Digital 'huge' issue for smaller UPs

Smaller academic presses said the digital transition was a “huge” issue for their businesses following rapid market growth over the past 18 months.

David Rodgers, chief executive of Manchester University Press, called the transition “a big, big challenge”, commenting: “digital at the moment is just costing me money, not making me money".

With MUP’s turnover at £2m, Rodgers said digital revenue was under 5% but “growing fast”, and predicted it would be 30%–35% of total revenue in three to five years. He said: “2012 has been the first year that MUP has brought simultaneous e-book and hardcover output and that’s when we’re going to see a huge shift. Fifty per cent of our revenue comes from monograph publishing, and I can see within the next three years it will be 50/50 hard copy and e-books. I’m keen to get the new content active and selling.”

Timothy Wright, director of Edinburgh University Press [pictured], called the transition a “huge” issue for his business, putting digital at about 10% of current revenue. “We could see that at least doubling over the next three to five years,” he predicted. “The challenge is how you balance that, because the market for print is still out there—there are international markets that are still focused on print—and it’s a huge amount of work digitising the backlist and frontlist. It’s especially painstaking for the deeper backlist, where you are starting from scratch.”

Wright added: “We made the decision that investing in our own platform is a non-starter—you’ve got to have the volume. We’re partnering with e-tailers, Amazon and Gardners, aggregators like Ebrary and NetLibrary, and we’ve signed up with UPSO, Cambridge Publishing Online and JSTOR. But there’s no common format for any of these.”

Liverpool University Press m.d. Anthony Cond said the publisher was seeing “significant growth” in both its journals and books business, and that “opportunities outweigh costs”, with CUP, OUP, JSTOR, MUSE, and commercial vendors and aggregators “hungry for the high-quality content that comes with the university press imprimatur.” He cited success for LUP’s own Translated Texts for Historians E-Library, created through MetaPress, which had “already exceeded expectation".