Campus-based publishing partnerships: Practical Partnership Issues

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5.1 Introduction

The preceding sections provide context to help libraries and presses better understand the mission and operating requirements of their potential partners in a publishing alliance. Libraries, presses, and academic units exhibit different organizational cultures, professional competencies, governance structures and decision-making processes, performance criteria, and regard for market forces and business principles. Understanding these differences can help each partner anticipate the needs of the other and forestall the difficulties that frequently complicate partnerships between organizations with disparate funding models, mission objectives, and target audiences.

Having discussed some of the broader issues that affect how presses, libraries, academic units, and technology departments might approach a publishing collaboration, we will review below some of the practical issues that potential partners must address in defining and structuring such a partnership.[54] These issues include:

  • Whether each organization is prepared to collaborate—

Before entering a partnership, each organization needs to assess its readiness to commit adequate resources to the alliance—especially in terms of staff who understand the partnership’s objectives—and its commitment to working collaboratively to achieve shared goals.

  • What strengths each organization brings to the partnership—

Potential partners need to assess the specific strengths—including functional expertise, market access, technological capacity, and access to funding—that each organization might bring to the alliance, and the relative importance of these capabilities to the long-term success of the partnership.

  • How the partnership defines its strategy and the type of publishing services that it wants to offer—

As Section 2 suggests, publishing collaborations can be defined to include a broad range of service or product offerings. The scope of activities that any given partnership might undertake should be driven by the strategic objectives of each partner, taking into account the needs of their specific audiences and the particular capabilities of the partnership. These considerations need to be taken together in order to identify the most compelling opportunities.

  • The objectives and performance criteria for the partnership—

The partners in a publishing collaboration need to define shared objectives and explicit performance criteria for the partnership that accommodate the differing missions and funding models under which each organization typically operates. Articulating shared objectives helps ensure that the partnership’s activities support the discrete strategies of each partnering organization. Defining explicit performance criteria allows each organization to gauge the partnership’s success in achieving its strategy and helps attract and justify funding for the partnership’s activities.

  • How the partners structure and manage their alliance—

Partners with ambitious objectives and a long-term agenda will require a high degree of mutual accountability. This accountability can be enforced by a sound governance and management structure and by explicit performance targets, with routine assessment of the collaboration’s progress against them. Therefore, partnering organizations must structure the governance and operation of a collaboration to achieve the organizations’ objectives and sustain the alliance. There are a variety of possible partnership structures, and the organizations should understand the implications of each variety in order to select an appropriate operating structure.

5.2 Assessing Partner Strengths & Core Competencies

The interdependence of academic institutions, their libraries, university presses, and faculties, makes it difficult for any one unit to act unilaterally to address structural problems in scholarly publishing. As noted in Section 3, libraries and presses have complementary skills, and by combining core competencies, each organization can apply its distinctive capabilities to generate benefits for the partnership.

Reviewing each partner’s competencies can provide a practical basis for exploring how the organizations might work together. Areas that partners might explore include:

  • Funding—The partners may bring alternative funding sources—including institutional subsidies, external governmental or philanthropic funding, or earned revenue capabilities—to an alliance. In some instances, one party will wield greater influence within the institution, which might translate into greater leverage for institutional funding.
  • Content acquisition—Presses have established mechanisms for identifying and acquiring content for publication; libraries understand the needs of their institutions’ faculty and students and have experience mining their own special collections; and faculty create content, both as primary research and as creative combinations of secondary sources designed to support research and teaching. Any or all of these might provide content for a campus-based publishing partnership.
  • Editorial management—The editorial and peer-review processes of university presses carry the prestige and certification valued by the authors and researchers who comprise the primary constituencies for campus-based publishing initiatives. Departments and other academic units within an institution can also sponsor and certify—sometimes through formal peer review; sometimes simply by association—the quality of the research published by their faculty. Collaborations that publish original research may apply either or both of these quality certification processes.
  • Production and distribution—Presses have established processes for producing and distributing research publications in print and, in some cases, digital formats. Some libraries and academic computing centers have developed online publishing systems and hosting platforms, sometimes as a component of an institutional repository. And both presses and libraries increasingly complement traditional print and online dissemination with print-on-demand capabilities and digital archiving and preservation solutions.[55]  Partnering organizations may be able to realize scale economies in both developing and operating these production and distribution channels.
  • Business management—Presses are market-facing enterprises with experience assessing demand for potential services and with expertise in operational management, including licensing, fulfillment, and financial control for revenue-generating services. Library digital publishing programs and IT departments bring expertise in defining and managing technology development projects. These capabilities can be combined to create a product development process for a partnership’s online publishing program.
  • Marketing, outreach, and sales—Presses operate revenue-generating marketing and sales programs to global markets outside their host institutions, while libraries communicate with faculty—as authors, researchers, and teachers—within the institution. Together the audiences and messages of each organization can complement one another.

