Highlights from APM – Day 2

scholarThe second day of the Academic Publishing in the Mediterranean region (APM) conference started with a session (entitled Strength in numbers) on cooperation between and the (future) role of university presses.


The first speaker was Roman Schmidt (Sens Public, editor-in-chief of crossXwords), who, in his very inspiring lecture entitled Request for comments: discussing the role of the University Press within the university, took on the role of an observer who is working on media change, but not necessarily within the university press.

Schmidt argues that we need to stress for formalized criteria when it comes to Internet standards concerning academia, being an inaugural act of science where deliberation is a pivotal point. This approach has two problems however. The first problem is concerned with the publish or perish paradigm, which is especially urgent amongst young scholars. Schmidt calls this a structural problem of the university system, where oral presentations, discussions, comments, blog entries etc. do not pay off career wise, where much time is actually invested in them. What does pay off is the writing of an article or a book. The question is however if these are still the preferred formats of communication for (young) scholars.

In this respect the university press could play a role in establishing a relationship with the university to facilitate these kind of more discursive, non ‘academic’ (non peer reviewed) academic discourses. Schmidt argues that we need an epistemological shift out of this intramural space to break the publish or perish spiral. We need a new ecology of scientific publications. This shift to editorial models needs to be accompanied in a good manner however, and in this aspect European university presses could play a big role in new ways of knowledge production and experimentation. They could form experimental labs for the future of academic publishing.


Schmidt mentions 3 aspects of a possible relationship between an university press and an university:


  1. Quality management and specialization: university presses could focus on the formation of thematic research hubs, replacing the university in the Humboldian sense. Specialization could in this sense both lead to economies of scale and to quality labels, by means of cooperation and combination (Schmidt mentions the OAPEN project in this context). Another interesting initiative connected to this that Schmidt mentions is ADONIS in France, an overall portal of research in the HSS field.
  2. Training of university staff. According to Schmidt training and mentoring is a much neglected area of media change. How should we train (scientific) content producers? The prosumer paradigm does not make this distinction obsolete he argues. For good stilistic and qualitative high scientific writing the university press is still needed. And this is a role that is especially well suited for university presses and less for publishers. This training is an investment in human resources, preparing them for a variety of editorial roles. Schmidt mentions for instance the website Hypothèses, which hand picks quality scientific blogs. He argues that these kind of initiatives are excellent platforms for learning to write smaller pieces as a natural evolution to learning to write a monograph.
  3. International credibility and translation. University presses are not only facing a problem of scale but also of international visibility of their titles. This is closely connected to the problem of European multilingualism. Schmidt quotes Umberto Eco: translation is the language of Europe. Scale and cooperation could assist: university presses could get funding for translations as a consortium. Schmidt mentions the journal Eurozine as a good example of this policy. One could also adopt this model to monographs. As Schmidt says, these kind of initiatives correspond very well to the post national constellation, following Rimbaud’s adagio to create a new medium, il faut être absolument moderne.



Gonzalo Cappellàn from the University of Cantabria Press, talked about the situation of the Spanish university presses (consisting of  at the moment 60 public university and research centers), their strenghts and weaknesses and the need for quality assesment. The Spanish universities differ very much when it comes to size, specialisation and the way they rule their presses. Initiatives have arisen for Spanish publishers to join together, in 2007 UNE (Spanish university publishers association/ Unión de Editoriales Universitarias) and, more recently, the G9 group of universities.

These cooperations offer the presses greater presence on a national level as a collectivity, a strategic alliance which can present joint measures which are almost impossible to achieve for small publishers. The collaborations also function on an international level: international catalogues, media, newsletters, promotion lobbying on an higher level for their authors etc.

Another benefit has to do with the fact that, as Cappellàn states, Spanish university presses are very much focused on their own institution, which has lead to the feeling that their quality check is not that great. Editorial boards are becoming increasingly important however, as is formalized peer review.


