Shared Scholarly Publishing Infrastructure – a sure way to promote Australia’s research excellence

Academics form one of the most prolific online user communities throughout the world. They are also amongst the most well-defined groups of ‘users’ that act simultaneously as both authors and readers.  The online environment has enabled geographically dispersed academics to be more closely and actively connected around their core fields of research. However, research outputs in print or electronic book form are still hampered by relatively high costs of production that require better economies of scale to overcome.

In recent years the Australian federal government has invested heavily in digital repositories to provide some of the necessary infrastructure for storing and accessing the great wealth of our academic research output. ‘Open Access’ has also been openly advocated by Minister Carr throughout his term as being a logical approach to sharing publically funded research.

However, electronic means for packaging (ebooks/digital books/bits of books, for web/mobile device/print on demand) and distributing (via wholesale, retail, and library networks) are also needed, in addition to storage and access, to achieve a substantially higher level of exposure for Australian academics both here and overseas, even if ‘open access’ models are adopted.

A collaborative approach to packaging and distribution would be a logical development alongside the various collaborations invested in for storage and access.  These include the Australasian Digital Theses Program and the National Collaborative Research Strategy into eResearch.

At least seven universities (ANU, Monash, RMIT, Uni of Melb, Uni of Syd, UNSW, UQ) have been developing different but complementary approaches to electronic publishing in recent years. These efforts could be analysed to identify what common infrastructure would best serve the further development of e-publishing  models for academic research outputs from all universities in Australia.

A shared scholarly publishing infrastructure used by each university with its own identity and secure space, perhaps under an Application Service Provider (ASP) model, could offer a range of functions, including the following:

1.     Manuscript submission – tools for authors to submit works for review by editors or editorial committees.

2.     Peer review – a place where reports are administered, submitted and stored.

3.     Design and layout tools – a toolkit for converting manuscripts (prepared in pre-defined templates) into files ready for print and electronic packaging.

4.     Book packaging tools – a set of tools for preparing files for specific book products types such printed formats, standard and large print, various ebook formats, including ePub, HTML, and PDF.

5.     Print on Demand services – an integrated print service (perhaps tendered on an annual or other basis) for all university publishers to access bulk rates and high standards of quality service.

6.     Marketing – a set of tools for generating relevant information for lodging with international databases for marketing and distribution purposes.

7.     Distribution – an electronic platform for lodging new titles with international distribution channels to book-sellers, and libraries. Whether they are free-of-charge or for-charge materials, this function could be established to provide a gateway for content subject to the terms established by each publisher, and for each work.

There are many more aspects of book production and distribution that a shared platform might provision. However, those mentioned above are probably the core components that might attract sufficient interest from those willing and able to invest in a collaborative venture.

The federal government’s support would provide necessary impetus for this important foundation to be established, to support the greater and enhanced dissemination of Australia’s excellence in academic research.

(This is an extract from Enakt’s recent submission to the Australian Federal Government’s Book Industry Strategy Group)

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