To help partnering units conceptualize how they might work together, table 5-1 summarizes competencies that libraries, presses, academic units, and IT departments might bring to a publishing collaboration. The table describes existing competencies likely to be available from each type of organization. As such, it is not an exhaustive catalog of all the capabilities that one partner or another might bring to an alliance. Some large research institutions have created units that support digital publishing—for example, Michigan’s Scholarly Publishing Office, the California Digital Library, and Columbia’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship—that share characteristics of libraries, presses, and IT departments. However, it would defeat the purpose of the table to treat them as typical of all libraries.

Table 5-1: Campus-based Publishing Core Competency Table

[Please see the PDF for this table]

5.3 Feasibility Analysis & Business Planning

Every partnership, even for experimental or exploratory projects, should be defined and supported by a feasibility analysis or sustainability plan that describes the partnership’s objectives, mode of operation, and funding model. Although the time and resources dedicated to developing such plans and analyses should be commensurate with an initiative’s anticipated resource investment and risk, even modest-resource and low-risk projects merit an explicit articulation of their expected outcomes. Undertaking a project with no framework for evaluating whether or how it has succeeded will weaken a partnership’s ability to learn from experience, decreasing its chances for success in future projects that may require more resources and entail greater risk.

Depending on the type of partnership and the nature of the project, planning for a publishing partnership may involve elements of both strategic planning and sustainability planning. A strategic plan establishes the overall objectives of the partnership, and defines the logic that makes the partnership economically viable, whether through subsidies or fees. Sustainability or business planning translates the logic of the partnership’s strategy into a practical operating plan. Although the scope and detail of the sustainability plan will depend on the type of project and the nature of a particular partnership, the plan should always justify the need for the proposed project, estimate the audience to be served by it, and provide a financial feasibility analysis. This feasibility analysis should include cost and (if relevant) revenue projections, as well as performance metrics to assess whether the partnership is achieving its objectives.

As guides to business planning for nonprofit organizations already exist,[56] we focus below on those elements of strategic and business planning especially relevant to campus-based publishing partnerships.

5.4 Developing a Partnership Strategy

Although the broad benefits of a publishing collaboration may be readily apparent to the partnering organizations, they should still establish clear and explicit objectives for the partnership. Any vagueness in the partnership’s objectives will increase the difficulty the partners will face in developing a coherent strategy and complicate subsequent steps in implementing an operating plan. The more ambitious a partnership’s mission, the more important it will be to establish explicit, shared objectives.

5.4.1 Strategic Alignment

For a campus-based publishing partnership, there are two aspects to strategy: 1) the alignment of the partnership’s objectives with the discrete strategies of the partnering organizations and 2) the strategy of the partnership itself.

A partnership must advance each organization’s individual strategy. Participating in a publishing partnership will often compete with existing priorities and resource requirements within the participating organizations. Each partner, therefore, should explicitly identify the value of the collaboration in the context of its overall strategy and mission objectives. An alliance that is peripheral to an organization’s strategy will not—indeed, should not—receive extensive resources or commitment from the organization. The importance of this strategic alignment increases in proportion with the scale and scope of the alliance and of the resources required.

Evaluating strategic alignment requires that each partner has an explicit understanding of its own strategic objectives and of the activities required to achieve them. If an organization has not articulated its own strategy with sufficient clarity, it will be impossible for it to assess the strategic value of a partnership against the value of the organization’s other activities. Further, this strategic assessment provides an opportunity for each partner—the press, in particular—to adjust its strategies in response to internal pressures and/or external environmental factors. Examples of the former include institutional policy initiatives, including open access and repository participation mandates, while examples of the latter include digital publishing technologies and the resulting changes in market demand.

As well as aligning with the mission and strategy of each partnering organization, an alliance launched to establish an ongoing publishing program requires an operating strategy of its own. In defining the partnership’s own strategic objectives, one logical approach is for the partners to frame the scope of the partnership’s strategy in the context of their host institution’s strategic plan. Aligning the collaboration with the institution’s explicitly articulated strategy will help demonstrate its value to the institution and justify the allocation of resources necessary to sustain the collaboration. An institution’s strategy may announce an intention to serve particular fields or disciplines or, especially in the case of public institutions, the needs of a specific state or region.

