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AUPresses Receives NEH Grant to Study Impact of Open Access on Print Sales

The Association of University Presses (AUPresses) has been awarded a Level I Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to study the effect of open digital editions on the sales of print monographs. The grant will support a study led by John Sherer, director of the University of North Carolina Press and chair of the AUPresses Open Access (OA) Committee, and Erich Van Rijn, associate director at the University of California Press, an AUPresses representative on the Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem Advisory Board, and chair of the 2019-2021 AUPresses OA Task Force.

The project seeks to understand empirically whether the availability of OA editions of scholarly books has a quantifiable effect on the sales performance of print editions. While many university presses have pursued experiments with OA publishing, sustainable financing of high-quality, rigorous scholarly publishing operations is a significant concern. The study will look at both OA and traditionally published titles across multiple disciplines from many presses. Findings from the study will be shared publicly in support of scholarly publishers, peer institutions, and associations devoted to humanities scholarship.

The Association thanks the NEH for its support of this important and timely investigation.

“We have long assumed that OA will erode print revenues, but there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that increased digital accessibility can potentially expand print markets for specialized monographs,” said Sherer. “Regardless of whether we find that sales increase or decrease, quantifying the impact of OA will be the starting point for new conversations about how to fund OA monographs.”

“In recent surveys, over half of all AUPresses respondents have indicated that they had published OA book content or opened access to previously published material,” said van Rijn. “This research project will allow us to aggregate and analyze the financial impact of a meaningful segment of this OA activity and provide real data to help guide presses’ strategies and advance equitable access to scholarship.”

The AUPresses OA Committee will advise on the survey questions and data targets for the project. AUPresses Director of Research and Communications Brenna McLaughlin will support the study from the Association’s central office, and the grant investigators will work with Ithaka S+R analysts Laura Brown and Roger Schonfeld to interpret collected data and present a robust and evidence-based report.

“The collective work of university presses to publish and distribute monographs is one of the cornerstones of the creation and advancement of scholarship in the humanities and qualitative social sciences,” said AUPresses executive director Peter Berkery. “Figuring out how to publish open access—in sustainable, rigorous ways—could have a transformational impact not only on the future of monograph publishing, but also on the accessibility of humanities scholarship writ large.”

For further information, see the Association’s guiding statement on Open Access and “Does Open Access Cannibalize Print Sales for Monographs?” by John Sherer (The Scholarly Kitchen, January 27, 2022).

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

logo of National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.

Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs

About AUPresses

AUPresses is an organization of more than 150 international nonprofit scholarly publishers. Since 1937, the Association of University Presses advances the essential role of a global community of publishers whose mission is to ensure academic excellence and cultivate knowledge. The Association holds intellectual freedom, integrity, stewardship, and diversity and inclusion as core values. AUPresses members are active across many scholarly disciplines, including the humanities, arts, and sciences, publish significant regional and literary work, and are innovators in the world of digital publishing.

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— AUPresses Mission Statement in Finnish