Academic Publishing, Audiobooks, Digital Publishing, Trends in Publishing

Audiobooks in Academic Publishing – Princeton University Press

In September we published a short blog post on audiobooks in order to offer a short overview of this topic.

We have since had the opportunity to speak to Kim Williams, Digital and Audio Publisher at Princeton University Press, who kindly gave us an interesting insight into the world of audiobooks in academic publishing.

When Princeton University Press announced its new audiobook programme in 2018 it was the first University Press to do so.  Kim Williams told us that they had been licensing rights for audiobooks for several years – first primarily to Audible, later also to others, including Recorded Books, which is the largest independent producer of audiobooks in the world.

However, interest in audiobooks had evolved into something of a trend, with the US market seeing its 7th consecutive year of double-digit growth in sales. Taking this on board together with the increased interest in audiobook licences, Princeton University Press saw an opportunity to enter the market and not only license, but also produce, audiobooks for their readers. After a lot of investigation and costing, a business case was made and in July 2018, Princeton University Press announced the launch of PUP Audio – an audiobook programme aiming initially to publish 24 titles each year. Princeton chose Sound Understanding as its production partner. It is an audio production company that specialises in non-fiction. A great deal of care needs to be taken with the choice of titles to be converted into audiobooks, as Kim Williams explains:

“When choosing the titles for PUP Audio, we first of all have to think about the potential listenership for the book – will an audiobook increase the audience for the title? I then read the book to check if I can ‘hear’ the text; we also have to make sure that charts and diagrams can either be omitted or explained in a simple way without a visual prompt. And then we have to check that the length of a book is right for audio – we don’t want the audiobook to be either too short or too long – and we have to bear the intended readership in mind. In our portfolio, economics books, biographies and big histories tend to work quite well, but we are excited about the potential for our trade science list.”

PUP decided still to maintain its business relationship with Recorded Books; and last month  announced an exclusive partnership with Recorded’s mother company, RBmedia, for the audiobook licensing of further titles (approx. 40 per year).

Kim Williams believes that there is a need for academic audiobooks as well as the various print formats. Audiobooks can support different learning styles, especially now that accessibility of learning content plays an ever more important role at universities. People for whom English is not their native language can find audiobooks a helpful complement to the print book, and of course listening to a book can be time-saving, as it can be done whilst driving a car, exercising or doing other activities that allow you to listen. She thinks that, like e-books, there is a time and place for audio and that having the choice of multiple formats – including audio – ensure a “frictionless reading experience”.

The distribution of audiobooks has not caused difficulties, as they are treated in a similar way to e-books and all big e-book wholesalers will also include audiobooks in their distribution channels. Princeton’s current wholesaler also has good distribution agreements with large audiobooks platforms like Audible, audiobooks.com, Kobo and many independent platforms.

Princeton University Press is not the only academic publisher who publishes audiobooks, but it was certainly one of the first – and the first University Press to do so. Since the publication of their first titles 13 months ago, many others have taken the leap, including Cambridge University Press and Kogan Page.  

So, who are the readers, or should we say listeners, of audiobooks?
“Students of course, but also lecturers who commute, policymakers, the interested public – anyone who wants to save time or who prefers the spoken word over the written one. That stresses the importance of a good narrator: it is crucial to get the right person, someone who is an authority on the topic; they need to show confidence in what they read and therefore must understand the subject, and at the same time have a likeable and clear voice.  Many of our authors have considerable experience in public speaking, but not always the vocal stamina to read a whole book over five or more days. Several of our authors have narrated their own audiobooks, but we have had wonderful readings from professional narrators, too,” says Kim Williams.

Only one year after launching an audiobook programme of its own, Princeton feels that there are many aspects to success as an audiobook publisher.  The production costs of audiobooks are not inconsiderable – on top of hiring studios and the associated costs of this, the narrator puts considerable time and energy into the preparation of an audiobook and deserves fair compensation; and as a publisher that takes pride in the quality of its content PUP (with Sound Understanding) appoints proof listeners for all audiobooks to ensure that the quality control is as rigorous as it is for its print publications. But even though the revenue may not yet exceed the production costs, Princeton University Press has gained many positives from this first year beyond the obvious marketing advantages, as Kim Williams explains: “It certainly has given us a new lens and has opened ways to reach new readerships. One of our missions as a University Press is to reach diverse people across the world, and the audiobooks initiative lets us frame books in new ways and helps us in achieving this goal. Part of our role is to educate people, not only through the content we publish, but also in the way this content is being accessed. Audiobooks are still an evolving model, but we want to be part of shaping this as part of our effort to educate. We have had great feedback from readers and authors alike; and, after all, they are the ones we are here for.”

