Free thinking at Bloomsbury

Free thinking at Bloomsbury

<p>When news broke in September that Bloomsbury was to make a bold move into academic publishing with an &quot;on-demand&quot; imprint which would publish titles online for free, Frances Pinter&mdash;Bloomsbury Academic&#39;s publisher&mdash;had an extraordinary level of response. </p><p>&quot;I received 1,000 emails in 24 hours,&quot; she says. &quot;Of my old publishing friends, most would like to see this work. They&#39;d like me to be the guinea pig, but they&#39;d like to see it work.&quot; Bloomsbury Academic will use Creative Commons licences to allow non-commercial use of all its titles online as soon as they are published, with revenue generated from the print copies sold using short-run technologies and p.o.d. While occasional books have been published in this way before, it is the first time a commercial operation has devoted a whole imprint to the model.</p><p>Pinter is upfront about the experimental nature of the venture, saying she is glad Bloomsbury is &quot;adventurous&quot; enough to try it. &quot;I am going to have to sell enough copies of my books to keep my business alive. I expect to lose a few sales [because the material is available online for free] but gain a few sales because more people will know about the work. If I&#39;m right, we&#39;ll be profitable. If I&#39;m wrong, I&#39;ll get kicked out.&quot;</p><p>Pinter is currently busy getting the imprint up and running. It has an impressive advisory board, including Professor Hal Abelson from MIT, British Library c.e.o. Dame Lynne Brindley and Professor Robin Mansell of the LSE. Pinter&#39;s office is being made ready in the Bloomsbury building at 2 Soho Square, and she has just hired two commissioning editors, Caroline Wintersgill from Ashgate and Emily Salz from Palgrave Macmillan, who will start work in the new year. </p><p>Bloomsbury Academic aims to publish 40 to 50 titles in its first year, commissioning in international development, media, environment, globalisation, international political economy, as well as, unsurprisingly, in new technologies and intellectual property rights. It will take an interdisciplinary approach to issues that bring scholars together across boundaries, Pinter says. It will publish primarily monographs, though not exclusively, some of which are expected to cross over to a trade market (as has its first title, an early release, Remix by Lawrence Lessig, shortlisted for the FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award). The imprint will ask for world rights, and will pay a &quot;modest&quot; royalty, with print copies priced in line with the competition. Podcasts will be offered to augment the books themselves. </p><p>Pinter explains the thinking behind the publishing model. &quot;There is a huge squeeze on academic monographs. Even if you can make money on selling 3,000 copies, in a way, what is the point of that?&quot; Academics are already bypassing publishers to put their material up online so that it gets the wider dissemination they crave, she says. &quot;Some hardliners say you don&#39;t need publishers at all. But most academics want traditional publisher-added values&mdash;peer review, copy-editing, marketing, branding&mdash;that quality publishers bring. So how is this to be paid for? It&#39;s just a question of where in the chain you pay. And if you can ensure everyone who wants to have access to that research reads it, some will buy it.&quot; </p><p>But commercial viability is only part of Pinter&#39;s motivation. Her background is, as she puts it, as &quot;a social/educational entrepreneur&quot;, and crucial to her thinking is the fact that Bloomsbury Academic&#39;s online model will allow students in developing countries to freely access research that would otherwise be denied them because their libraries haven&#39;t the budget for the books. &quot;We will publish in areas where Creative Commons will be particularly useful in developing countries,&quot; she explains, buzzing with enthusiasm. &quot;In areas where we know there is a global market, parts of which can afford to buy books, and parts that can&#39;t. I don&#39;t want to publish books on housing policy in Hull&mdash;if people can&#39;t afford to buy that book, they can go to a library that can afford to buy it. But if you want to publish a book on comparative development studies and the areas being studied can&#39;t afford to buy books, then I am interested.