A few friends asked me some time ago if I wanted to start an Open Access Book Publishing initiative with them. The idea was to combine our knowledge of publishing in general and scholarly communication in particular. During conferences and later in bars we discussed how Open Access has changed the industry and how automation and computerization will mean more change to come. We all felt that existing publishers could do a better job. Perhaps not a revolutionary better job, in the way Steve Jobs changed mobile telephony to the smartphone, but perhaps a more efficient, pleasant change. Certain publishers, we felt, are perhaps just resting on their laurels, expecting their bonuses to come in through the ‘Big Deals’, others we felt, are incredibly inefficient and spend way too much time discussing, arguing and debating ‘whether footnotes should be tabulated or indented’. We never understood completely why the publication times for scientific journals can be fast; under 3 months whereas books quite often take more than 3 quarters.
We debated ‘how difficult can this be?’. We all have ample experience in the academic publishing industry; I even regularly teach for the international STM-association. Time to put our money where our mouth is and launch our own Open Access book publishing house. Here I am detailing a summary of what we see is ‘sub-optimal’ in publishing and how we address this.
Most publishers are not completely clear on how a book is reviewed. Often an acquisition editor and / or series editor will look at the book proposal, read a sample chapter and send (parts) to a PhD student for assessment. Nowhere ‘on the tin’ does it state exactly how the process has been done. Also, because of the length of book manuscripts it is virtually undo-able to get scientists to review the book. Therefore, we believe that Open peer-review is the best way to assess quality of books. Those who are reviewing the book and are willing to endorse it will be mentioned, at the end of the book with name, affiliation and (an excerpt) of their review. Full review data is available online.
Most, if not all journals nowadays publish journal articles ‘ahead of print’; proofs of the manuscript are clearly marked as such and available to read. Now, it is clear that the proof stage with books takes longer; there are more pages and, we have noticed that an author spends more time crossing all t’s and dotting all I’s with a book. We have devised a way whereby we can have the 1st proofs disseminated within a week. After that the only hurdle are author-corrections. As soon as these are completed we can have the book out there in no time.
Often it is more efficient to partner with experts. Authors comment regularly that going through all the effort and long nights to write a book and then nobody reading it is just plain no fun. This is one of the reasons why Open Access has taken off. Within the publishing industry it is no secret that a lot of scientific books sell less that a hundred copies. The books are not cheap to buy, readers as well as libraries have limited budgets and ‘you need to read a book before you know its worth buying’. At Aldus Press we have decided to team up with Knowledge Unlatched Open Services. KU are the experts that ‘unlatch’ books and they have a wealth of experience in making books available online, pushing them towards indexing services, catalogers and to university libraries.
Small and agile
Obviously, we want to publish a lot of books, but as an organization Aldus Press is and wants to stay as small as possible. A lot of the larger publishing companies have to ask for such high subscription- and Open Access fees because of their overhead. Large corporate structures need to be fed and that costs money. So we aim to stay as small and agile as possible. The benefit is that we can charge smaller BPCs (Book Publishing Charges) and can focus more on what we like best: publishing.
Book Publishing Charges
Roughly BPCs range from 4.000 (Euros / Dollars) to upwards of 20.000. Crudely, I would say that the BPC for a typical book with a reputable publisher is slightly upward of 10.000. We have done the math and are sure that our processes are much more efficient. We are commercial and do want to make a decent amount of money. However, we believe that we can do this better by charging fees that are reasonable and enough to make a decent living. So in part as a strategy to grow but also because we feel ‘you should not ask for more than is reasonable’ we have set our fees as among the lowest in the market.
About the name
Aldus Press is named in honor of the acclaimed fifteenth-century Venetian humanist, scholar, educator, and printer Aldus Manutius. Manutius devoted a substantial part of his life to publishing rare Latin and Greek texts and devised the concept of italic letter type. Though Aldine Press was founded in 1494, its logo of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor first appeared in June 1502. Together with this image, Manutius adopted the ancient expression festina lente – meaning ‘make haste slowly’ or ‘more haste, less speed’. Both the symbol and the expression were popular throughout ancient Greece and Rome.
Today, Aldus Press has rejuvenated the original logo, using the traditional form in a modern style. Reflecting on how technology has once again sparked a leap forward in publishing, our revised motto is celeres sine festina ‘speed without haste’.