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

Academic Publishing, Audiobooks, Digital Publishing, Trends in Publishing

Audiobooks – more than just a trend?

Audiobooks have been the fastest growing area in consumer publishing, but also in academic publishing they are becoming more and more popular.

Undoubtedly the market leader is Amazon’s “Audible” but other audio services like Spotify, Audiobooks.com and various eBook vendors also offer audiobook programmes and some publishers distribute audiobooks on their own ebook platforms or websites.

Of course, audiobooks are not new – their origins date back to the 1930s when audiobooks were being sold on vinyl records, primarily for educational purposes. However, since they have become digital, their market reach has grown exponentially and with modern devices (for example smart watches or speakers), they can be played in all sorts of environments and have also become more interesting for the academic market. Their potential to bring in new types of content is interesting to the academic market and non-fiction “trade” publishing was  the first to take advantage of this, for example in Bloomsbury’s “33 1/3” series with a focus on exploring popular music (this project is a co-operation between Bloomsbury Publishing and Spotify).

In academic publishing, Princeton and Cambridge University Presses were the first publishers to announce their audiobook programmes: whilst PUP launched theirs in 2018 , which now comprises 12 titles, Cambridge launched their pilot with 4 titles at the 2019 London Book Fair (and a fifth title will be available in October). They have benefited from some authors who have been happy to read their work, for instance the topical “There Is No Planet B” by Mike Berners-Lee. Both university presses collaborate with the UK-based production company Sound Understanding. In November 2018, Wiley announced a collaboration with RBmedia to produce over 650 audiobooks over the next three years, though the focus will be on business and finance as well as the popular Dummies brand, more than on traditional academic publishing.

No doubt, with audiobooks being one of the buzzwords of the industry, there will be more to follow, and readers ought to keep an eye on our blog, where we will talk more about this trend as it evolves with some industry stakeholders.

Academic Publishing, Trends in Publishing

Finding the truth: Fake News and Academic Publishing

“Fake News” was the “word of the year” in 2017 (according to Collins Dictionaries).  It was a buzz-phrase that sprang up the information sector in 2016, when the US presidential election acted as a catalyst.  Its importance is increasing in a world where the extent of democracy and true freedom of speech varies hugely across the globe. The Collins definition says that it is “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting”. While this phenomenon has existed since the earliest broadsheets were published, it has had a much bigger impact on the psychology of today’s society than those of the past. Now Social Media is a major source of information for many, Fake News can be disseminated and spread much more quickly and widely; moreover, today’s Social Media consumer tends to be less and less worried about the sources and accuracy of the “information” s/he reads. Paradoxically, those who read news no longer trust the media – a recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report said that 49% of readers don’t trust the news sources they use, even though they have chosen these sources themselves! – but this seems to make no difference to their popularity.

You may feel that popular journalism has always been a shade scurrilous, but ask how may affect Academic Publishing. In 2016, The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) published an infographic on How to spot fake news; a closer look reveals that all eight fact-checking points are very relevant to Academic Publishing.

Fake News presents some fundamental challenges to Academic Publishing, an industry that relies on accuracy and integrity of information as the central justification for its existence. Academic Publishing needs to be robust, transparent and meticulously well-researched, because it drives innovation, public policy, and the entire academic discourse. However, Fake News has a big impact on the sector and the opinions held within academia, since misinterpretations of research results can quickly be spread as “facts”. One very prominent example of this was the measles outbreak in Brooklyn, New York in April this year which caused a local public health emergency, because it had been preceded by widespread misinformation about a (non-existing) link of childhood vaccination to autism, with the result that fewer children had been vaccinated. This “information” was based on a study which was already been proved a fake, withdrawn and the author sanctioned, but was still being spread widely on Social Media.

Again, this is  not new – tabloid newspapers have long based their business models on selling biased research data or exaggerated interpretations to the public – but the power of rapid dissemination and concomitant general lack of interest in sources exhibited by the public at large has allowed Fake News to spread more rapidly, even within academic circles. Publishing is the central route to academic preferment.  Unfortunately, therefore, Academic Publishing sometimes lends itself to fraud practised for unscrupulous personal gain.

