3,200 Persons + $10 Per Month = Sustainability / How You Can Help


by Eileen Joy

In the spirit of Open Access also (ideally) meaning transparency of the data of open-access publishing, here are some figures from punctum books, followed by a plea. Ever since launching our Graduated Open Access platform at the beginning of this year (whereby PDFs of each of our titles are available for $5.00 for the first 6 months, after which they are free to download) plus offering monthly subscriptions (for as little as $10-$20 per month for access to all of our titles as soon as they are published), readers have downloaded PDFs of our titles 2,250 times (sometimes with a charge, but much more often for free — the average amount netted per title, overall, is about $2.15). In addition, 583 readers have made donations to punctum (with the “average” donation per reader who *chooses* to donate being about $3.70). In addition, 64 readers have opted, at one point or another, to become punctum subscribers (committing anywhere from $10-$20 on a monthly basis), with 50 currently enrolled, ongoing annual subscribers. Finally, in the same period, we have sold 4,217 copies of print editions of punctum titles, which also means that purchases of print copies are outpacing downloads by almost 2 to 1 (wow!). Finally, punctum has published so far in 2016 a total of 25 books (and will likely have published close to 50 books by the close of the year). The average amount netted per print book sold is about $6. The average cost of producing an academic monograph / essay volume (circa 100,000 words), IF we were to factor in all of the uncompensated labor costs (copy-editing, typesetting, cover design, indexing/archiving, promotion) plus indirect costs (everything presses do to keep themselves afloat above and beyond the practical labors involved in making, promoting and safe-keeping books, including web maintenance, equipment, etc.), is about $8,000 to $15,000 per book (many studies have been done on this). Let’s take the bottom figure of $8,000 per book and multiply that by the 24 books published so far this year — that’s $192,000. If punctum were truly self-sustaining, and we had a goal of publishing an average of, say, 48 titles per year (or 4 books per month), we would need roughly $384,000 per year to call ourselves “sustainable,” and what everything listed above amounts to ($$-wise) is roughly 15% of that figure. What that really means is that we are not self-sustaining at all. Gosh … how on earth?

All of our very extensive research into the “state of the field” of Open Access academic publishing firmly convinces us that OA publishing will thrive only with an economic strategy that takes an ecological approach to the obvious revenue generation dilemmas, depending on a hybrid model of revenue sources, from private foundations and government agencies (such as Mellon, NEH, etc.), public and private institutional support (in the form of library budgets including earmarks for supporting OA platforms as “partners,” but also in the form of specific university programs and departments that would fold OA publishing platforms and processes into their instructional curricula, at the undergrad and grad level, which could also then form the basis for new publishing “centers” that would not be co-opted nor undermined by commercial interests), government support in the form of legislative appropriations specifically designated for supporting platforms for the open dissemination of publicly-funded research findings, and finally, in the form of what might be called civic-minded reader support where those who are dedicated to the lifelong pursuit of the creation and exchange of knowledge and ideas are likewise dedicated to devoting some small portion of their income to help to underwrite the Open Commons while also enabling their own (and others’) freedom in designing and cultivating personal libraries, which libraries might have multiple inward and outward facing windows. This has to do as well with publishing as a “care of the self” — of individuals and of individual ideas and projects that are themselves the indivisible units of any legitimate democracy. Those who donate resources to punctum books are donating resources for this very critical care of the self, hopefully practiced out of reach of the neoliberal forces intent on the monetization of everything, regardless of the costs to the flourishing of creaturely (and thinking/feeling) life. What is thus also to be avoided at all costs (in our humble opinion) is an OA publishing model that depends on what are known as book processing charges, where the burden for funding the publication of open-access books falls upon authors and their academic departments and colleges (if they even have secure, long-term institutional status, and what if they don’t?) and is therefore (obviously) inherently undemocratic. Not to mention that in this scenario quite a lot of money just keeps flowing right back into the coffers of commercial publishers who have no regard for the long-term health of the university and its work as a public trust, except for the profits to be gained therefrom.

punctum is, in fact, working to convince those with grant money as well as institutional clout to “buy in” to such an ecological funding model (please read: uphill battle), but in the meantime, we just want to remind our friends, who are also our readers and our intellectual collaborators, that we cannot do this without your support. This notion stems from this belief we have that we should all be willing to pay something (no matter how small) for the things that we actually need and want (such as books). So, another set of figures: if only 3,200 persons became punctum subscribers at the lowest rate, $10 per month, we would have all the money we needed to run a fully-fledged publishing operation with about 5 full-time staff members. That would be something like a miracle, and yet it really doesn’t feel like asking for too much. 3,200 persons. $10 per month. That’s a little bit more, or a little bit less, than the average number of instructional faculty at just one major research institution (4,300 at UCLA and 2,168 at the University of Chicago, for example), and it’s way less than the combined total of all of punctum’s Facebook and Twitter friends and followers and “friends of friends,” not to mention the tens of thousands of persons who have downloaded our books for free since we started publishing titles in 2012. Which is just to say, please consider being a punctum subscriber, which is to say, our hero.

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