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A Study of Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities: From Researching and Reporting to Discussing and Implementing

In a long Summer 2015 Roundup I touched quickly on a lot of different recent projects, one of which was work “on a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded research/planning project considering the viability of alternative, sustainable financial models for university press monograph publishing in the humanities and interpretive social sciences.” While there are related projects underway elsewhere (I note here the two most kindred ones, that at Emory University and that undertaken by Ithaka), our effort was undertaken at the University of Michigan and at my home, Indiana University.

Report Cover

Title Page: A Study of Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Indiana University and University of Michigan

The project we were working on will, I am hopeful, continue on into new phases, but it is exciting to have reached a key junction in the road with it. For those interested in the future of book (or long form) publishing in the humanities and social sciences, here are some ways to find out what our efforts were about.

Our report can be found on the University of Michigan’s institutional repository (Deep Blue) or here, in IUScholarWorks. It is titled A Study of Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Indiana University and University of Michigan. Here is the abstract:

This white paper presents recommendations about how a system of monographic publication fully funded by subventions from authors’ parent institutions might function, based on research activities supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at Indiana University and the University of Michigan. While the contributors present a strong argument for implementing such an “author subvention” system, they describe a number of challenges and potential unintended consequences. Particular issues discussed include how to determine which publishers would be eligible for support, how best to support untenured faculty, and how to avoid disenfranchising scholars at less well-funded institutions.

The report was released on the eve of presentations made to the ARL (Association of Research Libraries) Fall Forum 2015, the theme of which was Research Partnerships in Digital Scholarship for the Humanities and Social Sciences. At the Forum, members of the UM/IU and the Emory teams presented our findings/recommendations. For present, the full program is still available online. Here is a description of our panel, which was well-received and interestingly discussed.

The dramatically shifting landscape of scholarly communication and the increasing financial pressure on academic publishing in the humanities have prompted two Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded studies to explore the viability of a subvention funding system at three major research universities. Indiana University and the University of Michigan—both with university presses—and Emory University evaluated the implications of an emerging model for humanities publishing in which funds are given by universities and colleges directly to faculty authors to “shop” their academic books among participating non-profit publishers. In this presentation, panelists will discuss what is at stake, the research conducted at each institution, and the recommendations drawn from each study.

The whole Forum was outstanding, with great presentations from all involved. A different sense of the event can be gained by looking at the Storify (tweets) gathered here.

Our work was also recently shared at a meeting of the Chief Academic Officers (Provosts, etc.) at the American Association of Universities (AAU). Reception to these presentations suggests that there is hope for further forward movement in our efforts.

The first major engagement with the report that I have seen online is a essay written for The Scholarly Kitchen by Karin Wulf, a historian very involved in scholarly publishing through her work as Director or the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture at the College of William and Mary. You can find her essay, which devotes significant attention to our report, here.

It has been a privilege to have been a part of the effort described in our report. I am thankful to my colleagues on the project—from whom I learned a tremendous amount. I am also very appreciative of the faculty and administrators at UM and IU who spent time talking with us, sharing their insights on the present and future of humanities and social science publishing. I also feel much appreciation to the Mellon Foundation for its crucial support of both the humanities and the scholarly publishing field.

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