For example, the University of California has identified broad areas of emphasis for research and teaching, as well as the objective to coordinate and leverage program resources across its multiple campuses.[57] The collaboration between the University of California Press and the eScholarship program of the California Digital Library has used the UC system’s strategy to help define the partnership’s objectives and field of activity.[58]

5.4.2 Partnership Purpose Statement

Developing a joint purpose statement provides a logical way for participating organizations to start to define their alliance. Such a purpose statement should answer the following questions:

  • What are the organizations trying to achieve—singly and together—through the partnership?
  • What demonstrated need will the partnership serve that is not currently being adequately addressed by existing services and providers?
  • Who will be willing to pay for the services to be provided—for example, individual users, libraries through fees, the host institution via subsidies, external funders?
  • What benefits, if any, will the partnership deliver to the host institution?
  • What internal or external audiences, markets, or constituencies will the partnership serve? And will the organizations try to reach the audiences together, or will they complement each other (for example, the library serving internal audiences and the press serving external markets)?
  • What resources, skill sets, and competencies does each organization bring to the partnership, and how do the resources and competencies of the organizations complement each other?
  • What specific benefits, both quantifiable and qualitative, will each partner enjoy? For the library these benefits may be measured in terms of mission fulfillment and improved service reach to its constituencies within the host institution. For a press, they may be measured primarily in terms of financial return or cost efficiencies, albeit evaluated in the context of the press’s mission.
  • Are the expected benefits balanced between the partners? For individual projects, a temporary resource and/or benefit imbalance may not prove a problem. However, if the entire collaboration is unbalanced, the commitment of the less engaged partner might not be adequate to sustain the partnership.

Again, as the sustainability of the collaboration will ultimately rest on the value that it creates for each partner and (in many cases) for the host institution, it is important that each participating unit explicitly articulates—for itself and for its partners—the strategic objectives and benefits it expects to receive.

5.4.3 The Importance of Strategy

Publishing partnerships often frame their objectives in broad mission statements. To appreciate the importance of developing an explicit strategy for a publishing partnership, it is important to understand the difference between a publishing partnership’s strategy and its mission.

Many campus-based publishing initiatives see themselves as pilot projects contributing to a broader exploration of innovative digital publishing channels and new business models. For example, the University of Michigan’s digitalculturebooks has stated a goal to “develop a model for press/library collaboration at Michigan and elsewhere” and to “encourage and participate in a national dialogue about the future of scholarly communication.”[59] Similarly, the Romance Studies initiatiative at Penn State states its intention to address critical problems facing scholarly communication in the humanities and to: “1) Publish scholarship of the highest quality. 2) Support academic fields that have limited publication outlets. 3) Experiment with business and access models that will provide sustainable support for scholarly monograph publishing and increase engagement with research publications.”[60] Such statements serve an important role in communicating the purpose and importance of the initiatives to other stakeholders, including faculty and university administrators, and their credibility lies in their capturing the scope and significance of the problem the partnership seeks to address.

At the same time, a publishing partnership needs to translate its broad mission into a specific, quantifiable operating strategy. Strategy describes what the partnership is actually going to do to achieve the vision captured in its mission statement, and it must be detailed enough to allow the partners to monitor and assess its performance and impact.[61]

Strategy is also about economic viability. A campus-based publishing initiative will often compete for funding and resources both within its host institution, as well as with other publishing channels in the broader market. Strategy translates the partnership’s mission into a coherent, actionable plan to sustain the partnership financially. By describing how the services it intends to offer will address the needs of an identifiable audience, and by identifying who will be willing to pay for the services—whether a host institution via subsidies, or users through fees—the strategy maps how the partnership will compete for the resources it requires to sustain itself and realize its mission.