&quot;</p><p>So does Bloomsbury Academic really count as a commercial business? &quot;It&#39;s a totally different paradigm,&quot; says Pinter. &quot;If you start with the assumption that everything you access should be paid for at the point of use, then what we are doing is charity. If you take the view that the internet should be more of a library and less of a bookstore, and that one way of funding the publishing process is through those who access books, then free [online] access is not charitable, it&#39;s just part of the way you do business.&quot;<br /><br /><strong>Entrepreneurial background</strong><br />The Creative Commons model is not entirely untested. Human Sciences Research Council, a South African government-sponsored social -science publisher in Cape Town, publishing research about Africa by African scholars on a partly-commercial basis, began to put content online for non-commercial purposes a couple of years ago. &quot;Their print sales saw a 240% increase,&quot; says Pinter. &quot;For them it also attracted a lot of research money because the authors had the dissemination. If we can give our authors that kind of exposure and sell that number of copies . . .&quot;</p><p>Pinter also cites the example of a newspaper publisher in Uganda who doubled his print sales by putting everything up online for free.</p><p>But if these examples sound pretty flimsy as a test run for a commercial UK imprint, Pinter&#39;s CV carries a weight of its own. She set up her own academic publishing house, Pinter Publishing, at the tender age of 23. Her mother and Andr&eacute; Deutsch (fellow Hungarian &eacute;migr&eacute;s) were friends, and Pinter asked him for a job; the notoriously parsimonious Deutsch said he&#39;d give her the job, but wouldn&#39;t pay her.</p><p>&quot;I thought: &lsquo;I&#39;ve got &pound;1,000 savings, I can start my own publishing company.&#39;&quot;&quot; Pinter Publishing&#39;s reputation for dramatically speeding up the publishing process through clever workflow was partly driven by the need to keep money flowing into her precarious start-up, which went on to publish for the next 20 years.</p><p>In the 1990s, Pinter moved to be director of international publishing at the Soros Foundation, created by international financier and philanthropist George Soros. Forging a mission for herself, she saw the opportunity to strengthen the new independent publishers emerging in post-communist countries in the early days after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Soros set up the Centre for Publishing Development in Budapest, and Pinter worked on traditional publishing training&mdash;setting up ISBN agencies, establishing trade bodies, infrastructure, running courses on copyright law&mdash;as well as developing electronic publishing. The programme operated in more than 30 post-communist countries.</p><p>Then in 1998, Pinter was &quot;sitting in a tedious meeting on e-journals&quot; at Unesco when she suddenly had an idea. &quot;We could convince Western publishers to sell e-journal content [to developing countries] at vastly reduced prices if we at Soros could ensure streamlined delivery.&quot; This led to the creation of Electronic Information for Libraries, which used a new business model to help developing countries buy access to e-journals at much reduced prices on a -country-wide site licence basis. EIFL now makes 6,000 journals in the social sciences and humanities available to 2,500 libraries in 50 countries. Pinter describes &quot;the excitement I felt when I knew I could make the same journals that were available to a student in Harvard available to a student in Novosibirsk&quot;.&nbsp; </p><p>Pinter has also explored the benefits of open content licensing for African publishers, on a research project run by the International Development Research Centre in Canada. She describes it as &quot;hugely interesting. In Africa, cross-border movement is difficult&mdash;there are no roads, no infrastructure. But if you put material online in South Africa, for example, someone in Nigeria can read it. And print-on-demand opens it all up so that you don&#39;t have to transport books.&quot;</p><p>With this background behind her, it&#39;s understandable that when Pinter &quot;sidled up&quot; to Bloomsbury chief executive Richard Charkin at this year&#39;s London Book Fair and outlined the model behind Bloomsbury Academic, she got a favourable reaction. &quot;I could see his mind going tick, tick, tick. He said: &lsquo;I&#39;ll call you.&#39; And I knew he would.&quot; </p><p>Pinter says she has a five-year plan for the business, and &quot;after two to three years, we&#39;ll know if it&#39;s &#8232;working.&quot; Most of the 1,000 contacts who emailed her&mdash;and many more thousand students in the developing world hoping for access to Bloomsbury Academic titles&mdash;will be hoping it does.</p>