Some Observations on the Project’s Grant Period

A few months ago California Classical Studies (CCS) submitted to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation the final report on the startup grant for the project. This post conveys some of the information in that report, including sales, workflow options, costs, and lessons learned.

The grant was originally to run for about three years (October 2012 to December 2015), but was extended for two years to December 2017. The main reason for the extension was the slow pace of submissions, and this dearth prevented the project from gaining as much information and publishing experience as had been hoped.

During the year 2017 the fifth and sixth volumes in the series were published. February saw the appearance of the the revised dissertation of Joey Williams, The Archaeology of Roman Surveillance in the Central Alentejo, Portugal (see the review by H. Friedman, in American Journal of Archaeology122.1 (2018) (online). This was the first on an archaeological topic, and also the first to be accompanied by visual material not printed in the book but available for immediate download or online viewing in a Supplement, which included photographs, maps, and viewshed analysis maps based on calculations using digital mapping data. It was one of the goals of the series to promote this kind of hybrid publication. November brought my own Preliminary Studies on the Scholia to Euripides, the first produced without using Adobe InDesign. The series had one other work under contract as of the end of the grant period, but the final revision from the author has been repeatedly delayed.

The grant was intended in part to gain information about the financial model, particularly about what amount of revenue an open-access series could bring in.

The sales and revenue results per title are given here, updated through July 20, 2018 (these are for revenue sales and exclude the at-cost copies ordered by the project for copyright registration, review journals, authors, and CCS itself).

Kurke, Traffic in Praise, published Aug, 2013, PDF never embargoed 71 paperback, 2 ePub, $426
Courtney, Juvenal, published Oct. 2013, PDF embargo removed Oct. 2015 117 paperback, 6 ePub, $1078
Griffith, Greek Satyr Play, published Sept. 2015, PDF embargo removed Nov. 2017 98 paperback, 9 ePub, $825
Kotwick, Alexander of Aphodisias, published March 2016, PDF embargoed removed March 2018 66 paperback, 3 ePub, $684
Williams, Archaeology of Surveillance, published Feb. 2017, PDF embargoed until Feb. 2019 16 paperback, 2 ePub, $145
Mastronarde, Preliminary Studies, published Nov. 2017, PDF embargoed until Nov. 2019 35 paperback, 0 ePub, $382
Total for all titles 403 paperback, 22 ePub, $3540

Only 23 of the paperbacks and 5 of the ePubs sold through the Print-On-Demand vendor Lulu.com through which CCS has so far published it books. Upon publication, Lulu makes the books available to other distributors. Amazon sold 203 paperbacks and 7 ePubs, Ingram sold 177 paperbacks, and the remaining 10 ePubs were sold through Google, iBookstore, and Kobo. One misstep in our planning for revenue was that the initial calculation had available only the estimate of what could be earned through Lulu sales, where a high percentage of the sales price comes back to CCS. The percentage is far less (indeed, half or less) when the other vendors are involved, but it seems prudent not to restrict the sales to Lulu, although that is possible. Although the average revenue per copy sold would increase, the book would not have enough exposure on the market. In particular, university libraries seem to be used to ordering through Ingram, and individual purchasers expect to find virtually every in-print book available on Amazon.

What is to be noted is that books continue to sell even after the PDF download is no longer embargoed. In the case of Courtney’s massive commentary (a reprint, but long out of print before that), a printed copy is clearly easier to use than a PDF, since one frequently wants to follow up cross-references and clarify abbreviations and bibliographic references. The book of Leslie Kurke was never embargoed and, being a reprint, received no reviews, but still has achieved sales. Griffith’s book reprints (somewhat revised) articles and chapters already available elsewhere, but still has sold close to 100 copies, with some of those after the download embargo ended.

The open-access site for viewing the books (and download when available) is eScholarship.org, sponsored by the California Digital Library (CDL). Over the course of the project its manner of reporting traffic changed, and reports warn that “the data … should be considered approximate and subject to revision.” For some reason, the reports compile total requests per item, but not downloads per item, which can be figured out only in one remembers to download every single monthly report and then compiles the downloads per item oneself. A certain number of the page requests and a few of the downloads should ideally be eliminated because they represent my own checks of the CCS pages on the eScholarship site and testing of downloads. The following numbers count activity through the end of June 2018.

Kurke, Traffic in Praise, published Aug, 2013, PDF never embargoed Requests: 2763
Courtney, Juvenal, published Oct. 2013, PDF embargo removed Oct. 2015 Requests: 11797
Griffith, Greek Satyr Play, published Sept. 2015, PDF embargo removed Nov. 2017 Requests: 1825
Kotwick, Alexander of Aphodisias, published March 2016, PDF embargoed removed March 2018 Requests: 2111
Williams, Archaeology of Surveillance, published Feb. 2017, PDF embargoed until Feb. 2019 Requests: 611
Mastronarde, Preliminary Studies, published Nov. 2017, PDF embargoed until Nov. 2019 Requests: 359
Total for all titles Requests: 19466 (= 3683 downloads + 15783 view-only)