5.4.4 Elements of Strategy

In defining its strategy, a publishing partnership needs to address three principal elements:[62]

  • The scope of the partnership’s activities and its intended impact: this includes the range of services that the partnership will offer, the constituencies it intends to serve, and the types of activities it will undertake.
  • The unique value that the partnership will deliver to its clients and markets relative to available alternatives: this unique value proposition, or competitive advantage, is the partnership’s raison d'être. While a partnership’s scope defines the services it intends to provide and the audiences or markets it intends to serve, it does not explain why those markets will prefer the partnership’s publishing services over those provided by other organizations—both nonprofit and commercial. The partnership must be able to deliver a service that appeals to an identifiable market, and for which someone is willing to pay, whether through funding subsidies or fees.[63]

For a campus-based publishing collaboration, this unique value will often derive from the partnership being able to translate institutional subsidies into low- or no-fee services that provide a cost advantage relative to competing services. An initiative can justify such institutional subsidies to the extent that it serves the specific needs of the host institution’s research and teaching objectives.

A campus-based publishing partnership can also differentiate itself from alternative services by positioning itself to its target audiences, especially within its host institution, as a preferred and trusted provider. Although it will seldom be a sufficient competitive advantage in itself, campus-based publishing collaborations need to develop and exploit this positional advantage.

  • The interrelated set of activities that the partnership will undertake to create and sustain a publishing program that serves its markets or constituencies (including university administrators) better than available alternatives. Strategy thus provides a coherent framework for guiding the partnership’s routine activities and for allocating resources across activities.

For the strategy to guide successfully all the collective effort and decisions of the partnership, it must be clear, well understood, and accepted by all the partners. A well-communicated strategy will allow all of the participants to make informed decisions about staff and other resource allocations in the context of the partnership’s overall objectives.[64]

5.5 Practical Financial Issues

As discussed in Section 4, funding for a campus-based publishing collaboration might include subsidies, earned revenue, or both. Earned revenue will sometimes allow a collaboration to expand its activities, and achieve greater success fulfilling its mission, than might be possible were the partnership operating under subsidies alone.  Such an approach requires a careful balance between the partnership’s mission objectives and its need for funds to fulfill that mission. In assessing whether to include earned revenue as part of its income mix, a partnership needs to determine whether charging fees might compromise the collaboration’s mission objectives by excluding some of the target beneficiaries for the services or otherwise undermining its mission.[65]

5.5.1 Parallel & Integrated Business Models

Whether funded by earned income, subsidies, or a combination of the two, there are several ways in which a partnership might handle multiple income streams. Existing collaborations implement their business models in two principal ways: in parallel, with each partner operating under its own funding model, or integrated, with both partners participating in a unified model.

At this relatively early stage in the development of library-press collaborations, the library and the press often implement parallel business models. In a parallel approach, the partners in a collaboration each operate under their own funding model—with the library subsidizing its participation and the press applying a revenue-generating market model. This approach allows each partner to evaluate its participation in the partnership using the same financial approach with which it manages its other activities.

Most of the existing library-press collaborations that include an earned revenue element operate under such a parallel arrangement, and it is probably the easiest approach for a collaboration to adopt. The prevalence of collaborative projects using parallel funding models suggests that such an approach has not been a practical barrier for narrowly-defined, one-off projects. As long as each partner is satisfied with a project’s mission value relative to cost—as perceived independently by each organization—the project can be justified.

However, the approach imposes some limitations. As each partner operates independently of the other financially, the overall value of a collaboration project—blending mission value and financial return—might be difficult to determine. Further, without a shared return metric, it may prove difficult for a partnership to assess the relative merits of projects when selecting from among multiple possibilities. As each partner may well apply disparate criteria in evaluating the potential appeal of projects, it could be difficult to reconcile these in a unified decision process.

In an integrated or unified approach, the partners in the collaboration share ownership of the resulting product or service. The motivation of each organization need be no different than under a parallel approach—the press and the library can base their participation in a project on the projected return measured in financial and/or mission-fulfillment terms. However, in an integrated model, both partners share in any financial return, although the distribution of any surplus would not necessarily be equal. The disposition of any surplus might also vary by partner: the library might reinvest its share of any surplus income to the collaboration, while the press might apply any surplus (after covering overhead) to its operating budget. (For an example of an integrated model, see the LEME case study in Section 6.)

5.5.2 Establishing Financial Objectives

Presses already make publishing decisions that balance mission attainment and financial considerations, and they must achieve a similar balance for collaborative projects. In section 3, we explore how presses might evaluate the strategic mission value of a collaborative project. Below we discuss how a press might articulate its financial requirements, to the library and to other partners, assuming that a proposed collaborative project is of equal mission value as current press activities.

