A major shift in academic publishing
A radical change has taken place in academic publishing in the internet age. Twenty years ago, academic publishers sold books and journals in print versions only, and scholars who wished to read them would do so in or through libraries, or purchase the actual volumes themselves. These days, researchers expect to be able call up the texts they need to consult on their screens, wherever they happen to be. In addition, there is a strong sense that the general public is entitled to free access to research resulting from tax-funded salaried employment. What has not changed is the fact that producing a scholarly work to a high standard is a labour-intensive and hence costly process which has to be paid for somehow. If publishers cannot cover their expenses through sales of print and digital content, these expenses must be met by those who fund the research.
A good deal of our scholars’ work is the result of external funding, and we expect our main financers, such as the Swedish Research Council and the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, to help bear the cost of publication. Even so, much research is faculty-funded, and by the same token the faculty must be prepared to assume financial responsibility for ensuring that its researchers’ results are disseminated as widely as possible. Lund University Press is the result of that realization.
It should be added that the academic library is still as indispensable as ever, though its functions have diversified as a result of the change outlined above. Libraries are much more than repositories of publications; they actively guide scholars to the publications they need and ensure the availability of those publications, both electronically and in print. Hence, a well-run research library is a vital component in the sphere of scholarly publication, and the HT Faculties at Lund are fortunate in commanding two such facilities, the jointly operating SOL and LUX libraries.
Why Lund University Press?
If all it took to get our scholars’ work ‘out there’ was funding for translation and Open Access publication, why not simply provide that and let our scholars find suitable publishers in the international market? Part of the reason is the challenging environment that is the world of academic book publishing. Many publishers have closed down or have been acquired, unable to cope with the consequences of the shift, and others are struggling to make ends meet, which makes them unstable homes for our scholars. Even the big and prestigious international publishing houses are under pressure to maximize sales. One result is that it has become increasingly difficult for authors to find a publisher willing to take on the publication of a book on a ‘narrow’ subject, no matter how good it is: every published volume is expected to pay its way. In many cases a ‘niche’ publication, however valuable in terms of academic content, cannot be expected to generate such revenue.
After an independent research evaluation concluded that Lund research in the Humanities and Theology (HT) is of very high quality, but that it should be internationally better known (see HTRQ14, available online at www.ht.lu.se/books), it seemed a logical step to start our own press. Our aim is to open channels for the best Lund research straight into the global scholarly conversation. That means publication in English only. At the same time, the constantly growing national and international demands for Open Access publication made it natural for the HT leadership to decide that the new press would publish Open Access and in print simultaneously.
Since the new press would be expensive, and hence a drain on precious faculty resources that might otherwise have been used to promote research in other ways, it was clear that the number of books it could publish would be very limited. Three to five books a year appeared to be a good number to aim for at the outset.
Selecting Lund UP books locally on the basis of a stringent peer-review process, and then arranging for them to be translated/edited and produced to high international professional standards, seemed the best way, not least because we would be able to operate solely on the basis of scholarly quality, ignoring commercial considerations. However, a small academic publisher in a small North European country could never possess the channels of information and distribution needed to spread global awareness of our books. We needed the help of a prestigious and muscular partner.
Collaboration with Manchester University Press
Fortunately, we were able to secure the collaboration of such a partner. In November 2015, after a long and complex tendering process, Lund was able to conclude an agreement with Manchester University Press. Manchester UP will produce, market and sell Lund UP books, publishing them Open Access via the OAPEN platform and also in print, initially in small print runs of 100 -200 copies. Manchester UP will charge Lund UP for these services and retain the greater proportion of the income from sales, paying Lund UP a modest royalty. Authors will not receive royalties until sales exceed 1000 copies (which few academic books do nowadays).
Manchester University Press is an ideal partner for the new press. Established in 1904 and publishing 160 new titles a year, it is well known and respected, commanding an excellent global marketing and sales network while not being so big as to make a small partner wholly insignificant. A pioneer in Open Access publishing and collaboration with research libraries, Manchester UP is a perfect fit for this partnership.
Five years of preparations
At the time of writing, the HT Faculties have been preparing for the launch of the new Lund University Press for over five years. The first step was to bring order and professionalism into the book-publishing that was already taking place in our departments, in the form of scholarly series some of which went back over 50 years; see www.ht.lu.se/books. Beyond this flourishing and diverse activity, it emerged that there was a place for a central, faculty-based publishing operation. (Readers able to read Swedish can find out more from a report on HT book publishing, Katarina Bernhardsson’s Ny strategi för vetenskaplig bokpublicering vid Lunds universitet , which can be read online via www.lu.se/forskning/avhandlingar-och-publikationer.)
At first we wanted to start a press which would bring out work by scholars all over Sweden, and indeed the world, as university presses usually do; but Lund University’s legal department informed us that faculty funds must not be used to spread information about research by other than Lund scholars. At that point, the present operation began to take shape: a very small number of top-quality scholarly books, published in English, Open Access as well as print, and carried out into the world on the back of a strong international partner.
In late 2014, the then-departing Vice-Chancellor, Professor Per Eriksson – who had been taking an interest in the HT book-publishing scheme for three years – gave the HT Faculties a starting grant of SEK 2 million to get the new press off the ground. Most of 2015 was spent securing the collaboration of the partner we wanted.
‘Lund University Press’ – sounds familiar?
There was a ‘Lund University Press’ in the late 20th century, an imprint within the sphere of the commercial publisher Studentlitteratur in Lund. A very different kind of operation from the new press, it functioned as the publisher of a number of academic book series, in a number of languages, of varying kinds and quality. When it turned out not to be commercially viable in the long run, and levels of commitment at both Lund University and Studentlitteratur could not be maintained, the operation ceased, in the year 2000.
While it is obviously not ideal to recycle a name that has already been used, and for a purpose which diverges from the present one, there was no alternative: Lund University is our home and our brand, and a press is what we are. Fifteen years is a long time under the circumstances, and we hope the re-appearance of the name will not cause confusion.
So much for the past – what about the future?
The beginning of 2016 will see the official start of the new Lund University Press, whose Editorial Committee will meet twice a term, beginning in January or February 2016. We hope to have accepted our first two books before the end of 2016 and see them published in the course of 2017. It will be a big day when the Lund UP website announces the first book to be published by Lund University Press, perhaps as early as the spring of 2017. After that, the size and scope of the press’s activity will be determined by the quality of the books submitted to it, the interest of other Lund University Faculties in joining the operation, the financial position of the HT Faculties and the extent to which we succeed in obtaining extra resources through grants and donations.