Nowadays, when publishing is easier than ever, why do you need a publisher? Why not just put your manuscript online, especially if it is Open Access (OA)? In this blog post, our Managing Director Tommi Grover shares the views of an independent international publisher. He brings out how diverse the professional expertise – from editorial, administrative and production to marketing and sales – required to publish a book are. He also looks at the costs of publishing in both open access and traditional publishing.
Publishing has never been easier and more accessible to all. There is very little to stop you from taking your own manuscript, putting it through a simple desktop publishing program, and publishing it online. Many platforms will even walk you through the process of producing a printed version that you can make available for sale.
So why do publishing companies still exist and thrive? How is it fair that we charge universities to buy books that come from publicly funded research?
What you are paying for is a range of professional expertise
Initially, you are getting the expertise of our editorial staff. Whether it’s Anna, Laura, Sarah or Rosie that you are dealing with, they will spend several years working with first your ideas, then your book proposal, and eventually your draft and final manuscripts. They will commission reviews from your academic colleagues – we are the first to acknowledge that these review payments are little more than a token of appreciation rather than a full remuneration for the time spent. They will discuss and approve the final manuscript with academic series editors – we pay for their expertise too. Anna, Laura, Sarah and Rosie will not allow your manuscript to go into production until they are satisfied that it is as good as it can be. We do not get paid more when a manuscript is delayed, but a scrupulous academic publisher would never rush a book through in order to get paid. Future readers of your book know that your book has been carefully reviewed and edited, and that our imprint can be trusted for quality publications in your field of knowledge.
Throughout this process and further, Rose will be keeping everything on track. She makes sure that your project is where it should be, with the appropriate documentation, permissions, manuscript and graphics files, author questionnaires and contracts. She makes sure that an ISBN is registered for each version of the book – without which sales will be difficult.
Sarah then takes over to see the book through its production processes. She will engage the services of freelance copyeditors and typesetters like Ralph or Mythili, and will personally look over every page of your manuscript looking for errors and corrections that need to be made. Sarah will liaise with the appropriate printer for the type of book, whether that is a digital printer or an offset printer, Sarah will know what is appropriate for each project.
Sarah will work with Flo in our marketing department who will choose an appropriate cover image and cover design created by our freelance partners Latte, Dave or Julie. You might ask why a cover design is still important in an ebook or open access world? If you want your work to be noticed and read, you cannot rely on citations alone – a cover that will get your book noticed, whether it is on a webpage, blog post, conference stand or bookshop shelf, is one of the first steps to being seen. If the cover looks shoddy, what does that say about the likely content?
Well before the beautiful book has been realised, Elinor will already be working on the marketing plan to ensure that the title information is fed out to all of our distribution and sales partners, and that metadata is kept accurate and complete. Elinor and Flo will produce PDF catalogues and keep our website running so that the books can be found in all the venues you might expect to find them. Elinor and Flo will negotiate with organisations who might ask for sponsorship funds to help them deliver a world class conference, and to arrange opportunities for your work to be seen by delegates. During COVID when there were no conference opportunities, they immediately started working on organising our own seminars, webinars, and online discussion forums so that authors would not lose out on opportunities to promote their work. They will work on social media campaigns for your book, and they will aim to promote your research in general, regardless of whether this might directly lead to a sale.
Laura will oversee the distribution of your book, and ensure that there are always copies in the warehouse ready for sale, and that our sales reps and booksellers, whether they are in London, Tokyo, Cape Town, Islamabad, New York or Sydney are aware of our books and know how to get hold of them. Over the years we have developed a wide network of contacts who all work together to get your book to end users around the world. We’ll work with our library ebook partners DeGruyter, ProQuest and EBSCO among others, and with Zenodo and DeGruyter to deliver our open access publications.
Rights and permissions
Laura will also work with many international publishers who might express an interest in publishing your work in a language other than English. She’ll ensure that the translation rights are paid for and that you receive a copy of the book in every language that it’s published in. With open access materials it is important to know the implications of what license you are publishing the work under. We can help you with questions about what you allow other people to do with your work. It is your work, and you should always have a say in what can be done with it.