Working on a standing budget, a library does not need to generate income to cover its overhead costs or to provide a cushion against operating shortfalls. Although the library’s allocation of resources to a partnership will be trading off the potential benefits of other activities for those of the partnership, such trade-offs will be justified as long as the collaboration’s benefits contribute to the library achieving its mission to an extent equal to, or greater than, those of the forgone activities.

For university presses, however, the investment decision and cost allocation will typically be more complicated. Presses are funded primarily by earned income, with surplus-generating activities cross-subsidizing others that incur a loss. However, in the aggregate, the press will be engaged in projects that generate revenue sufficient to cover direct costs and contribute to covering the press’s indirect (overhead) expenses. Whether funded by a subsidy or earned revenue, the same constraint will apply to a partnership with the library. As its institutional subsidy is effectively fixed,[66] the press will need to generate a financial return sufficient to cover the direct and indirect costs associated with the new collaborative activity.

For a collaboration project to be as attractive to a press as an alternative activity of equivalent mission value, it will need to contribute as much financially, on average, as other press projects. This will be the case whether the collaboration project is funded via subsidy or earned revenue. This additional financial hurdle for the press can be represented as its opportunity cost; that is, the cost to the press of forgoing an alternative investment.

Although opportunity costs are not represented in financial statements, they can help quantify and communicate a press’s financial hurdle to its partners. As library-press collaborations will often be staff intensive, a press might define its per-FTE opportunity cost as the average net surplus per staff member. The surplus would be determined after taking into account all earned revenues and subsidies that the press receives. A press can determine its average per-FTE opportunity cost by dividing its net surplus by the number of relevant press employees. Table 5-2 illustrates such a simple opportunity cost calculation. 


Table 5-2: Example Opportunity Cost Calculation


Again, this approach assumes that the press’s current publishing activities reflect an appropriate balance of mission fulfillment and financial return, and that this balance will be the same for the collaborative activity. Further, the value of this approach lies largely in its utility for communicating a press’s financial requirements to its partners. For its own internal purposes, a press’s financial accounting and portfolio management will be far more sophisticated than the simple opportunity cost model described above.

A simple average opportunity cost per FTE may be sufficient if a collaboration project requires participation from multiple press staff resources, including management, administration, editorial, and production staff.  If a consortium project requires the commitment of specific types of staff resources, the press might refine its opportunity cost calculation by determining the average surplus for a particular type of staff position. In practical terms, this may only prove practicable for press operations that maintain separate financial accounting for discrete press activities (for example, book publishing and journal publishing). Where feasible, however, this approach can provide a more accurate estimate of the press’s opportunity costs.


Table 5-3 illustrates how this approach might work for a press with separate book and journal publishing operations.

In the above example, committing a staff member engaged in journal publishing to a collaborative project would represent a higher opportunity cost hurdle than would a staff member dedicated to book publishing. In the latter case, assuming that the book program runs on a breakeven basis, such press staff could participate in a collaborative project—without weakening the press’s financial position—as long as a project’s return to the press is greater than zero (that is, the project at least breaks even). Committing journal staff to a project would incur a higher opportunity cost, and require a higher net return to the press.

The effectiveness of such an approach depends on the quality of the financial data available. The more accurate a press’s cost allocations and financial tracking by activity, the more meaningful will be the opportunity cost calculations.

5.5.3 Financial Targets

If the collaboration’s financial model includes earned revenue, it will need to generate a modest operating surplus in order to sustain itself. This will be true even if the partnership intends to operate on a cost-recovery basis. In practice, on a year-to-year basis, a cost recovery approach will translate into a deficit (requiring a subsidy) in years when the operation experiences a shortfall, or a positive return when it generates a surplus.

If the collaboration’s host institution commits explicitly to making up any operating deficit, then the collaboration may not need to include an operating margin in its financial projections. Lacking such a commitment, however, the collaboration will need to build a modest operating margin into its financial projections to ensure that it has adequate funding in the event of a shortfall.[67]

5.6 Measuring Performance & Demonstrating Value

5.6.1 Allocating Resources & Tracking Costs

A partnership will achieve its goals by allocating resources effectively to implement its strategy. Invariably, a partnership will need to make choices about how best to allocate its resources across a set of competing priorities. Without a detailed and accurate understanding of its costs, the collaboration will have no empirical basis for making these critical resource allocation decisions. Therefore, it is important to capture true and full cost data to support the partnership’s allocation of resources to the programs and services that have the greatest impact on achieving its mission.

