Editor’s Spotlight: An interview with Luminos Executive Editor Reed Malcolm

Luminos Executive Editor Reed Malcolm

In this Q&A with Luminos Executive Editor Reed Malcolm, we learn about author receptiveness to OA monograph publishing, where authors find publication subsidies, and what barriers to OA publishing Reed has encountered. We also take a glimpse into what the future holds for Luminos, UC Press’s open access publishing program.

How did you first get involved in Luminos?

I’ve been an acquisitions editor for over 20 years now. In that time, I’ve seen it become more and more difficult for university presses to publish specialized works of scholarship. This is due to a variety of reasons: diminishing library budgets, the advent of the course reader, the disappearance of brick-and-mortar bookstores, and not least of all the rise of Amazon and the internet. Consequently, sales potential has become a more critical component in the decision-making process for university presses. No longer is a book’s intellectual impact or its quality the sole criteria. And that’s a shame, since I don’t think any of us got into academic publishing for the money.

Luminos had been operating for about a year before I got involved.  As an editor, what primarily attracted me was the fact that I could return to publishing good books without being hamstrung by financial concerns.

The open access model is much more equitable in terms of the financing for a book’s publication. Instead of the publisher investing the entire cost, then losing that investment on four out of five titles, the Luminos model works on the idea that everyone who has a stake in a book’s publication contributes in some way to the cost of publication —the publisher, the author, the author’s institution, libraries, and readers. Like crowd-sourcing.

What’s also wonderful about open access books is that anyone who has internet access anywhere around the world can download a book for free. No longer is pricing a barrier to readership. Luminos books are made available simultaneously as e-books (for free) and paperbacks (for sale, for those who still prefer print on paper), so it really is the best of all worlds.

What has been the response to the program thus far? Any surprises?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the level of enthusiasm for the program. While other publishers have been dabbling with the concept of open access book publishing, UC Press has been one of the first to come out with guns blazing. In my conversations with department chairs and university deans, I’m often pleasantly surprised to learn how many have heard of Luminos, and I have similarly been pleased by how many senior scholars have requested to publish their books in the program.

If you had asked me two years ago what I thought would be the biggest hurdle in creating an open access publishing program, I would have said the subvention requirement (i.e. that authors need to contribute funding—a title publication fee—in order to publish in the Luminos program). But now that the program is sufficiently underway, I can say it’s proving much less of a deterrent than I would’ve expected. True, not everyone teaches at a well-endowed university with easy access to publication funds, but I’m finding that many authors are having an easier time securing funding than I would have thought. Many more deans and chairs are aware of the current publishing crisis today than was the case five years ago, and so are by and large receptive to supporting faculty with their open access books. At the University of California, for example, financing has been made available at both the campus and system-wide level for authors who wish to publish their books as open access titles. In addition, a benefit of Luminos’s financial model is its waiver fund, which allows authors from under-funded institutions or disciplines to apply for fee waivers in order to support publication of their research.

We’ve also been pleased by the initial response from libraries to our membership program. The Luminos model is predicated on costs being shared among all who benefit from a monograph’s publication—author/institution, publisher, and academic libraries. We’re now entering the second year of our library membership program and trust that current library members, who are already seeing the benefit to their institutions’ authors, will be eager to renew and that new libraries will want to come on board as members, allowing their institutions’ authors to benefit from the funds the library contributes to the Luminos program via reduced publication fees available to faculty at library member institutions.

Have you run into any obstacles?

While the reception to OA has been for the most part quite positive, there are still some who have a problem with the new model. Like Winnicott’s “transitional object,” books are often intimately bound to a scholar’s sense of professional identity. They are like sacred totems, instilled with power, purpose and meaning. Their spines face out from our bookshelves like hunting trophies.

But it’s important that we ask ourselves what we mean when we refer to “the book”? Is it just paper, ink, glue, and cardboard? Or is it a vehicle for sharing thoughts and ideas?  The problem is that too many people fail to draw any distinction. In their minds, message and messenger are one and the same.

And so in this context, I find there are some who still mistakenly see open access publishing as a battle between traditional print (the past) vs. digital (the future). But that dichotomy is misguided. The reality is that books in the Luminos program are made available in both digital and print formats. Digital editions are available for free download and print editions are available from UC Press and other book retailers for a low cost for those who prefer a print edition.

I like to explain to people that open access is not a different way of publishing so much as it is a different way of financing.

What does the future hold?

We have been signing approximately 20 titles a year within the Luminos program. Starting next year we hope to increase that number to 50. In addition to having our editors sign more open access titles, we’ve embarked on some very exciting publishing partnerships with institutes and centers whose work aligns with our core publishing strengths.

We also hope to take advantage of the digital capabilities of e-books by publishing more works that incorporate multimedia components, such as audio, video, and interactive maps. In this regard, we’ve had some productive discussions with digital humanities centers across the country, and I am looking forward to rolling out some exciting new book series in the near future.

What I have loved most about working on the Luminos program is that, for what seems like the first time in my publishing career, everyone is happy: authors, because their books aren’t facing pricing or distribution barriers; students, because they can obtain books for free; traditional book-lovers, who still are able to get print editions; librarians, since they no longer need to forgo acquiring faculty research due to budget constraints; and publishers, because they can go back to their core mission, which is to publish high quality research.