 

Among the challenges faced by the project were changes made by the partners. The CDL had made the arrangement for series like ours to publish POD through Lulu.com. This came about after the University fo California Press had withdrawn from the partnership that had been in effect when the initial planning for CCS began. But the CDL agreement with Lulu ended a few years ago, and series like CCS had to decide whether to continue with Lulu on their own or use a different vendor (like Ingram). It seemed too inconvenient, and risky in terms of possible reduplication of effort, to make a switch in the middle of the grant period, so CCS remained with Lulu. But the Lulu page that was supposed to include all our titles no longer accepted new items, so this site itself had to have a catalogue page added to fulfill this function. The infrastructure of the eScholarship repository underwent a major revision and upgrade in the fall of 2017. As a result of the redesign we have temporarily lost the display of our own logo (as opposed to the UC Berkeley Department of Classics banner) on that site, although we are told it will someday again become possible to customize the banner. When the new system went live, there were a few bugs in connection with the PDF downloads and the embargo function, but these were resolved after a few weeks. Because of the timing of the transition, the embargo on download for Griffith’s book, which should have ended on September 15, 2017, had to be extended, and this title actually became downloadable in November. In addition, because of a restriction placed on two chapters of Griffith by Oxford University Press, the PDF of this book had to be a partial one; and, since it would have been technically too complicated and time-consuming for eScholarship to adapt the system so that the usual download button would lead to this partial PDF (rather than the full one that underlies the page display on their platform), the partial PDF was made downloadable as Supplementary Material in this case.Finally, this WordPress-based site suffered three attacks during late 2016 and during 2017: these seem to have been the result of exploitations of weaknesses in the WordPress platform and not to lack of prudent settings for passwords and access.

