Glasstree sets out to fix 'broken' academic publishing model

Glasstree sets out to fix 'broken' academic publishing model

These edtech pioneers are driven by a desire to put profits back in the pockets of researchers, not their publishers.

The pitch

Glasstree "returns control to academic authors". It's a cloud-based self-publishing platform that hopes to revolutionise academic publishing by transforming the way in which knowledge is disseminated - "for the benefit of society, not just a privileged few companies". To achieve this, the platform aims to put academics, institutions and research before profits, helping them to regain control and advance important academic work.

The team

Nigel Lee, CEO, is an entrepreneur with a background in software and technology. He is passionate about how the internet can accelerate the advancement of society by breaking the traditional orthodoxy. Glasstree SVP, Daniel Berze, has an extensive background in, and knowledge of, academic publishing. He was previously the Executive Director of seven aacademic societies, and has also worked for a traditional publisher.

Combining industry knowledge with technical know-how, Lee and Berze have set out to challenge the status quo and disrupt the academic publishing industry. Glasstree, a division of Lulu Press Inc., also has a further team of around 60 staff based in various locations around the world. The Glasstree publishing platform is augmented by an academic services platform called Glassleaf.

What's the gap in the market?

Lee and Berze believe that the current academic publishing model is broken - and the culprit is greed.

"For too long now, traditional commercial publishers have been charging excessive prices for academic books and texts and disproportionately benefitting from the profits," they declare. "This has meant that rather than reverting  back to the individuals and institutions that have conducted the work and research and enabling them to continue, profit margins have been strongly skewed towards a handful of big publishers that monopolise the industry. Furthermore, ‘submission to publishing’  times are currently far too lengthy, meaning that vital work is delayed for much longer than necessary."

But the Glasstree team also believes that these issues have implications beyond the academic world. "This is because critical research and studies on a multitude of life-changing areas, including the health sciences, engineering and the environment, are being delayed and profits made from the publishing of content is not going back to the people and institutions that are responsible for its creation," they say. "It is no exaggeration to say that due to this situation, medical discoveries, treatments and scientific innovations of all kinds are seriously hampered, with lives potentially lost and advancements blocked as a result.”

Success so far?

Traditional author book royalties currently stand at under 10% whereas Glasstree's authors and institutions are earning up to 70% of the profits from their book sales. The platform has also reduces the time that work takes to be published - Glasstree is shrinking the traditional timscale of years to anything from 15 minutes to three months, depending on the scale of the project.

"Many leading academics and institutions are now supporting our work, which shows that hopefully the tide is turning," Lee and Berze report. "As well as this, Glasstree also benefits the new generation of students and academics in education. According to the US  Bureau of Economic Analysis, in the US, the cost of a college textbook has increased by more than 1000% since 1974, and 73% since 2006. Purchasing textbooks via the platform is significantly less expensive than through traditional publishers and their distribution channels.”

Biggest challenges?

Change hurts. “Encouraging academics and institutions to publish in a different way is about behavioural change, which can take time," the founders admit. "However, we know that demand is there, as our team recently conducted a survey in which 300 academics and educators participated, with over 80% stating that they were dissatisfied with with the poor level of control they have over the publishing process and 83% agreeing that traditional academic publishing needs to change.”

Ultimate ambition?

Glasstree is looking at ways of using new technology such AI and VR to help academics and institutions connect, collaborate and discuss subjects and texts in new and open ways. Later on this year, Glasstree also aims to enter the world of article-based publishing and journal publishing.

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

“Never be afraid to go against the grain and stand up for what you believe in. Even if people tell you it will be impossible, have the courage to do what you believe is right.”