven Acquisition. We are also thankful for our relationship with the Johns Hopkins University Press.  Our colleagues at the Press have provided excellent systems support, market knowledge and guidance as this aspect of our business continues to expand and present exciting opportunities.

Thanks for reading,

Dean Smith

First Look: UPCC eBook Usage

We’ve been poring over usage stats for the University Press Content Consortium (UP9780253223210_medCC) eBooks this month. It’s great to finally have some metrics on the books side of the MUSE house and we’ve learned a great deal.

When we launched last January it was difficult to collect data on the amount of print books libraries were purchasing from UPCC publishers and what portion of each Press’ revenues are coming from libraries. When compared with the evolution of electronic journals, scholarly book publishing is an industry that has long been bereft of trackable data on the digital side.

Usage data enables us to see where these books are being used the most and what titles are garnering the highest number of chapter downloads. Since last January, we have recorded 251,300 chapter downloads from 135 paying institutions worldwide—that’s 1,861 chapter downloads per institution.  We’ve been averaging 30,000 downloads per month since September.

We have over 20,000 books on the MUSE platform from 83 publishers and these titles are averaging 16 chapter downloads per book. More than 60% of the titles have been accessed—which is also a good sign since hundreds of titles published late in 2012. This data goes against the perception that university press content is not being used in libraries.

The Top 10 most frequently downloaded titles are:

  1. Everyday Life in Southeast Asia – Indiana University Press
  2. The Social Media Reader – New York University Press
  3. Introduction to Documentary, Second Edition – Indiana University
  4. Structure, Audience and Soft Power in East Asian Pop Culture – Hong Kong University Press
  5. Asian American Studies Now – Rutgers University Press
  6. Covering America – University of Massachusetts Press
  7. Poets on the Edge – State University of New York
  8. Biopolitics – New York University Press
  9. Freedom from the Press – National University of Singapore
  10. China in 2020 – Brookings Institution Press

What can we take away from this? Four of the top ten most used titles are in Asian studies. Were those books used in courses last year? This will certainly make Liz Brown happy, the content champion of this subject area.  But it’s still too early to track usage trends and patterns.

The majority of the usage (60%) is taking place in the USA. Canada (12%), Australia (7%), New Zealand (6%) and Singapore (6%) round out the top five countries accessing eBook titles on MUSE and they account for 90% of all usage.  Taiwan, United Kingdom, China, Bangladesh and Hong Kong are in the top ten countries. Eighteen countries are paying to access eBooks and 49 have downloaded content which includes free sample chapters.

As part of our developing country initiative, Bangladesh and El Salvador have purchased titles and this may be the first time that university press eBook content has appeared in libraries there. We are still in the process of maximizing the discoverability of eBook content on the platform and we will be adding more discovery services such as OCLC’s Extended WorldCat in the near future.

We have more work to do.

The Ravenous MUSE

ImageThe Baltimore Ravens have won the Superbowl and our city will be buzzing for weeks.  The team appears in the MUSE search results in places like the Journal of Sports Media. There are thousands of results for the “NFL” and “football” and also for “New Orleans,” the home of the big game. This year’s Superbowl advertisements will be analyzed in a forthcoming issue of the Advertising & Society Review. The Ravens are unique in that they have a literary figure named Poe associated with them.

MUSE is a one of a kind content community.

Many of our staff revealed their purple pride on Fridays before the games this season and it is very exciting to see the whole city arrayed in a violet hue.  I ran into a group of building engineers staring upwards a few weeks ago and asked what they were doing.

“We’re trying to give you some purple,” the man said.

One staffer has a pair of magic purple slippers. Here at MUSE, we are not above fantasy and mysticism.

A few weeks ago, our customer service rep Lora Czarnowsky predicted that the Ravens would defeat the Denver Broncos and she was correct. Lora ensures that our customers have access around the world. After the Ravens defeated the Patriots last weekend, I received a message from Lora—TOLD YOU—it read.  After the victory on Sunday,  she sent me the same message.  I was in New Orleans having a plate of beignets and cafe au lait for dinner. My voice was gone.