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. We overestimated the difficulty of acquiring works to publish during the grant period. Some works that we had hoped to publish ended up taking different directions. The technical and data-oriented works we aimed to feature often take a very long time to mature, especially in archaeology but also in papyrology, so some titles we had hoped for may yet come in. The number of other submissions was disappointingly small. Most of those occurred through connections made by one or another of the editor board members. It may also be the case that in the United States itself there is not a sufficient volume of this type of individual publication in Classics (as opposed to ongoing series of excavation results for a particular site or of papyrus texts in a given collection). There is much more of this nature being produced in Europe (a good deal if it appearing in English translation), but European classicists seem content with their current systems and less concerned about open access for vital basic research.
  2. Two main consequences of the shortage of submissions hampered the goals of the project. Book production was not frequent enough to allow full experimentation with different possible workflows and to allow handing over style templates and standard steps either to authors themselves or to hired help (graduate students or a freelance copy editor). Nor was it frequent enough to offer enough hours of work on a regular basis for the freelance copy editor we did train in compositing with InDesign to stick with our project. She did do some preliminary setup in InDesign for some chapters, but then landed a full-time job and had to withdraw her participation. So almost all the compositing was done by me. The initial plan of trying to produce 15 books in three years would have been difficult to realize even if sufficient acceptable submissions had arrived . Two or three publications per year would be doable, if there were enough accepted submissions.
  3. We learned the ins and outs of a number of systems that make an independent project like this possible, and made lists of steps and reminders about stumbling-blocks and solutions to problems. This included managing ISBN assignment through Bowker (myIdentifiers.com), getting a Library of Congress Control Number through the Preassigned Control Number Program, registering copyright through the Electronic Copyright Office site, using the Lulu system for publishing the print books and ePubs and seeking wider distribution, mailing required copies to two different departments of the Library of Congress, and mailing copies to a list of appropriate review journals, adjusted according to the subject matter of the work. We also have a template publishing agreement and have used our experiences to refine our submission questionnaire and the exact supplementary information (including blurbs of various lengths) required of a an author when the final files are submitted for compositing.
  4. We now have numerous styles for CCS books defined in both InDesign and MS Word. These will thus be available for future volumes that maintain this style. The books we aim to produce contain many variations of format for different purposes, but the styles already defined should serve the majority of the content in most books, although any given future book might require some adaptations or a few additional styles. If MS Word is used for a future book, it may be possible to ask some authors to apply most of the standard styles themselves before they turn the files over to us for professional copy editing and final production.Our experiences with creating the print-quality PDFs and the ePubs has been described in early posts.
  5. It is certainly clearer to us now than when the project was conceived how difficult it is keep intact all the precise typographical features that scholars use in specialized works, like intermingling in one paragraph words in different languages and different scripts (namely, Roman and Greek), or frequently using italics, superscripts, and subscripts, or having many block quotes of an ancient passage followed by iits equivalent in English and sometimes by a few lines of apparatus criticus. In processing an author’s file into the defined styles of the series, whether in Adobe InDesign or MS Word, there is a constant danger of losing the change of font (if a different font is used for Greek), losing the change from or to italics, or losing the superscript or subscript position of particular characters. To deal with this, one must choose between applying a style all at once to a large sequence of paragraphs and then carefully repairing any losses of format of specific words or characters, or applying the style to paragraphs one by one (thus, more slowly) in the manner that causes the fewest losses. It turned out usually to be best not to select a whole paragraph, but to place the insertion point at a single place within the paragraph, inside or next to a word that is in the default form—not italic, not superscript, not subscript, not in a font or script different from the one named in the style. Specialized works do indeed require more manual intervention and more vigilant proofreading, no matter how much may be automated. This explains why in some cases certain presses will declare that there will be no Greek font used in a book (imagine being asked to write a basic introduction to the textual tradition and editing of Euripides and then told there cannot be any Greek in it at all), or that notes will not be placed at the bottom of each page, or that notes are to be kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, there are books that require these features, and the continued viability of publishing them is important to the discipline.
  6. We learned something about the costs of production. Setting aside the first two books (Kurke and Courtney), which involved OCR and correction of the result (and for Courtney’s book greater length than most of our titles are expected to be), we may review the costs for the other four books to estimate per-title expenses. (This also ignores the initial setup costs for a designer, a consultant to help especially with the author agreement, and the bulk purchase of ISBNs, as well as such overheads as the honoraria paid for submissions that are not accepted.) We expect to use two referees at a honorarium of $150 each, although it would probably be better to raise this to at least $200: so we should plan $300-$400 for the future. Copy-editing ran at about $1000 for Numbers 4 through 6, while Number 3 (Griffith) was higher because it involved bringing stylistic uniformity to five chapters originally prepared in different styles for different publications, as well as consolidating five bibliographies into one with uniform styel. From the experience of setup in InDesign and Word, it appears that the initial set up and application of styles (leading to page proofs) can be done in about 20 hours per 250-300 page book, and if this work were done in future by a graduate student or freelancer at $25-$30 per hour, this would cost about $500-$600 dollars. The initial 20 POD copies cost about $175, copyright costs eirther $35 (if the whole book consists of new copyrightable text) or $55 (if there are images as well as text, or if parts of the book are not copyrightable or were previously copyrighted). Shipping 15 copies for review and for Library Congress deposit comes to around $300 (more or less depending on how many review copies are sent out of the US). Proofreading is done by the author and the editor. Hiring an additional proofreader (approx. $500) will be required only in unusual cases. The total estimated cost for an average-sized monograph is $2085 with the lower figures above and $2305 with the higher figures, plus in a few cases $500 more for an extra proofreader.Of course, each book involves the unpaid time of the editor for arranging peer-review, entering any needed refinements of style after initial composition, fixing the errors revealed by the reading of page proofs, and miscellaneous tasks.
  7. It seems realistic to think of sales in the range of 75-100 within the two years of embargo and limited sales thereafter when the author is well-known or the topic not too narrow. But it may be that the work of a junior scholar on a topic with very limited readership will sell only about 50 within two years. As noted previously, for the widest availability of the titles, they need to be sold not just on the Lulu platform (or some successor) but also through other major book vendors, and those vendors provide about half as much revenue per copy as Lulu. Without changing the pricing structure radically, we should expect only about $8 revenue on average per sale, so $600-$800 for 75-100 sales. This means that subventions are indeed necessary, but if that subvention is $3000 from those authors with sufficient research funds or whose campuses support open access with a subvention (as some now do), the accumulation of the excess of such a subvention over the average cost of a book, plus the modest sales revenue, would provide a fund to cover some books for which the author is in no position to obtain an institutional subvention.
  8. The pace of change of scholars’ attitudes toward open-access and online publishing has been disappointingly slow. One still hears dismissive references to “vanity publishing” when the economic model of prepayment for open access is mentioned. Fortunately, there has been some progress here and there at the institutional level to recognize the benefit of institutional rather than authorial subvention for open access. At UC Berkeley, for instance, there is now the possibility for faculty in humanities and social sciences to apply for up to $7500 from the Library to support an open-access publication. That is far more than the production expenses we have experienced per book, but in line with what it needed for academic presses, with their larger operations and substantial overheads for personnel and space.
  9. We underestimated the difficulty of getting noticed and spreading awareness. With a budget modification we were able to do some advertising in the last years of the grant. (But it is not likely that there will be sufficient funds in the future to do advertising.) It is clear that a small-scale publishing effort of this kind would have more visibility if it were affiliated with a university press or with a national organization with a built-in membership base and regular opportunities for wide communication. In addition, the series would have attracted more notice if we had produced at least 2 books per year.

FUTURE PLANS

The series will continue for at least a while. There are works in the pipeline, but at this date it seems likely that the next title will not appear until 2019. We have some funds on hand from sales revenues and a subvention received, and we will need to attract at least some authors who have access to modest institutional support if the project is to continue in the longer term.

An open-source publishing platform is now open and being further developed at Editoria.org and we will explore testing that platform with a future title.

The ePub format will not be used in the future. There is not enough demand, and the flowing-text format is inferior for scholarly reference and for some of the more complex aspects of our intended works. Consideration will be given instead to selling the PDF as an eBook during the embargo period, but that would have to be done through Lulu or a similar vendor as PDFs are not eligible for distribution by iBookstore or Amazon.