In May 2012, to mark its fifteenth year of operation, the WAC Clearinghouse launched the 25 Collective, a demonstration project for sustainable publishing. Five years later, we met that goal—and then some.
The 25 Collective was an attempt to publish 25 new, scholarly books within a five-year period. Books produced through the 25 Collective are available—as is the case with all of the more than 90 books on the Clearinghouse—for free digital download to computers or eBook readers. They are also available for purchase at a modest cost in print format through our print-publishing partners, University Press of Colorado and Parlor Press. All proceeds from sales of the books, in excess of printing costs, were returned to the 25 Collective project to support the development of additional books.
We wanted to show that it is possible to produce high-quality scholarly books for 10 to 15 percent of the cost typically incurred by traditional scholarly presses. Estimates of the cost of producing a scholarly book through traditional publishing approaches range from $20,000 to $35,000 per book—a cost that reflects expenses associated with salaries, computers and software and office space, among other factors. (Notably, those estimates do not include the cost of marketing books.) By leveraging the resources available through our home institutions, and by pointing to the work we do to support scholarly publishing as scholarship or service, we have been able to eliminate the need to fund computers and software, server space, office space, and salaries. Moreover, by spreading the effort to produce a book across several members of the large group of scholars associated with the Clearinghouse (currently more than 125 individuals), we have been able to draw on an impressive array of expertise to solicit, review, edit, design, market, and distribute our open-access books.
In addition to leveraging institutional resources, we also use our publishing work as a foundation for teaching and learning opportunities. Every book needs to be copyedited. Every book needs to be designed using programs such as Adobe InDesign. Every book needs to be publicized. By engaging students in these publishing processes, we are helping them learn skills that will serve them well inside and outside the academy.
The honoraria we provide to those who join us in our publishing ventures constitute the largest costs associated with our sustainable publishing efforts. Individuals have been able to learn a valuable skill and receive credit within our books for their work as copyeditors or designers, but have also been provided modest honorarium (typically $1,500, although this can vary depending on the length of the book). As a result, we have been able to publish each book for an average expenditure of between $2,000 and $3,500.
As we refined our publishing process, we documented our work and created materials that can be used by other groups of scholars, inside and outside the field of English Studies. We expected the 25 Collective project to provide an example of one approach among many that can be used to address not only the "crisis" in scholarly book publishing but also the increasing financial pressures on libraries to provide access to increasingly costly sets of digital resources. That expectation was borne out. If our model is broadly adopted, we might see some reduction in the costs faced by our libraries.
By March 2017, 29 new books had been published, four were in production, and contracts had been issued for more than a dozen additional books. Perhaps most important, this project led to the launch of the Colorado State University Open Press, a publishing project that is intended to support the use of the publishing collaborative model developed through the WAC Clearinghouse in other disciplines.