E-Duke Books Tests New Model

Laments on the plight of the monograph abound of late, but Duke University Press is attempting to shake things up with its new program, the e-Duke Books Scholarly Collection. Modeled on the pricing structure of the e-Duke Journals Scholarly Collection, e-Duke Books offers online access to at least 100 new titles per year to subscribing libraries, in addition to access to many of the press's backlist titles.

Michael McCullough, sales manager for the press, explained that director Steve Cohn "has been a driving force behind this for a number of years," and had long been seeking to address "two separate but complementary problems," that is, the decline in sales to academic libraries, and the challenge of finding the best way to make the press's books available in digital form. As Cohn saw these two issues converging, he and his staff began to look into ways to address them, while "control[ling] our content as much as possible," and without using multiple aggregators.

The e-Duke Books collection will include at least 100 new electronic books published by the press each year. The press typically publishes 115-120 new titles in a given year, and plans to include the great majority of these titles in the collection, excluding only "titles of regional or popular interest or titles to which Duke does not hold electronic rights."

The press launched a pilot version of the program in 2008, with the participation of 19 US and Canadian libraries. Following a successful run with the pilot program, the press launched a full version in 2009. Collection prices are based on institutions' 2005 Basic Carnegie Classifications, and range from $500 to $6,000 per year.

By ordering, libraries also receive access to the over 900 Duke University Press backlist books which are currently available in digital form. As the program continues, this backlist will grow in two ways. The 100+ new books that are included in the collection in a given year will become part of the backlist in subsequent years. Additionally, Duke expects to continue the work of digitizing older titles, further increasing the scope of their available backlist.

Offering such a large swath of its backlist as part of the collection required a substantial amount of digitization work. Some of the press's titles had already been digitized through BiblioVault, funded by a grant which offered free or low-cost digitization services to university presses. That provided a head start for the press, although the remaining titles have required "fair amount of staff time" from the production department. The digitization efforts will also allow Duke to offer a single-title purchase model of e-books to libraries beginning this summer.

The press's files are currently digitized as web-ready PDFs, with some of the conversion being handled by their partner, ebrary. The ebrary platform also allows full-text searching, and ensures that Duke's content is cross-searchable with all ebrary content to which a library has access.

One particularly interesting aspect of Duke's program is the option to purchase a $500 "print add-on option," which will include cloth editions of all titles in the current year's collection. Kimberly Steinle, Duke's Library Relations Manager, indicated that this has been a very popular option among subscribers, with an uptake rate of more than 75%. She noted that the press wanted to ensure this was an optional add-on, rather than a requirement, as some smaller- to medium-sized libraries may not have the space for all of the books. Not requiring libraries to purchase the add-on also helps ensure that the electronic collection is as inexpensive as possible.

The option also fits well with the way the press envisions users accessing the titles. McCullough said he feels "students still don't really want to read 40 pages at a time on screen," and that he anticipates library patrons will more likely "discover the book online, and if they want to read more, we want to make that as easy as possible." Having a cloth edition of the book available on the shelf facilitates this sort of fluidity.

Piracy issues have been a major concern for university presses of late, particularly with the advent of new e-publishing projects. While acknowledging that they are concerned with piracy in the same way as other university presses, McCullough explained that Duke feels the technology they are using successfully avoids any major risks. Ebrary's printing and downloading restrictions were attributes that made the company a particularly attractive partner for Duke. With the ebrary technology, users are streaming the content, rather than downloading the material to their own computer. Additionally, ebrary limits the number of pages a user is able to print.

The e-Duke Books FAQ section has a comprehensive delineation of the various user policies of the site license, including interlibrary loan, course packs, electronic reserves, printing, and downloading. Steinle explained that these guidelines were developed in conjunction with ebrary, first looking at ebrary's guidelines and then tailoring them to best meet the needs of the press's content. Regarding the printing restrictions for example, she said, "our goal was to try to come as close as possible to how many pages would be in a [typical] chapter."

Another risk for the press is how this sort of accessibility might affect course adoptions, such a mainstay of many university presses. McCullough said that this is an area in which time will tell how the subscription model affects these sales, but he again pointed to what he had spoken about earlier, that assumption most students still do not want to read book-length material online. Additionally, he pointed out that traditional library sales have not been in competition with paperback course adoptions.

As is the case with so many successful e-publishing initiatives, the press enlisted the help of the university library to provide subscribers to the program with enhanced MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloging) records. McCullough explained that the press wanted to offer the highest level of metadata available, and thus enlisted the help of the catalogers from the Duke University Perkins/Bostock Library. With the MARC records, the cataloging happens on a chapter level – which results in a "real advantage" for both librarians and patrons. Attesting to the invaluable assistance of the library in this aspect of the project, he said, "we certainly could not be creating them [the MARC records] on our own." Feedback from librarians was also valuable in making procedural changes to the pilot program, to best tailor the program and its offerings to the needs of libraries.

While hesitant to make any sweeping assessments at this early point in the program's development, McCullough said the press is "very happy with the way it has gone so far." He noted that the ability to work with colleagues who have managed the similar e-Duke Journals program has been a great help: "They've been through this process before."

There are of course differences between the two programs, and unique challenges that the e-Duke Books staff is still tackling. While the majority of librarians and patrons are now accustomed to accessing journals electronically, McCullough feels that there is still some need to "sell them on the idea" of accessing books in the same manner. He also noted that librarians may be less likely to take a chance on unfamiliar models in "this challenging economic climate."

McCullough thinks it is possible that other presses may adopt similar models in the near future, and anticipates that they will each vary them to reflect their press's particular capacities and strengths. He pointed out that this type of model was particularly well suited to Duke's publishing program. As their list is reasonably small, they were able to include all of their new titles, while maintaining a workable size for the press and a "cost that would not be prohibitive to libraries." While some presses may choose to implement similar collections composed of titles in a particular subject area, the interdisciplinary nature of many of Duke's books made this all-encompassing program a preferable option, as there was no need to fit books into neat categorizations. Duke's well-known editorial profile as a publisher of interdisciplinary and innovative scholarship seems to have lent itself particularly well to this new model.

Meredith Benjamin
Communications Coordinator, AAUP