I visited the Walters Art Gallery on the Saturday before the Patriots game and I saw a Ravens insignia emblazoned on the sidewalk. I asked my eight-year old daughter to read the words above the bird’s head.

“Ravens. Team.”

Teams drive MUSE and ensure its success: technology, production, content development and sales and marketing. In some ways, we had a fall season not unlike the Ravens. We faced several challenges in closing off the 2012 eBook collections and we met them all together. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty—also reminiscent of the Ravens.

We learned something about our program and what we are capable of if we communicate effectively.

Someone will write a book about the Raven’s remarkable season and it may end up on the MUSE platform. Perhaps a scholar will ponder the cultural aspects of a city dependent on its football team to shore up an uncertain identity or how a football team and a city fused into one overwhelming force that fed off each other on the road to the promised land. It’s always been a football town and trust me, there is a little football in everyone.

Here is my take from inside the Superdome.

The black-winged birds of Baltimore have been our MUSE this month. A source of inspiration and a winning team we can build upon.

Happy New Year from Project MUSE!

Thank you publishers, libraries, and researchers for making 2012 the best year ever for Project MUSE.

How do we define success?

For the first time in our history, we will deliver more than $20 million dollars to more than 200 book and journal publishers. These funds will help scholarly not-for-profit publishers sustain their publishing programs and achieve their goals of advancing and disseminating knowledge.

We now have 2,700 libraries accessing the content on Project MUSE worldwide. We provide flexible pricing and licensing options to libraries for books and journals. We now have more than 550 journals available on the platform and this number will grow to 580 in 2013. Since 2000, our collection prices have generated more than $90 million in savings to libraries. For books, there are more than 140 collection-based options and a new single-title offer in 2013.

Here is an excerpt from a preprint of a forthcoming article, “E-Approval Plans in Research Libraries” in College and Research Libraries that talks about eBooks:

“[The] UPCC Book Collection clearly underscores core library values: no embargoes on the release of digital editions, no DRM, unlimited downloading and printing of book chapters, accessible on mobile devices, perpetual access rights for books purchased and ILL for individual book chapters.”

We responded to more than 400 instances of feedback from researchers on our new platform in 2012 and are committed to building an industry-leading user experience over the next two years that will maximize opportunities for the search and discovery of content.

These milestones could not be achieved without a passionate and dedicated staff—including Angie Fell, Chris Brown and Mark Malloy who make digital dreams a reality on a daily basis. There are talented staffers like Dr. Hadley Leach and Steven Allen who have diligently sifted through eBook metadata to ensure that the files are actually there to be published.  Tashina Gunning and Nancy Hafele work on the front lines to provide customers with price quotes and information.

From my perspective I work with the most talented 28 people in the digital publishing industry.

T.S. Eliot in 2013

We had a great meeting in November to talk about plans for The Complete Works of T.S. Eliot to be available on Project MUSE late next year. As a poet, I am a huge fan of Eliot and spent many hours trying to decipher “The Wasteland.” I was asked to read an Eliot poem to begin the meeting (one of the great perks of my job) and chose “The Hollow Men.”

I would read this one out loud as an undergraduate up studying all night.

Our first task will be to present the prose of T.S. Eliot—more than 700 essays, many of which have never been published.  Groundbreaking essays like “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and “Hamlet and His Problems” will be included. It may have been the poet Richard Jones who assigned the essay that forever changed the course of my life.  In it, I read the following passage:

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”  — Hamlet and His Problems, 1925

I was hooked and have spent the rest of my life on a poetic journey in search of them.

Those words will be accessible on Project MUSE along with notes from scholars, references, and annotations.

Project MUSE offers “a set of objects” on its platform to be discovered. There are journal articles and eBooks chapters and thousands of results for T.S. Eliot already there. I was elated to find a publication by MUSE staffer Hadley Leach entitled “Thoreau’s Aphoristic Form” in the most recent issue of Arizona Quarterly. I have experienced great joy in finding the work of friends and colleagues Alan Michael Parker, Piot Gwiazda, Scott Hightower, Moira Egan, and Amy Lemmon.

