Can Publishers survive Open Access? We’ll find out when How Change Happens is published today

It’s Open Access Week and How Change Happens is officially published in the UK today, as both a book and an openoawlogo access pdf. The process has been pretty exciting.

The traditional author descends from the mountain of scholarship clutching a rather expensive tablet of stone, in which his/her wisdom is set out to a suitably grateful but largely passive public. Think of force-feeding geese. Appropriately for a book about change, we’re trying to do things differently this time.

The book has drawn on the ‘wisdom of crowds’ (i.e. you lot) at regular intervals throughout its production.

Choosing the publisher: Oxfam invited a range of publishers to submit proposals that included Open Access. OUP were altogether the most positive – they wanted to try out different business models, and were clearly up for it.

The writing: I’m a blogaholic with a five-posts-a-week habit, which has its advantages. The blog acted as a first draft, a way of nailing down and road-testing emerging ideas and themes and then, after a period of suitably painful authorial seclusion to turn these ideas into a semi-coherent whole, publishing and inviting comments on the first draft. Not that I find this process easy – my first reaction to comments, especially critical ones is usually along the lines of ‘I hate you – why can’t you just say it’s great as it is?!’ But when I calm down and read the comments, they are often incredibly helpful (see my Oxfam guide on how to comment on other people’s stuff). After all, this is free consultancy, right?

Some of my favourite comments came from a Pakistani humanitarian leader called Masood Ul Mulk, who emailed out of the blue. I ended up including several of them in the book, including this one, which opens the concluding chapter:

‘I will never forget a Princeton graduate who was brought in to undertake a change programme within an educational institution in a remote region. He started by throwing out inefficient people.But he started moving those who represented the tribal balance in the region out of their jobs, the people from the mountains descended and surrounded him in his house. He was a virtual prisoner for days. I remember going to meet him and he kept shaking his head: They never taught me this at Princeton, they told me the villagers were simple people.’’

The horror, the horror.....
The horror, the horror…..

The cover: We were sent three potential designs from OUP, and since I was always rubbish at art at school, I suggested we throw it open for voting. People got very involved (everyone has an opinion on something like this), over 1,000 voted in two rounds, and now people see the book on the stalls and say ‘I voted for that one!’ – a marketer’s dream of identification with ‘the product’. I’m particularly glad we did it because I originally preferred one of the other designs (which I now realize was awful) but was won over by the comments and the poll.

Now for the launch, we are going into open access and social media overdrive – a funky new website with lots of background materials on the themes covered in the book, a guide to the various launch events, and of course interminable blogs and tweets trying to arm-twist potential readers into forking out (or at least downloading) a copy. Just in case I overdo things, I’m running a precautionary poll on the blog to see if people are getting sick of the hype – so far only 12% have ticked ‘bloody hell, one more mention and I’m unsubscribing’, but I’m keeping an eye on it. We’re also thinking about a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and other teaching packages based on the book.

So as of today, the book will be free to download, as well as in all decent bookshops in hardback and online as an ebook. OUP is watching what happens with bated breath. Adam Swallow, my jovial OUP editor, sums up how all this looks from a publisher’s point of view:

‘Will anyone buy the printed version, or the e-book via a distributor when they can download for free? Well the download may be fine if you want to read some of it on-screen, or use search functions beyond an index, but start printing some chapters yourself and it can soon add up (at 4p per page, printing out the PDF would cost you £11.52, compared to RRP of £16.99 for a crisp hardback).

How Change Happens goes beyond what publishers have traditionally done as a marketing tactic. The Creative Commons licence that it is published with allows anyone to read and share the full final publication online. The PDF version can be placed anywhere online without breaching copyright. It is also permanent; once published under the CC licence it will be free forever. This means free in multiple places online, and will outlast any commercial site, author life, or publisher. It is content that will be preserved, by being held in numerous locations, and change as people make the text available in new formats. Where social media, the marketing, the Free, more than promotes the hardcopy, it has an on-going and parallel existence. That’s not just a marketing ploy.’

Exciting stuff. As an author, I applaud OUP’s energy and innovation and hope it works for them – we’ll keep you posted.

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10 Responses to “Can Publishers survive Open Access? We’ll find out when How Change Happens is published today”
  1. Well done Duncan for both the writing and the mode of publishing (actions speak louder than words). Personally, i’ve bought the Kindle edition as I’m more likely to read it there while travelling (and its a bargain at under £2) and also downloaded the PDF so I can easily search for sections I want to refer to. Many thanks and best wishes for the promo tour.

  2. Priyanthi Fernando

    Bought the Kindle version too, like Ian Chandler – but only because I had no idea there was going to be a free download – but better for reading anyway, and incredibly cheap!. Already through the first few pages, and promise to read your guide on how to comment on other peoples’ stuff before I start articulating the many thoughts that are already swimming in my head as I read. Thank you for pioneering a Creative Commons publication – hope others will follow suit.

  3. Krisnah Poinasamy

    Bought the Play Books version yesterday (26th) – very much looking forward. Thanks for continuing to inspire.

    On format – digital first/only – allows highlighting, endless commenting and then review all your comments at once rather than page by page. PDF is best for ‘book-like’ scribbling and you can share PDFs (not eBooks) – better for knowledge sharing? Next step is surely Google Docs-editing for marking up books – seeing my friends’ live comments (or not).

  4. Martin Belcher

    A blog on the different format access metrics at various points after publication would be interesting. A few years back I was involved with the development of a book very much targeted at readers in African tertiary institutions (How To Accelerate Your Internet: A practical guide to bandwidth management and optimization using open source software). We made that available to download as PDF and CC Attribution-ShareAlike licence and we also published it as a book via a print on demand service from Access figures for each were surprising, at least to me. I’ve since moved on and don’t have the exact figures to hand but we sold something like 2000 copies in a couple of years. We had about four times that number as PDF downloads in the same period. Considering the nature of the content I was pretty surprised. I never expected such a high level of hard copy purchasing.

    The book and download are still available, although trying to chase down the links just now, one sees the lack of permanency of (at least some) online publications. The book is available from the publisher but the PDF is not (the book Website no longer exists). Well at least not from the original publishing organisation (INASP). It is available from someone else – the benefits of the licensing terms I guess.

    Good luck with your book.

  5. Go, Duncan! It is a bold experiment to release the book as a free PDF, but I believe it is courageous and worth praise. I just downloaded it this morning, and at the same time I will be glad to buy the printed version as well. Radiohead came out with their album “In Rainbows” with a completely new business model, pay-as-you-like for the download of the zip file containing all the songs. Critics from the music industry say they made less revenue compared to selling the physical version, but they choose to forget the savings on dematerialization (it costs virtually nothing to share a pdf versus producing a physical CD or vinyl).
    On a different note of translating the book into other products, if the HCH were to take other forms, a MOOC is definitely interesting. I’d also be interested in workshop formats: 2-3 days workshop, hands on, problem-based teaching, were people get to learn from the content and at the same time on a challenge they are facing.

  6. Lis Jackson

    I just had a look for your new book on Amazon. Apparently, customers who bought it also bought ‘Heart of Darkness’. Clearly ‘How Change Happens’ is set to become a classic!