As previously reported on this blog, my PhD thesis has appeared as a printed book last summer. In addition to that, I am also going to publish it electronically as a PDF document in my university’s document repository (open access) next month (March 2014). In this blog post, I want to go into some details about this dual strategy, as I have been thinking long and hard about how to best approach the matter of this publication.
According to the PhD regulation of my university, I am required to publish my thesis in order to receive the PhD diploma. My university leaves me a choice between two options for publication: Either the traditional way with a publisher, or an electronic publication. In the second case, I submit it as a PDF to the Zentralbibliothek in Zurich and they make it publicly accessible online.
The main issue for me was that I wanted both things at the same time: A physical book, printed on paper, as well as an electronic, open access (OA) compliant publication. I wanted the book, because I enjoy having a physical book in my hands more than having a PDF on my harddrive, but also because placing it in an established series would be good for my career: Members of the scholarly community are more likely to discover it there and they recognize a certain ‘brand value’ in an established series / publisher. On the other hand, I wanted to have the open access publication, for two reasons. First, because I am convinced by the core idea behind open acess: That publicly-funded research results should be made available publicly. Second, because distributing a PDF has a number of positive effects: People find it on Google, people are allowed to spread and share it as they wish, people can link it on websites, search it (full-text search) etc. These things are very much in the interest of me as an author, as I want to make it as easy as possible for anyone to find, access and search my writing.
So my strategy was to approach publishers and see whether I can find one that will take the book, but allow me to do a simultaneous OA-publication. My hope for that was initially low, as publishers usually demand that you sign away all rights on the text before they accept it. This makes sense from their point of view, as they want to be sure that the author will not distribute it any other way (e.g. with another publisher or by himself), thereby hurting their sales. However, as the open access regulation of my university encouraged me to negotiate the rights with the publisher in that way, i thought i would give it a try.
At first, I contacted the editor of a well known book series in our field. He expressed interest in including the book in his series. Unfortunately, he had recently handed over all rights on the series (both journal and monographs) to John Benjamins, a commercial publisher. As I explained that I want to withhold the right for an OA-publication from the deal, he refused it immediately, saying that the publisher would not allow it. So I gave up on that and contacted the editor of a different series. He, too, was willing to accept the book right away. I brought up the topic of a OA-publication, and he had nothing against it. Whether this was due to the fact that he did not fully understand what it was all about, or whether he simply didn’t mind, I don’t know. Anyway, we agreed to go ahead with it and the book was in fact published there last summer. For some time during the process, I was nervous that the editor might ask me to sign an author’s contract which would rule out the OA-publication (from what I know, there is usually a passage about ‘granting exclusive rights’ to the publisher in those contracts, which I would have been unwilling to sign, obviously). However, I never signed any such contract and the book appeared anyway. So legally speaking, I never gave away any rights on that work and I can still do with it what I want. That is what will allow me to upload it as a PDF to my university’s document repository come March of this year. If the editor would have asked me to sign a contract, I would have attempted negotiations with him to change the contract so that it reads ‘grants all rights to the publisher, except to store an electronic copy in the university’s document repository’. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.
The PDF publication is going to happen roughly 6 months after the book publication. I chose the embargo period of 6 months by myself, out of consideration for the publisher’s commercial interests. The uploaded PDF document will be page identical with the printed one and fully quotable. It will also have a prettier title page :)
Another approach that I considered was to do an electronic publication first, then submit it to a publisher later. This would, among other things, have had the advantage that I could have avoided to submit 30 exx. to the Zentralbibliothek (which was costly). The question is whether any publisher would still take it after it has already been published electronically (I would guess most publishers say no). The second point is that I wouldn’t know whether the printed version would have the same page numbering ‒ depending on the publisher, they may want to set it in their own layout engine and it will result in a different page numbering. As I’m strictly against having two versions of the same text with differing page numbers in circulation, I ultimately decided not to go down that road.
In a way, you could say that I simply got lucky to find a publisher that didn’t stop me from doing a simultaneous OA-publication. And that is certainly true. However, I did have a backup plan in case that would have failed. If they would not have allowed it, I would have given up publishing with an established publisher entirely and done the electronic publication first. Later, I would have printed some copies on my own account with one of the many print-on-demand services. For example, Amazon has such a service. I have never used it myself, but it looks promising: it is relatively cheap, the author gets to keep the rights on his work, the book gets an ISBN number and appears in the Amazon catalogue. It is relatively cheap as they print copies only when someone actually orders one, thereby eliminating the risk of printing too many exx. and sitting on a pile of books they can’t sell (what is called Auflagenrisiko in German). That way, I could have had both the book and the OA-publication, too. As I had done all the typography and page layout by myself anyway, there is actually quite little that I would have missed out on by avoiding a publisher altogether. The only service that I could think of which the publisher provided for me (besides a few comments on the manuscript by the editor) is some advertising and sending out of review copies.
In conclusion, I would recommend anyone to think well about the conditions under which they sign away the rights on their work. Authors should realize that they are in a strong position to negotiate, as the publishers depend on receiving good manuscripts. I would even go as far as to say that the publishers depend on the authors more than the other way around. While not everyone may have the chance to do a dual publication as i did, it is certainly worth trying.
I would also recommend against going with a traditional publisher simply for career reasons. First of all, if the book is any good then people will find out about it and read it anyway. It doesn’t really matter where it appears. In fact, going with a traditional publisher can very well lead to fewer people reading your work, as they tend to put such high prices on their books that very few people can actually afford to buy them.