The G9 group consists of public universities in autonomous communities. They develop joint electronic projects. Editorial cooperation takes place on two levels: first step is to create a distinctive label, which is growing further with joint publishing. This is also a quality label, it consists of an editiorial board with representatives of the 9 universities, so no editoiral board consisting of the staff of one university. A scientific board can be set up with expertise in a certain field, functioning as referees to evaluate the scientific quality. In this way the combined group of 9 can be a distinctive pressence in the Spanish publication landscape. On another level the group could focus on interesting publications that are not published by the 9 but that are interesting because of their quality. This is a totally new experience in Spanish publishing. The G9 will start up in April and experiment. It will be open spirited, inter-university and internationally focused, concludes Cappellàn.


s09_coverWerner Mark Linz from the American University in Cairo Press (AUC) talked about the differences of academic publishing in the Arab world and the cooperation between mediteranean and Arab publishing. The main goal of AUC is the dissemination of ideas and knowledge about the arab world to the english reading public. They mainly publish books in the Humanities in 6-7 areas, mainly arabic literature in translation, but also on archaeology in ancient Egypt, Islamic art and architecture. Linz states that in the Arab market not much is being published and their exists not much of an infrastrucute (bookstores etc.). Linz recalls how AUC needed to develop a booktrade in order to function. In Egypt for instance the printer/publisher/bookseller is still one trade, there is not so much differentiation. The focus is also mainly on religious books (Koran and Koran related books). Next to that one can also see much translations: a lot of energy is spend in translating books into Arabic (instead of the other way around). Arab countries are financing these translations, which thus form a big market for publishers.


Saskia de Vries from Amsterdam University Press (AUP) gave a presentation on the OAPEN project, in which OAPEN functions as an EU presses cooperative publishing network. She sees the public function of the press as a mission, to experiment with new modes of book publication, as for example Open Access.

De Vries, quoting the American Association of University Presses (, states the value of university presses as follows:




         University Presses add value to scholarly work through rigorous editorial development; professional copyediting and design; and worldwide dissemination.

         University Presses, through the peer review process, test the validity and soundness of scholarship and thus maintain high standards for academic publication.

         University Presses sponsor work in specialized and emerging areas of scholarship that do not have the broad levels of readership needed to attract commercial publishers.

         University Presses make available to the broader public the full range and value of research generated by university faculty.


University presses have always been a service provider for the academic world, mostly in the HSS. In this respect Open Access publications are a very important new way of disseminating research, argues De Vries. It gives academics new possibilities to publish their research. De Vries mentions the Ithaka report. University presses need to look to the dissemination side, they need to make a renewed commitment to publishing. De Vries also refers to Robert Darnton’s pyramid model as set out in his article The new age of the book (from The New York Review of Books). The OAPEN project is a direct result of these two developments. De Vries also mentions the possibility to create an European University Press Association and plans that are being made in this respect.


ask-me-about-open-accessIn the afternoon session on the outreach of scholarly publishing, Stephen Barr from SAGE talked about SAGE’s experiments in Open Access publishing and their collaboration with Hindawi.

When it comes to Open Access Barr states that SAGEs mission is to be ‘the natural home for authors, editors and societies’. The journals landscape is changing however and we have to change with it. As Barr states, in order to maintain the high quality service they provide, SAGE has constantly embraced new technology and business models. And in the journal environment part of this is now Open Access. Barr talks about the different Open Access models and options, mentioning Open Archiving (Green OA, Mandates, Peer project), the hybrid option (SAGE Open) of which the take up so far has been limited and restricted to biomedical disciplines, funder policies such as the Wellcome Trust’s and many more funding agencies which are now allowing a portion of grants to be used for OA financing, and finally, gold Open Acces publishing: author side charges in the form of article processing charges. In this area PLoS and BioMed Central are of course the big players.

SAGE wanted to find a way to experiment with gold OA publishing that would not detract from its other priorities and would complement its existing operations. It decided, says Barr, to get into OA publishing through strategic partnerships, in this case with the Hindawi  publishing agency.

Barr mentions some reasons why SAGE partnered with Hinawi: synergy in organisational philosophy, low risk experiment with new business model, minimum organisational risk, access to Hindawi’s technology and low cost base, complementary, the advantage to Hindawi is SAGE’s reputation, marketing abilities and editorial reach and experience. Barr’s conclusion is that SAGE is embracing new business models and that this is necessary in order to keep up with developments.




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