More eBooks in 2013

We will have 23,000 eBooks from 83 publishers available in 2013. These books are currently being accessed in 16 countries around the world from El Salvador to Bangladesh to Singapore and we are just getting started. At the Charleston Conference this year, there was a strong response to our announcement that libraries will be able to purchase single titles of eBooks early next year.

Project MUSE serves the scholarly community—its publishers, libraries, and researchers—and we look forward to an exciting 2013.

In the words of T.S. Eliot, “Not fare well/But fare forward, voyagers.”

Thanks for reading,

Dean Smith

Delivering Results. Defining the Future

More than ever, we are actively engaged with our customer communities in 2012—gathering their feedback and responding to issues as we continue to enhance our new platform. Libraries, publishers, and researchers represent the core audiences of Project MUSE and each has a different set of needs.

We’ve learned from all groups that MUSE is more than just a content aggregation of journals and books. We have a responsibility to the scholarly community to help shape and define the road ahead—to reinforce our leadership position in leveraging the interests of publishers and libraries.

We don’t talk a lot about sustainability—we make it happen. We’ve just delivered our largest royalty amount ever–$15.7 million to our journal publishers to help them continue publishing high-quality research. That represents 80% of all revenues before the bills are paid.

In a recent article focusing on commercial publishers in The Economist, I read, “Academic journals are a license to print money.”  In the humanities and the social sciences nothing could be further from the truth. We host many titles whose MUSE royalty is critical to their existence.

Commercial publishers have adopted the strategy that “more is better” and continue to run down the list of titles on MUSE attempting and in some cases succeeding in prying them away from not-for-profit publishers with promises and large initial cash payments.

These activities are not good for the scholarly community overall, as in many cases these companies double or triple the subscription prices for these titles to libraries.

We continue to deliver savings in difficult economic times to libraries. Our back issues program has launched more than 3,000 issues since its inception at no additional cost to libraries. Over the last decade, we’ve delivered $90 million in savings to libraries. Through this approach, we have been able to network MUSE journals around the world and drive significant usage.

Researchers have not been shy about communicating with us and we appreciate the passion that exists for Project MUSE. The Polish poet Piotr Gwiazda told me recently, “Project MUSE is indispensable for my work. It’s the only place I can go to find the articles I need for certain subjects.”

Over the course of the next 18 months we are committed to investing in the technology to create the definitive research environment for collaboration and exchange–and will invest several million dollars to do so.

We’ve learned a great deal about our UPCC eBooks offering and are exploring ways to enrich the user experience.  Libraries are experimenting with demand-driven models. Book publishers continue to embrace sweeping changes to their business.

Our goal is to establish a meaningful channel for reaching institutions and individual book buyers that will introduce opportunities for publishers to maximize the discoverability their offerings, receive much needed sales information and user data, and ensure their long-term viability.

Columbia journalism grad Danielle Lanzet recently asked me, “How far are we away from a service that delivers content from robot to reader?” It’s an interesting question and one that we at Project MUSE are uniquely positioned to explore.

These conversations reinforce the new duality of remaining open to the possibilities of what is sure to be an exciting future, while staying focused on addressing the immediate needs of our communities.

Thanks for reading.

MUSE in the Age of Discovery: Launch Update

As the ball dropped on Times Square, more than 12,000 eBooks from 66 publishers appeared on a revamped and revitalized Project MUSE. Embracing a lean development cycle of 250 days, the MUSE staff delivered one of the first integrated multi-publisher platforms in the history of scholarly publishing.

We focused our efforts on providing 500,000 discoverable journal articles and book chapters to our readership with a basic set of features and functionality at launch and are rolling out new enhancements as each day passes. More than 60 libraries have purchased eBook collections from the 47 available options since October.

The feedback from our user community has been invaluable as we continue to iterate and develop in rapid fashion post-launch. We are committed to excellence in the search and discovery of content on the platform and we will aggressively pursue that goal. The issues related to search are being worked on around the clock.

Developing an integrated  content neutral platform that assigns equal weight to the browse and discovery of books and journals informed many of our decisions. We are now focusing our attention on the 500 journal communities, many developed over the last 15 years, to ensure a seamless transition to the new platform.

