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


3 responses to “Launching the University Press Content Consortium

  1. Pingback: Morning Coffee – 2 January 2012 - The Digital Reader

  2. Pingback: Articles of Interest « Evil Corner

  3. Congratulations to everyone working on Project Muse. To add books was a huge dream back at the beginning of the project, and I’m thrilled to know it’s happening.

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