And behind all of these actions there is an infrastructure that needs paying for: an office building that needs heat, light and communications; authors’ and series editors’ royalties to be paid; and systems to be maintained so that we know what stage any project is at.
What are the real costs?
The typesetting, printing, cover design and direct costs relating to a book are easy to quantify. Typesetting is dependent on page extent and complexity, but most of our books can be professionally typeset for somewhere between about £800 and £3000. Cover designs often cost between £125 and £250 for a reasonably simple design, but can be more if the design needs to be unique. If you search online picture libraries you’ll be able to see that the cost of images varies dramatically by image, especially if you want the exclusive rights to it to ensure that two competing books don’t get the same book cover!
Print costs used to be complicated but with digital printing even very short runs of books are now viable so whilst the printed product is the most tangible evidence of a process that costs money, those costs are nowadays negligible when compared with the staff time involved.
Distribution costs are paid by way of percentage discounts and fees – whether print or library format ebooks, we pay a percentage of our income to the intermediaries.
Open access vs traditional costs
Open access publications do not need to pay the same distribution or print costs, but do require the same investment in typesetting and design, and a responsible open access publisher will spend at least as much on the editorial process – we do not distinguish between OA and traditional model in our editorial process.
Authors and editors payments
With the traditional model of publishing we pay our authors a royalty. This usually starts at 4% for the early copies of an academic monograph, doubling to 8% when the book will have broken even. If we know that an author has a track record of very strong sales, we’ll pay a higher royalty, and for textbooks we usually pay 12%. Authors are paid 50% of any income for subsidiary rights such as translations. We pay our series editors 4–5% of all sales income for their expertise. For an open access book we would pay the series editor a fee.
All of our staff are based in the UK, and we pay them a fair salary. We’ve always believed that treating our staff well means that we recruit and retain great employees, so if you’ve published with us in the past 15-20 years, it’s likely that you’ll have dealt with the same people for all of that time. Allocating these costs to an individual title fairly is difficult. You could allocate by time, complexity, average cost, share of income for example. There isn’t a single “right” method!
So what happens to the profit? When we make a profit on an individual title, most of this money is put back into publishing future books. The company is owned by my family, and my colleagues, and we all believe in the books we are publishing. We are not running a charity, so when we are able to, we distribute small amounts of this profit to our shareholders. But neither do we have the backing of a large university so each profitable book secures future publications that little bit more. To give you a sense of scale, I can say that we pay approximately £90,000 each year in royalties to authors, whereas in the past decade we have only paid £5000 to shareholders in dividends. This is as it should be – we earn a fair salary for the work we do, and profits are only paid out when really do have surplus.
We treat each book project individually. Whether you publish with us the traditional way where we pay for everything up front, and recoup the costs from book sales, or whether it’s an open access publication where we require payment for our services on publication of the title, we will make sure that we price your book fairly, based on the size and complexity of the work. When we receive OA funding for a chapter in a book, we’ll reduce the selling price of both the library ebook version and the printed book to reflect that some of the material is available open access. For example our title Pedagogical Translanguaging edited by Päivi Juvonen and Marie Källkvist had four out of 12 chapters published open access – and so we reduced the selling price of all the editions substantially. We have to continue to be viable, so we are evolving these policies as we get more experienced – but we are committed to always being fair.
Whether open access or traditional model publishing is better for the end reader is really a matter for someone else to decide. There are obvious advantages of online accessibility for anyone with a suitable internet connection. Open access has many advantages for a small independent publisher in that it removes our financial risk. But it still costs money to do everything to a high standard, in a friendly and professional manner. And in fields with very little funding for research projects, let alone to pay for a publication, the traditional model allows authors with no funding at all to publish their work.
So what do you get when you work with a publisher? Quite a lot, in my humble opinion!
If you’d like to discuss publishing with us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post was originally published on the University of Helsinki’s blog.