Book Business Q&A: Indiana University Press’ Kathryn Caras talks about INscribe, the electronic publishing platform the press launched this year to increase the spread of its scholarly content.
Indiana University Press (IUP) launched INscribe, an electronic publishing platform, in January. Starting with its journals, the press dipped its feet into providing content digitally, with the plan to delve into book content—it produces 150 new titles each year—once the project was up and running.
Kathryn Caras, director of electronic and serials publishing, talks to Book Business Extra about why digital delivery could be the answer to the challenges university presses face today.
Book Business Extra: Why was it important for a university press to get involved in digital distribution now?
Kathryn Caras: It speaks well to the mission of the press, which is to disseminate scholarship. There is no more cost-effective or impact-wise way to do that than online. That’s why we did it. There is also a financial component. We have for a long time licensed our content to the major aggregators in this country. We realized good income from it. But it is also a time for us to start generating direct online from our own content.
Extra: Tell us about the process that IUP went through to create this publishing platform?
Caras: We’ve been dreaming about it for a long time. We’ve been subleasing our content. We’ve been aware of the capability and the problems that can go along with doing this. About a year ago we started thinking this [through] seriously. We came into the budget process for this fiscal year. We wrote a proposal to the director of the press. We did a budget. We had done research on server providers. So we had all of our ducks in a row, so to speak. We gave her the project, and she gave us the money to do it. We’ve been working physically on creating this site since May of last year. It took us seven months to populate the pages.
Extra: How have things gone in the first three months?
Caras: One of the things we did when we launched was to offer free and open access to all of the content on the database. We had about 752,000 people who took us up on that offer. We have since turned some of those people into paid subscribers. We also, earlier, for two or three years, had one of our journals, called Victorian Studies, available to subscribers online for free. We have been successful changing most of those into paid subscribers.
We only earlier this month really started our aggressive marketing for INscribe. The uptake, where we are right now, I am satisfied with. I am hoping, by the end of this fiscal year, that we really start to see an influx of paid subscribers, both individuals and institutions.
Extra: What are you shooting for by the end of the year?
Caras: I haven’t set a number. I don’t like to do that because if we don’t reach it, everyone thinks we failed. I don’t manage from that position.
Extra: What challenges do you face that a large consumer publisher doesn’t have to worry about?
Caras: There are two of them—staffing and finances. We’re limited on both sides. University presses are struggling with sales. We’ve been struggling for a while. We make do with less money and less people for projects like this.
I think it will stimulate sales. Absolutely. I think one of the things we’ve learned online is that you have to give away stuff to make money. That’s the philosophy behind what I do. One of the greatest successes of INscribe is that we have partnered with the Global Fund for Women and the Association of African Universities to give their constituents free access to the database. I think that will eventually drive sales, and I think its a great thing to do to give scholars access to this content.
Extra: When do you expect your books to be available online?
Caras: We are in fact working on a major online book project. We are not, however, going to make it initially part of INscribe because of the expense of adding that big of a body of content. We started with some of our music books because we’re a big music publisher. IU’s school of music is so well known. We think musicians are savvy about this and will really be interested in titles online.
Extra: Is this being done in house?
Caras: Yes. We have all the PDF files and are having them marked up in XML right now.
Extra: Would your backlist of 1,800 titles be next up for you?
Caras: It would be a matter of finances. Going back and digitizing it, we’d have be able to project the sales for it to cover the expense.