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The Sustainable History Monograph Pilot

The Sustainable History Monograph Pilot (SHMP) is a Mellon-funded initiative to publish open digital editions of high-quality books from university presses in the field of history. Unlike many other Open Access (OA) pilots, SHMP transforms the publishing process and outputs, while focusing on a single academic discipline. Working collaboratively with Longleaf Services, a not-for-profit publishing services provider owned by the University of North Carolina Press, nineteen university presses will be participating in the initial stages of the pilot

This pilot is an opportunity for these presses to explore how open digital editions can enhance discoverability and engagement of original scholarship by readers across the globe—while maintaining the high standards of peer review and publication that are integral to university press publishing. Participating presses are being offered revenue-offset subsidies in order to reduce the financial risks associated with exploring these new workflows and dissemination models. All copyediting, design, and typesetting (EDP) costs will be covered by Longleaf, who will also manage the work itself using web-based workflow tools like Editoria.


  1. What are the benefits to the participating presses? In addition to exploring an innovative new model, presses are likely to see improved financial results for books in the pilot. We’ve eliminated most financial risks by offering subsidies to presses (calculated based on the Ithaka Cost of Publishing Monograph study) to offset their costs for acquiring and credentialing a book, and grant funds are used to pay for EDP work. Ideally, the press will have “broken even” by the time final files are returned. This result is meant to compare favorably to recent research indicating that most monographs incur five-figure deficits.
  2. Are these “Open Digital Editions” going to be Open Access? This partially depends on what definition you have of open access. The grant terms require that digital editions be openly available and un-paywalled. They must also have a Creative Commons license. Presses will work with their authors to make their own decisions about what license to apply.
  3. Will the participating press still be the “publisher”? Originating presses handle acquisitions, peer review, author contract, copyright, subsidiary rights, developmental editing, and market positioning (e.g., title, price, BISAC, pub date). Longleaf picks up the workflow at copyediting and returns finished files to the publisher at the end of the process.
  4. What are the advantages for an author to have their book in the program? In addition to shorter EDP timelines, open digital editions have proven to be accessed and used exponentially more than traditional pay-walled volumes. Participating authors will receive usage analytics as well as qualitative survey responses about how readers discovered and used their books. At the same time, authors and presses can utilize Creative Commons licenses to carefully manage reuse of their intellectual property.
  5. Where are the digital editions hosted? There are no clearly defined best practices for distribution of open monographs but we are working with multiple third-party platform providers to ensure broad and accessible usage. Each press also will receive final files that they can deposit in repositories and platforms of their own choosing.
  6. Will there be print versions? Yes, but there are a few restrictions in order to test some of the key hypotheses within the pilot. Print metadata will be distributed prior to the publication date, but there will be a brief embargo period (90 days) before templated print-on-demand (POD) editions are available. The templated cover design will allow for clear designation of the university press colophon and imprimatur, while helping to maintain an accelerated schedule. A full year after publication, we will provide application files to the press so they may exercise an option to re-publish the print edition with their own designed covers and any other additional apparatus or changes they wish to incorporate. In that latter scenario, the initial POD edition could be made out-of-print. However, the first digital edition must remain open and un-paywalled, even if the press revises the manuscript and wishes to create a paywalled second edition.
  7. Does the participating press have to share any earned income from print or other revenue streams? Once POD files are submitted to the press’s preferred vendors, all business terms remain consistent with their other titles.
  8. Why only monographs in the field of History? And how broad is the definition of History? We limited the pilot to a single discipline to allow the concurrent review of impact and sales. We also believe we can work with professional associations, review publications, and award committees within the discipline to ensure that the pilot’s publications are considered appropriately. That said, we interpret History as broadly as possible in order to encourage a diverse set of projects.
  9. Is this a pilot just for first books or revised dissertations? We expect to have a wide-ranging pool of author projects—from first books to monographs by senior scholars.
  10. Is this a pilot for digital humanities projects? Our workflow is optimized for more standard projects. For manuscripts with multi-modal elements, presses have access to alternative platforms being developed specifically for these scenarios.
  11. Who is responsible for marketing the books? Participating presses and authors are still the primary marketers of their books. Marketing may look different in scenarios where a press is trying to maximize digital dissemination rather than print cost-recovery, but that is ultimately a decision for each press. Longleaf has some modest funding to help market the program’s publications writ large to the field of historians.
  12. How will impact be assessed? We will be working with third-party content aggregators to develop consistent impact assessments that will be delivered back to presses and authors. Additionally, we will be performing a post-mortem financial analysis to help presses assess the variance in financial impacts of this model
  13. How does the pilot attempt to increase diversity and equity? We are encouraging presses to submit titles that reflect diverse subject matters, but most importantly, we seek to support editors and authors who reflect the multiple perspectives of diversity, including age, gender, race, ethnicity, career status, and institutional affiliation. We further believe that open digital editions are inherently more equitable because they dramatically expand access of scholarly editions for readers who would otherwise have severe limitations on their availability.

Participating Presses

University of British Columbia Press

Cambridge University Press

University Press of Colorado

Cornell University Press

Fordham University Press

University of Georgia Press

University of Hawaii Press

Kent State University Press

Liverpool University Press

Louisiana State University Press

Manchester University Press

University of Michigan Press

University of Nebraska Press

University of New Mexico Press

University of North Carolina Press

Oxford University Press

University of Rochester Press

University of Virginia Press

University of Washington Press


“This project is a well thought out approach to the contraction of the market for history monographs because it does more than merely replace one cost recovery model with another. It also aims to rethink how works of scholarship are produced and disseminated in ways that have potential to expand accepted formats and open new avenues for creating knowledge.”
Seth Denbo, Director of Scholarly Communications, American Historical Association

“This undertaking, if successful, would serve both the interests of the broader scholarly community and the mission of university presses.”
Niko Pfund, President, Oxford University Press

“This pilot appears to be an exciting opportunity for combining the enhanced discoverability of a digital first strategy with truly experimental workflows and reduced publication costs.”
Darrin Pratt, Director University Press of Colorado and Utah State University Press

“There is a strong need in the university press community to explore new models, examine evidence, and share findings. This project brings a fresh approach and has the potential to inspire presses to pursue new ways of thinking.”
Wendy Queen, Director, Project MUSE

“This is an exceptionally creative intervention in resolving the vexed question of how university presses can balance our sometimes conflicting missions of access and sustainability when publishing the most important works of scholarship. It offers the promise of a distinctive approach to open access that respects the disciplinary norms of the humanities, while achieving the maximum reach and impact for our authors’ works.”
Charles Watkinson, Director, University of Michigan Press

“This is more than a new revenue or funding model. It’s an experiment to test, more thoroughly than before, the appetite for digital books and for the active pursuit of OA for high quality, digital monograph scholarship. If that value proposition is demonstrated, the potential for the entire system is profound.”
Karin Wulf, Professor of History, William & Mary and Director, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

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