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 djs@press.jhu.edu.

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

A Project MUSE Tripleheader: eBooks Beta, Terry Ehling, and The Wire

“The thing about the old days is that they the old days.” — Slim Charles, The Wire

Last week was an important one in the history of Project MUSE as we launched the eBook beta site, welcomed new Associate Director Terry Ehling, and published an issue of the journal Criticism dedicated to scholarly interpretations of The Wire, a groundbreaking television show about the myriad challenges facing Baltimore city. Borrowing from the legendary Chicago Cub shortstop Ernie Banks, “let’s play three.”

The eBooks beta site launched last week and we have received valuable feedback from our user community. The site has been widely praised for its “simple and clean” approach.  As expected, we have adjustments to make and are compiling a list of action items to be prioritized and completed before launch. The majority of these minor fixes are related to usability.

In a recent meeting, Johns Hopkins University Press Editor-in-Chief Greg Britton said, “You guys in Project MUSE reinvent yourself every week, right?” Well, not every week but it sure seems that way. Last year, we added more than 50 new journals to the platform and will exceed 500 before the end of the year. We have approximately 30 more on the way for 2012.

In January, we’d built a program called Project MUSE Editions with 28 publishers and 400 books. In February, we were selected to be the vendor of choice for the University Press eBook Consortium (UPCC) —which was an initiative funded by Mellon to explore the feasibility of eBook distribution. In March, we became the University Press Content Consortium and by April had signed 65 publishers, mostly university presses and will offer 13 – 15,000 eBooks in January, 2012.  We have new publishing colleagues, advisory boards, and co-workers—and have significantly expanded our content community.

Terry Ehling joined Project MUSE and has made a positive impact in her first ten days. She brings a wealth of experience as the former director of Project Euclid and the director the Digital Products Lab at MIT. Terry will take the lead on the University Press Content Consortium. She spent most of the week learning about Project MUSE but also came with ideas for new products, new content acquisition targets, and a refreshing vision for the future of digital publishing as related to Project MUSE.

Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts by Wayne State University Press has published an issue dedicated to The Wire. With article titles like “The Greek Gods of Baltimore: Greek Tragedy and The Wire” and “The Last Rights of D’Angelo Barksdale: The Life and Afterlife of Photography in The Wire,” admirers of the show will be interested in the depth of scholarly investigation and homage that has been paid to this five-part masterpiece of the small screen.

In the preface, Robert LeVertis and Paul Farber write:

“Our hope is that this issue, and the excellent essays within, will circulate in a broader conversation going on amongst scholars and critics across the world, from elite institutions to underrecognized intellectual fertile grounds. We collectively revisit The Wire to take on its mantle and its burden, and rather than merely look back, make anew.”

To encourage the “broader conversation,” we have worked with the publisher to make this issue accessible to all as the free sample for 2011.

I enjoyed the The Wire very much for its ambition, authenticity, and for its rendering of some of Baltimore’s more uniquely indigenous characters.  As a native, I applaud its willingness to tell the story of a cancerous drug trade, a long defunct educational system that endlessly feeds the drug pipeline with new recruits, and the decline of a newspaper meant to provide the semblance of a lens into the mechanisms of corruption and failure. 

Speaking at AAUP in June, David Simon said, among other things, “I don’t want to save the newspaper, just the newsroom.”

On the top floor of a six-story building with an expansive view of Baltimore City, we produce and deliver high quality content in a vibrant, “newsroom” type of atmosphere. We also share a similar vision with the Criticism editors.  We are not looking back at our accomplishments, but are actively engaged in making Project MUSE new again.

Crossing Dog Creek Again with eBooks

Charles Wright

As each day passes this summer, Project MUSE continues its transformation into a robust content community of web journals and books integrated in a seamless interface.  We expect 15,000 e-books to join the 500 journals currently on the platform. More than 30 new journals are slated for 2012, a host of back issues have just published, and we are in the midst of building a home for e-books.

I glimpsed the developing beta site this afternoon and it looks great–a refresh from the current look and feel of MUSE–with a new homepage designed to bring the content to life in new and exciting ways.

E-books are landing and we have amassed more than 11,000 titles. Our content developers, Liz Brown, Brian Harrington, and Hadley Leach carefully sift through each shipment to ensure that the metadata is complete.  They have begun laying the groundwork for subject collections.

In one of the batches, we discovered poetry books from the prestigious Wesleyan University Press poetry series. The work of James Dickey, Heather McHugh, Brenda Hillman, and James Wright will be accessible in e-book form on the Project MUSE platform.

I checked the Wesleyan list again for Campbell McGrath’s first book “Capitalism” and have spoken to the publisher about getting it on the platform-offering to pay for its digitization out of my own pocket.  There’s only one print copy available on Amazon for $80.00.  A trailblazing work of modern poetry, I’m hoping to get this important work back in circulation via Project MUSE.

One title stuck out from the spreadsheet. I found “Country Music: Selected Early Poems” by Charles Wright that won the 1983 National Book Award. I first read the poem “Dog Creek Mainline” at the University of Virginia in 1984 where I studied with Wright.

I found myself reading it out loud again in my office last week.  Those opening lines echoing again like they did the first time:

“Dog Creek: cat track and bird splay

sprindrift and windfall, woodrot;

odor of muscadine, the blue creep

of kingsnake and copperhead…”

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Wright’s early poems roam the fret board of language and foreshadow the long canto-like stanzas to come in his later work. “Country Music” exposed me to the possibilities of what poetry could be – alive, magical, and moving toward an exciting unknown.

These explorations led me to an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University in 1989 and a book of poems published in 2000.

Project MUSE will have more than 40 books of poetry and 140 works of fiction on the platform in January of 2012.

I invite today’s aspiring and emerging writers to frequent these books when they become available in January.

Thanks for reading,

Dean Smith