For Libraries, Merged University Press Group Becomes Big Player in E-Book Sales

The list of joint nonprofit ventures angling to sell university-press electronic books to libraries just got shorter. Two of the leading contenders, Project MUSE Editions and the University Press E-Book Consortium, or UPEC, announced today that they will join forces “to collect, host, and market scholarly e-book collections to the library marketplace.”

The five presses involved in planning UPEC—the University of Nebraska Press, New York University Press, the University of Pennsylvania Press, Rutgers University Press, and Temple University Press—had put out a request for proposals for potential partners, and Project MUSE was the winner.

The resulting partnership, called the University Press Content Consortium, or UPCC, will make its debut in January 2012, says the announcement, with preselling to take place this fall. The consortium will market collections of new and backlist scholarly monographs to libraries, with what it calls “minimal DRM,” or digital-rights management. It will not sell titles individually.

One striking feature of the new consortium: It will require participating presses to sell collections or aggregations of their e-books exclusively through UPCC. Presses will still be able to sell e-books individually to libraries and readers. The exclusivity requirement is very likely to make other book and e-book aggregators and vendors such as Baker & Taylor, ProQuest’s ebrary, and Ebsco’s NetLibrary nervous.

Dean Smith, director of Project MUSE, said that the exclusivity proviso affects new or frontlist titles from this point forward. If publishers have agreements with aggregators to sell backlist titles, those arrangements “can stay in place,”  Mr. Smith said. He added that presses are “free to go with vendors” for single sales and for patron-driven acquisition options.

Alex Holzman, the director of Temple University Press and a member of the UPEC planning committee, said that the decision to require exclusivity was driven by listening to librarians. “All our research and all our encounters with librarians told us again and again they didn’t want to buy the same book twice in collections from different places,” Mr. Holzman said in an e-mail.  “They felt really strongly about that.  The only exclusivity we’re asking is for sales of collections of books; individual titles can still be sold through whatever channels a press chooses.”

UPCC’s share of the university-press e-book market is likely to be substantial. Twenty-eight presses had already agreed to join Project MUSE Editions, according to Mr. Smith. And 60 presses signed nonbinding letters of agreement with UPEC. Those publishers will be getting new letters from the new consortium in the next 10 days.

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