Against the Grain V34#4
ATG: Linda, what led to De Gruyter’s decision to launch eBound, their not-for-profit foundation? Why a not-for-profit foundation and why now?
LM: De Gruyter has always been invested in the scholarly publishing community. Over 15 years ago, three granddaughters of Walter de Gruyter in Berlin co-founded the Walter de Gruyter Foundation. The majority of the foundation’s endowment comes from a 10% share in the Walter de Gruyter company that is given back to the scholarly publishing community through funding research projects, providing scholarships for young professionals in publishing, and awarding prizes for outstanding academic achievement.
Ten years ago, we’ve launched our Publisher Partner Program which has given De Gruyter the opportunity to engage with the academic library community as both a scholarly publisher and a service provider. And with this engagement have come various opportunities, largely in the U.S. and Canada, for us to fill gaps in the academic library acquisition ecosystem through our University Press Library (UPL) business model.
Library participation in our UPL product directly supports university press sustainability. While we are excited about our accomplishments on behalf of our partners as a for-profit service provider, we also wanted to do our part as a scholarly publisher and add to the work of the Walter de Gruyter foundation with a North American not-for profit arm focusing on providing funding opportunities for publishers that are looking for support. Through the Partner Program, we came to understand that sustainability does not happen without community, and a like-minded community is not dependent upon corporate status. With both our Partner Program and De Gruyter eBound, we are living up to that maxim. And the best time to launch it was now.
ATG: According to what we’ve read, De Gruyter eBound’s goal is “to support the publishing, sustainability, and accessibility of mission-driven scholarly monographs for not-for-profit and Open Access publishers.” What does that mean exactly? What is mission-driven scholarly publishing? And why just not-for-profit and open access publishers?
LM: At our annual meeting with our university press partners in September of 2021, we asked twenty-nine participants “What percentage of your scholarly monographs cost more to produce than your net sales received?” See the chart below for the answers we received.
These texts are what we refer to as mission-driven scholarly monographs: the peer-reviewed research monographs that perform as “low-use” in an acquisition system based on usage metrics and are not purchased.
These numbers are not sustainable. 25% of our respondents think that 50-75% of their scholarly monographs lose money. In addition, just earlier this year, at one of our Meet the Press webinars, we had a director from a university press talk about how the press has consolidated its publishing to core disciplines only, which has led to a noticeable reduction in the number of titles they publish per year due to this trend.
Due to the unique position of being a scholarly publisher first, and a service provider second, we have a front-row seat to the challenges our university press partners face when publishing scholarly monographs. The challenges have to do with the dependency on third parties for distribution, the lack of owning a proprietary hosting platform with a sales team, and the proliferation of evidence-based and demand-driven models.
De Gruyter eBound will address these challenges head-on and focus on efforts to support the publishing, sustainability, and accessibility of scholarly monographs. By narrowing down our mission to not-for-profit and open access publishers, we hope that we can send a signal to these publishers that we’re here to work together on solutions.
ATG: Linda, you’ve said that “Mission-driven scholarly publishing comes with its own challenges and there are many open questions around how to solve them.” Can you elaborate and tell us more about these challenges and open questions?
LM: As I’ve just explained, a good percentage of scholarly monographs lose money. We see publishers experimenting with various business models, namely in open access like MIT Press’s D20 initiative, Central European University Press’ Opening the Future model with their promising dynamic scaling approach, and the University of Michigan Presses Fund to Mission Open Access Monograph Model. Each of these models are fundamentally different, yet they are all trying to accomplish the same goal of sustainable, accessible, and open scholarly monograph publishing.
In two of these examples, MIT and Michigan each have their own platform and sales teams — the presses we work with do not have that important infrastructure. CEUP’s model works for the 30 plus titles they publish per year. Most of our partners have a much larger catalog. Yet, they meet the same challenges with scholarly mission driven monographs as MIT, Michigan and CEUP despite their different profile.
So, how can we overcome those challenges? Based on the resources and limitations we experience with our university press partners, open access is of course one of the means to get there, but it is not the only means. De Gruyter eBound’s goal is to support comprehensive, sustainable, and accessible scholarly monograph publishing. That support can come in different ways, and we will explore them together with our advisory board.
ATG: What role does De Gruyter eBound hope to play in dealing with these challenges and questions?
LM: There are different aspects to our role as we see it. Firstly, we are receiving funding from De Gruyter Inc, as a direct result of libraries’ annual investment in our University Press Library business model. We want to put these funds to good use. Secondly, we are going to secure outside funding through public donations and grant writing — this will be project-based and maximize the impact of our support. Thirdly, we will remain engaged in the marketplace, and expand the relationship we’ve made through the University Press Library business model that brings together all stakeholders who collaborate on our like-minded community-based approach: library, presses, consortia, and De Gruyter. Finally, we are going to coordinate, plan and execute initiatives in consultation with our esteemed advisory board.
ATG: We understand De Gruyter eBound will be providing grants for new publications and funding original studies. Who will qualify for getting assistance from the foundation? How will those interested apply?
LM: We are still in the early steps with De Gruyter eBound, and we are currently exploring different ways to use our resources. De Gruyter has just made its first donation of $50,000 to eBound. We are now asking ourselves questions like: how can we maximize the impact of our funding? How do we identify the most suitable projects, and what criteria do we use to evaluate them? Currently, we are working on the application process — from how to solicit project proposals to how to decide what projects will receive funding. We will share the information on our website once it is finalized.
ATG: Recently the advisory board held its initial meeting. What were the first orders of business for the board at that meeting? Any inside scoop or news coming out of that meeting that you can share with our readers?
LM: We’re honored that a group of highly accomplished industry leaders have agreed to join our board. They share our values and vision, and through this like-mindedness we understand the need for De Gruyter eBound. Our initial advisory board meeting took place at the beginning of the year. The expertise of our advisory board has already proved incredibly helpful in that first meeting in which they helped to collaboratively flesh out our mission.
After receiving our initial funds, we now need to decide on how to spend the money De Gruyter has donated — that’s what our recent meeting was all about. We can use our funds in multiple ways, and it’s great to have such a diverse range of opinions from representatives of various types of university presses and libraries. We identified avenues to pursue our mission and we will decide how to utilize our first round of funding by our 3rd advisory board meeting this fall.
ATG: The advisory board consists of leading figures in the academic library and scholarly publishing community. What role do you see libraries playing in the foundation’s activities and goals? Or is the main audience for your foundation only publishers?
LM: De Gruyter eBound would not be here if it weren’t for our academic library partners and their commitment to our University Press Library business model. As such, we are excited to have on our advisory board two library partners from Iowa State and NYU who inform, represent, and advocate on behalf of our academic library partners. The main audience for De Gruyter eBound are the various stakeholders in our like-minded community, for which libraries are the backbone. Libraries have always played a critical role in supporting scholarly research both in STEM and the Humanities, and their continuous commitment to strengthening the research community is crucial for the sustainable future of scholarly monograph publishing.
ATG: Linda, before we let you go, is there anything that we’ve missed, or anything that you would like to add?
LM: I’d like to come back to our maxim and emphasize that “sustainability does not happen without community, and a like-minded community is not dependent upon corporate status.” De Gruyter eBound believes that like-minded communities such as this one has the power to sustain the valuable work of scholarly monograph publishing.