Case Studies, Sustainability, Trends in Publishing

A holistic approach to sustainability – Oekom Verlag

Oekom is the German “publishing house for Ecological Communication”;  it was founded in 1989 and has made the topics of ecology and sustainability its focus ever since. Originally it published the journal “politische ökologie” (“political ecology”) and has built on this to become a publisher of 12 journals and approx. 70 other publications annually. The company defines itself as a “Social Entrepreneur” and employee participation, flexible working and staff wellbeing have been at the centre of its philosophy from the outset. Ecology has always been an important factor in the day-to-day running of the company; recycled paper has always been used for office communication; and for many years only food from sustainable sources has been served to staff and visitors. Oekom exclusively uses sustainable products from specialised suppliers. Anke Oxenfarth, Head of Sustainability and editor in chief for “politische ökologie” says: “If you work for Oekom, sustainability is surrounding you all the time: from the ink in pens and toilet paper to the electricity used in offices and for servers; everything is sourced sustainably. When we travel for business, we only travel by rail, even for distances over 500 km. All new members of staff have a sustainability induction when they start working for us, so the approach is completely integral to all company policies.”

Despite this philosophy, Oekom soon recognised that a more strategic approach to sustainability was needed to make improvements to products and the industry as a whole. Therefore in 2007 a mission statement was created to encapsulate the sustainability approach. Since 2008, there has been a particular focus reducing CO2 emissions by the new established Sustainability Officer. Oekom publications have always been printed on recycled paper (Blue Angel/FSC) where possible and today the vast majority of paper used has sustainability certification; and in 2016 the company started to abandon all shrink wrap from its product range. “We had anticipated a big pushback from distributors, but it was actually found to be very workable and now, customers complain if they receive a shrink-wrapped book (that was produced before 2016 or if a bookseller shrink wraps one of our books at their own account),” says Anke Oxenfarth. In 2011, Oekom made another big push towards its sustainability goals with the creation of a dedicated Executive Department of Sustainability (which has been led by Anke Oxenfarth ever since) and by launching the Green Publishing Initiative.

The idea for a more systematic initiative to encourage sustainability within the publishing industry grew in 2009 and 2010, when it started to become a topic with other industry stakeholders as well. However, funding for this was needed, so Oekom Verlag took the lead in 2011 and stared a “green publishing” project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, in cooperation with research bodies in Berlin (IÖW) and Heidelberg (ifeu) – they provided the scientific background – and the Frankfurt Book Fair, with Oekom being responsible for communication on the subject within the industry.

The first part of the project ran from 2011-2013 and focused on the development of industry-wide standards. Under the title “Sustainable Publishing – New Environmental Standards for the Publishing Industry”, the team held workshops for stakeholders from across the industry and developed a set of criteria backed by environmental research. Not all of the suggested criteria were initially accepted, and work still needs to be done around some of them, for example a commitment to ensure products are free from biogenetics.

After the criteria had been agreed, the second step was to develop a certification and approval process. This project had the title “Development of an eco-label Blue Angel for eco-friendly printed products” and its outcome was the “Blue Angel RAL-UZ 195” (Blue Angel) for printed matters certificate, which was approved and developed as an industry standard in 2015. This certificate encompasses the entire production cycle and ensures not only that paper and packaging are sustainable, but also the printing process, including the sourcing of inks and energy suppliers.

Currently, the certification does not include Sales and Distribution channels. Anke Oxenfarth says this is “a real shame, but it would have been too big a project to establish. You would open a can of worms if you were to try and formalise this. We at Oekom support sustainable distribution channels as far as we can, and a lot of work has to happen within the industry as a whole to improve a global, sustainable distribution chain.
“Sustainability has become a ‘buzz word’ in this industry and many publishers have started looking at it, but many are only engaging with individual projects that are not embedded in an overall strategy. If more publishers adopted a holistic approach to sustainability, such as we do ourselves and as some – but only a few – others do, it would make the discussion around this topic a whole lot more meaningful.”

More information about the Initiative can be found (in German) under www.greenpublishing.de; some documentation is available in English from here: Green Publishing – Downloads

[written by Annika Bennett, Gold Leaf]

Academic Publishing, Case Studies, Trends in Publishing

Grown out of dispute: how collaboration removed frustration – and DRM!

Last month, De Gruyter announced the launch of a new initiative, called University Press Library. From early 2020, De Gruyter’s re-launched e-book platform will provide access to the digital book content of 10 American University Presses – with some of whom De Gruyter has long had distribution agreements; others have newly signed with the Germany-based publisher for this project. So far, so good.

What is so special about this project is its background. It all started as a pilot project back in 2014 (very imaginatively, called “the pilot” within De Gruyter!) to get University Presses and their readers to collaborate. At the time, De Gruyter had digital distribution arrangements for America with some of the participating Presses and was therefore aware that one University Press had decided to implement a strict DRM policy for its e-book content. As a direct result of this, 65 subscribing American libraries cancelled their subscriptions and caused a lot of disruption and frustration on both sides of the distribution chain.

At this stage, University Presses were very concerned about piracy and the cannibalisation of print sales. It was for this reason that many had implemented strict DRM rules for e-books, which in turn for the subscribing libraries was difficult to manage and administer. Particularly difficult to deal with was the fact that the Presses implemented different DRM rules on different platforms and for different formats (sometimes even introducing variations on a title-by-title basis).  This caused headaches for the librarians. One knotty issue that emerged was that the duplication of content purchased became unavoidable. For their part, the University Presses had to cope with receipt of inconsistent revenue streams from e-books whilst trying to sustain the publication of scholarly monographs.  (Despite being of high quality, the latter often only generate low usage.)

De Gruyter embraced this situation by turning it into an opportunity; by collaborating with all stakeholders, it developed a solution that worked for everyone: the University Presses, the University Libraries and the consortia.

To tackle the problems, three University Presses – Princeton, Harvard and Columbia – agreed to work with De Gruyter, the consortium LYRASIS and a group of 10 selected US university libraries to start “the pilot”.

In the pilot, all front list e-book content published in 2014 or later, whether user rights had been restricted at title level or not, was made available to the 10 university libraries without DRM. It was agreed with all stakeholders that the pilot would only last as long as it would take to collect enough data to measure the implications of going DRM-free and to evaluate the success of the pilot itself. Eventually it took 5 years to gather enough data, but the outcome was overwhelmingly positive. It turned out that there was no evidence that providing unlimited access to e-books would cannibalise the print sales. User behaviour amongst the 10 participating libraries was very consistent and showed that usage and adoption rates were not dependent on DRM.

This collaborative approach has now led to the development of a product which serves the needs of University Presses as well as consortia and university libraries; all the stakeholders have agreed to a solution that works for them. Even more, it is promising to be so successful that another 7 University Presses have already signed up to become part of the initiative. Each will have its own microsite to keep its branding and profile distinct, but will enjoy the benefits of being part of a larger platform.

When the programme is rolled out globally, it will be interesting to see how many university libraries within and outside of the USA will be interested in participating.  It will allow front-list e-books access (and in some cases also back-list access) on a DRM-free platform.

This blog post is based on an interview with Steve Fallon, Vice President Americas and Strategic Partnerships at De Gruyter.

More information on the Pilot Project and the University Press Library can be found on the De Gruyter website.
University Press Library: https://www.degruyter.com/dg/page/2001
Pilot Project: https://www.degruyter.com/dg/page/2003