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