A Response to “The Future of the Monograph in the Digital Era: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation”

Most of the discussion around open access scholarly communication centres on the academic article as the research output in question. There are many more academic articles published annually than monographs or other research output, which makes for a “critical mass” argument. Articles are also the units of the serial crisis, in so far as corporate publishers are bundling together journals of articles and selling these packages to libraries at inappropriate and untenable prices. Moreover, the transition from toll access to open access seems most feasible with articles because of their relatively low production costs, especially when compared to monographs. Michael A. Elliott shifts the focus from the possibilities for open access repositories and journals to an exploration of what this sort of scholarly communication framework would look like for monographs. In “The Future of the Monograph in the Digital Era: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,” Elliott’s goal is to explore the viability of an alternative publishing model for monographs, as this type of scholarly output also faces the same shifting scholarly communication environment as articles do. He argues that the best path forward is a model where universities fund the open access, digital publication of monographs, with print-on-demand possibilities.

Elliott’s report to the Mellon Foundation is based on the deliberations of a working group at Emory University, who met over 2014–15 to parse through possibilities for the monograph and its publication, moving forward. Elliott structures the report succinctly, detailing the logic behind his argument, relevant issues, reservations, and roadblocks, and suggesting an implementation plan focused on Emory U. Among other ruminations, Elliott argues that the digital monograph must incorporate several features that “advance scholarship and function within the existing practices of humanities scholars” (n.p.): robust peer review, ample marketing, conscientious design, flexible licensing, provisions for sustainability and preservation, printability, annotation, searchability, and hyperlinking. Significantly, not all of these features (or even most of them) are endemic of print monographs. Print monographs are rarely marketed widely, for instance, nor do they provide for advanced linking or searching.

Elliott’s report is relevant to my research question — How do digital materials in general, and digital publishing practices in particular, contribute to, facilitate, or counteract open scholarship? — as he outlines a potential model for future digital monograph publishing that incorporates elements of open scholarship, including access, interlinking, and discoverability. As so much literature on open access scholarly communication that I have encountered thus far focuses on the article, it is useful to expand the scope of my knowledgebase and to consider the implications of an open access future for monographs (and other research output of the same heft) as well. Although the model that Elliott presents is sound and convincing, it would be interesting to explore alternative funding models for open access monograph publishing too. Elliott quotes the Mellon Foundation’s estimation of a monograph costing ~$10,000 to publish, but deigns to provide details into what that price point covers. Are there more efficient publishing solutions for monographs, such as John Maxwell and Kathleen Fraser’s suggestion to develop more streamlined, web-based publications (2010)? Or, is the reality of monograph pricing even higher than $10,000 / unit, as Nancy Maron, Kimberly Schmelzinger, Christine Mulhern, and Daniel Rossman suggest (2016)? Regardless, the transition to open access digital publication of monographs is fraught, and sure to benefit from sustained considerations like Elliott’s report.

Works cited

Elliott, Michael A. 2015. “The Future of the Monograph in the Digital Era: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 18 (4): n.p. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jep/3336451.0018.407/–future-of-the-monograph-in-the-digital-era-a-report?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Maron, Nancy, Kimberly Schmelzinger, Christine Mulhern, and Daniel Rossman. 2016. “The Costs of Publishing Monographs: Toward a Transparent Methodology.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 19 (1): n.p. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jep/3336451.0019.103/–costs-of-publishing-monographs-toward-a-transparent?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Maxwell, John, and Kathleen Fraser. 2010. “Traversing the Book of MPub: An Agile, Web-first Publishing Model. Journal of Electronic Publishing 13 (3): n.p. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jep/3336451.0013.303?view=text;rgn=main