Please be patient as we work through unanticipated “bugs” that have arisen but are standard with migrations of this size and scope. Rest assured that the passion of the MUSE staff for addressing the needs of our community matches the strong feelings expressed by our most experienced and dedicated librarians, researchers, journal editors, authors, reviewers and publishers. We have one thing in common: a love for Project MUSE.

The conversation that started between a publisher and a librarian about the ways a press and a library could work together to solve the crisis in scholarly publishing entered its 19th year with an explosion of content and continues to be a work-in-progress. A vision of the future presented itself in those early morning hours as I scrolled through books on the blues from The University Press of Mississippi, baseball books from Nebraska, film studies texts from Indiana, gender studies from Rutgers, and literary criticism from Georgia.  The University Press Content Consortium has changed the game.

I thought of William Butler Yeats as I often have throughout my career in electronic publishing and his line: “A terrible beauty is born.” The content set now at one’s disposal is incredibly powerful and challenges the user to harness that power.

Staying in a hotel in Seattle for the MLA Convention this past weekend that was once inhabited by explorers, prospectors, adventurers, and Jack London types; I sensed the weight of this accomplishment and felt the need to provide pickaxes and shovels to the community of discoverers mining our site for gold.

Over the next three years our goal is to build the definitive research environment in the humanities and social sciences.  That means adding services, as well as content, to our platform.  We anticipate being able to offer readers increased customization of the MUSE platform, allowing users to create personal libraries within the MUSE environment, for cataloging and annotating their reading.

There will be more content: more texts, more journals, more multi-media, more reference works, and more data sets. We are looking to empower the individual scholar with the tools be able to make new discoveries and interpretations of texts.

And this is where you come in. We’d like you to take an active part in the dialogue of the new MUSE and work with us.  Please contact me directly with feedback at

Thanks for reading,

Dean Smith


Launching the University Press Content Consortium

While attending this year’s Charleston Conference, a librarian asked me why we were including eBooks on the MUSE platform.  I explained that the decision can be traced back to our beginnings. We are helping to ensure the long-term viability of the scholarly monograph by making this content discoverable to our vast research community. Balancing the interests of libraries and publishers, our goal is to do for books what we did for journals. Here is the story of how it happened.

During the April 2010 Project MUSE Publisher meeting in Baltimore, we shared our commitment to develop an eBooks platform with our community of librarians and publishers. They had been asking for eBooks for the past five years and the topic was again of great interest to the participants in the room.

We viewed eBook collections as an opportunity to once again take a leadership position, just as we had done for e-journals fifteen years ago, and help save the scholarly monograph from extinction as the costs of print book publishing continue to increase in the face of diminishing sales.

We developed a request for proposal and sent it to eBook vendors such as eBrary, NetLibrary, and Electronic Book Library (EBL) as possible platform partners.

When we announced our intentions with e-books, a librarian raised her hand and stood up.

“This won’t have any meaning unless these eBooks are integrated on the Project MUSE platform,” said Deborah Slingluff, Associate Director of the Sheridan Libraries at Hopkins. “Do for eBooks what MUSE does for journals.”

Once again, a colleague from the Johns Hopkins University libraries stepped forward to collaborate with us, just as Scott Bennett, the head of libraries at JHU had done with Jack Goellner, the Press Director fifteen years before. Those discussions, grounded in an attempt to provide a web platform for journals in the humanities and social sciences, led to the creation of Project MUSE. We were back at the beginning of something special again.

It was time for scholarly books to enter the digital age.

We’d been exploring the Hopkins library search interface and noticing that book and journal content appeared side-by-side in the search results and it was difficult to tell whether it was a journal or book and even who had published it.

Content was the critical driving factor of the result, not format or publisher brand, but information.

Slingluff’s words –“Do for e-books what MUSE does for journals”– became our rallying cry and confirmed an idea that we had been kicking around – to create a content neutral research platform of eBook chapters and journal articles discoverable in the same search environment on MUSE.