The world of Academic Publishing relies heavily on Peer Review as its main mechanism of preventing Fake News; there have been frequent examples of publishers having to retract journal articles because of fraudulent peer reviews, as an examination of the blog Retraction Watch, which tracks scientific integrity, can demonstrate.

In response to such malpractice, fact-checking sites like snopes.com and factcheck.org have been established, to help readers to verify the integrity of academic content. Hypothes.is is a fact-checking site dedicated to Academic Publishing which uses annotations in a very effective way and also allows plugs into blogs and news sites.

The switch to Open Science provides another opportunity to prevent Fake News from contaminating Academic Publishing, because the whole OS publication process is open and transparent, meaning that fraud can be detected at an earlier stage.

There is a demonstrable need not only to educate students, but also the wider public, in information literacy and critical thinking. Websites like NimblyWise are attempting this, but take-up is not wide-spread and their reach to the wider public is limited.

Academic Publishing is therefore not immune from Fake News.  Society’s trust in published work without questioning its authenticity holds far-reaching implications. Clearly there is an urgent need for an improved system that can de-incentivise (and possibly prevent) the production of Fake News, provide education in information literacy; and offer a trusted forum to enable Scientists and Academic Publishers to stay in an active dialogue with the public.

Digital Publishing, London Book Fair, Trends in Publishing

Vibes from the London Book Fair 2019

This year’s London Book Fair occurred earlier in the year than usual and was once again held at Olympia – an old favourite for those of us who remember Olympia as the venue for pre-Earl’s Court LBFs. Members of Gold Leaf attended on Tuesday and Thursday.

We were very impressed by the overall attendance, especially on Tuesday: there was a real buzz to the fair, with lots of ancillary activities going on right from the start. We applauded the decision of the fair organisers to ban wheeled laptop cases and suitcases from the aisles this year: it made moving around much less hazardous and increased the feasibility of working to the tight schedules that most of us have to cope with.

So what were this year’s big themes? For academic publishers, Plan S in particular and Open Access publishing more generally probably overshadowed everything except Brexit. (Comments on that, especially from European publishers, were fairly uniform: horrified, puzzled, dismayed by the events unfolding in Parliament while the fair was running.) ALPSP ran a seminar on Plan S and Open publishing on the Wednesday morning, at which David Sweeney, Executive Chair Designate of Research England, was the keynote speaker. Elsewhere at the fair, prominent themes included Fake News – or, rather, how to combat it; freedom of speech; and, on a less abstract level, the rise and rise of talking books (please follow this blog to read more about this in the next couple of weeks).

The PEN stand was mobbed by young authors demanding freedom of speech for all – which until recently would have been a laughable exhibition of preaching to the converted, particularly in such an environment; but recent events in both Europe and the USA, as well as further afield in the world, have now demonstrated very strongly the importance of not taking freedom of speech – not to say the accurate representation of the truth – for granted.

The importance of supporting creativity and allowing authors and other creative artists by maintaining copyright law was also the theme of this year’s Charles Clark Memorial Lecture, delivered by Professor Daniel Gervais, Milton R Underwood Chair in Law and Director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program at Vanderbilt Law School, which was entitled Copyright, Books and Progress. Professor Gervais’ central premise was that copyright should be fiercely defenced to incentivise the “right things” – i.e., matters central to the progress of human civilisation. He said that it was clear that in order to achieve its aims, new content must not only be created but made available, while finding ways not to disadvantage those who have spent their lives perfecting their creative craft. His message was that rules should be created and observed to maximise access to content, while providing authors with sustainable livelihoods. You will be able to read more details about the lecture on this blog soon.

Stephen Page, CEO of Faber, also spoke of the need to preserve the essential values of civilisation in one of the opening speeches of the fair. Like Professor Gervais, he depicted publishing and the laws and norms that underpin it as central to the development of civilised society. “We need to have the courage to fight for our values we believe in: free speech, respect for ideas and intellectual life, for copyright, and for the right of an artist to make a living; and for our local markets.”

The Author Centre was frantically busy, as usual; and several new amenities were provided for authors, including Author HQ, organised by Midas, which gave pre-chosen authors the chance to pitch to agents in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ kind of way.

Indonesia was the guest country of the book fair this year and some of the Indonesia publications were both exotic and wonderful. However, China seemed to have an even greater representation, and Indian publishers also enjoyed a much higher profile than in the past.

All in all, the atmosphere was joyful, celebratory and can-do. Although – as indicated in this summary – some of the underlying reasons for preoccupations aired at the fair were deadly serious, the end result was the display of an industry perhaps more united than usual about what it stands for.