The Johns Hopkins University Press Director Kathleen Keane, Director of Marketing Becky Clark and I met to finalize a practical approach. We announced our program shortly thereafter, Project MUSE Editions to serve both MUSE Publishers and the Hopkins Fulfillment Service (HFS) publishers. We wanted to keep it simple, scalable and solvent.

We met with 20 prospective publishers at the 2010 AAUP Meeting in Salt Lake and explained our business model. The publishers would set prices based on the list price of the title and Project MUSE would assemble the collections around subject areas and offer comprehensive or complete collections that would include all titles to libraries. A significant portion of the revenues (70%) would go to the publishers.

Other initiatives were in the works. Oxford University Press, JSTOR, and Cambridge were developing eBook offerings.  A group of Press Directors had received a Mellon grant to explore the viability of eBooks on behalf of the university press community.  The University Press eBook Consortium (UPeC) was looking for a partner to provide functionality and host a potentially large collection of 20,000 eBooks.

We met with UPeC in Salt Lake. They were in the process of collecting 60 letters of intent from university press publishers and other not-for-profit entities. UPeC had reached the point where they could share their research findings and the results of their modeling. They had canvassed more than 1,000 librarians on multiple occasions over a two-year period to find out what the library community wanted as far as accessing eBooks in a research setting.

From their data, they developed a collection-based model to sell eBooks to libraries in complete as well as subject-based collections. They had determined a market existed for it. Their research showed that librarians wanted the same unlimited downloading privileges that existed for journals. They wanted limited to no DRM.  They wanted ownership.

Alex Holzman (Temple University Press), Steve Maikowski (NYU Press), Marlie Wasserman (Rutgers University Press), Eric Halpern (Penn University Press) and Donna Shear (University of Nebraska Press) worked with consultants Raym Crow, October Ivins, and Judy Luther to bridge the gap between the academic library market and university press publishers. They were the true pioneers of university press eBook offerings because they journeyed where only vendors had gone before.

Our models differed slightly when it came to pricing. UPeC derived their collection price using value-based metrics and an average price per title. This would be a requirement to win the Request for Proposal (RFP) they were developing in an effort to select an eBook vendor.  It was believed that JSTOR, Cambridge University Press and HighWire were in the running for this business.

By fall of 2010, Project MUSE Editions had 28 agreements in place with publishers. We were moving forward but hoped to have a chance to bid on the UPeC RFP, though we did not expect to receive it. We were honored when the extensive document arrived in November. We responded to the requirements document, following the instructions exactly.

We adopted the strategy of aligning our vision with UPeC. If they really wanted to transform the eBook market, the most compelling way to do that would be to join forces with one of the largest and most successful aggregations of humanities and social sciences journals in the world. We presented a strong case to the UPeC Board in late January under the theme of “One Vision.”

We saw the potential of joining forces with UPeC as something that was “by the academic community, for the academic community.”  This concept helped define our intentions. We committed to investing several million dollars to make this happen and to hiring 15 additional staff members at the outset.

We developed the name, the University Press Content Consortia (UPCC) to signal to the market that book and journal content together was only the beginning. In the future, we will transform the platform again to include reference works, datasets, multimedia, annotation, collaboration and commenting features.

After much discussion and follow-up, UPeC selected us as their partner.

The eBooks program we had developed had caught their attention—and together we had improved the options available to university presses without even hosting the first eBook.

As I write this, 14,000 eBooks from 66 publishers are being checked and ingested into the database by a MUSE staff with over 100 years of experience. Sales reps around the world are engaging customers. Our technology team is revising the beta interface for launch on January of 2012.

MUSE Books and JournalsOver the course of the next 18 months, we will build the definitive research environment in the humanities and social sciences and reinvent and redefine the MUSE platform.

Project MUSE is poised for expansion to meet the needs of a changing competitive market and stands apart as a resource designed by the academic community, for the academic community.

“There is enormous value in providing our students and faculty with an integrated discovery and access environment that includes not only an expanding database of university press monographs but also embraces the journals in Project MUSE,” said James G. Neal, VP for Information Services and University Librarian, Columbia University