As staff costs will often represent a partnership’s largest expense category, they must be tracked by program and activity to allow an accurate understanding of its costs. Tracking staff time, and other direct and allocated indirect costs, may represent a cultural change for the partners in a campus-based collaboration, but it is essential to ensuring an effective allocation of resources.[68] An accurate understanding of its costs allows a partnership to:

  • Determine which of its programs generate a surplus and which require a subsidy—This will drive informed decisions about whether the collaboration is allocating resources effectively to advance its mission and achieve its objectives.
  • Justify a subsidy from its host institution—In the competition for institutional subsidies, a compelling case for subvention will include a detailed documentation of the collaboration’s costs and cost per outcome. Detailed cost data should give the collaboration an advantage over other programs lacking such documentation.
  • Establish appropriate cost recovery fees—A partnership that seeks to generate earned revenue to support its mission can use cost data to set service fees that adequately cover its costs.

While allocating overhead costs is not an exact science, carefully considered allocations allow a meaningful comparison of individual projects and allow a partnership’s managers to assess how the allocation of resources supports the initiative’s mission objectives.

5.6.2 Project Portfolio Management

Given limited resources, a partnership will need to evaluate the relative appeal, including the financial cost and the strategic centrality, of competing collaborative projects.  If earned revenue is part of its funding model, a partnership might apply a net present value (NPV) approach to assess the relative financial attractiveness of projects.[69] Assuming the mission value of the projects to be roughly equal, a partnership would invest in the revenue-generating projects with the highest NPV. Again, as long as alternative projects are equally relevant to achieving the partnership’s mission, determining a project’s NPV (or a similar financial measure of return) provides a sound basis for selecting between alternative revenue-generating projects.[70]

The collaboration can chart its portfolio of programs and services on a simple matrix that reflects the extent to which each program contributes to the collaboration’s mission and financial objectives.[71]

5.6.3 The Importance of Demonstrating Value

Unlike for-profit enterprises, for which operating income and margin are the principal indicators of value, the value of a campus-based publishing collaboration—as well as the funding sources combining to sustain it—will be multidimensional. A partnership may offer products or services that deliver:

  • Local value, which justifies a local subsidy—

Delivering value to the host institution allows a partnership to justify a local subsidy. Demonstrating value on a local level requires a partnership to respond to the strategic priorities, operating expectations, and performance criteria established by the host institution.

A campus-based publishing partnership may adopt the social valuation techniques used by libraries, cultural heritage institutions, and other nonprofit organizations to calculate and communicate their value and productivity in quantifiable terms.[72]  Appendix B provides an overview of valuation approaches that can be applied to initiatives for which the local value of the investment are not adequately reflected in a straight financial analysis of income and expenditures. 

  • Social value, which may generate a non-local subsidy—

In addition to the value a partnership might create for the host institution—in terms of mission fulfillment, reduced costs, and institutionally-focused publishing services—it may also generate benefits for other academic institutions and for society. However, such value will seldom be precisely quantifiable, and—unless the value can be demonstrated to a funding agency that supports the creation of a broader social good—will not typically provide an important element for the partnership’s economic basis.

  • Market value, which captures revenue from market activities—

In instances where a publishing partnership delivers products or services to markets able and willing to pay for them, those activities may generate revenue to help sustain the partnership. Determining value in a market context is relatively straightforward: for practical purposes, the revenue a service generates will reflect the service’s perceived value in the market.

Campus-based publishing partnerships must develop metrics for demonstrating and communicating the blend of economic and social value that they create. Even when this value is not precisely quantifiable in financial terms, establishing explicit, measurable objectives will provide an important basis for demonstrating the partnership’s mission value to the host institution and for providing for the initiative’s operational stability. 

5.6.4 Developing Metrics

Various stakeholders pursue various types of returns, and it is important to understand how local and external funding sources define the types and forms of returns they seek. The point is not to monetize every activity and benefit: the goal is to describe explicitly how an initiative aligns with the priorities of the host institution and to demonstrate its value relative to the investment required to support it.[73]

There is no single method for creating a set of metrics against which to assess the performance of the intangible, non-financial components of a partnership’s local or social value proposition. In the absence of an established approach, a partnership must ensure that its performance indicators are accepted as legitimate and meaningful to the stakeholders funding the initiative.

While the value of a publishing initiative may be self-evident to its sponsors, a partnership cannot assume that its value is equally apparent to the markets or institutions that it expects to fund its operations. Systematically identifying the benefits and intended beneficiaries of a publishing partnership’s activities provides a logical basis for demonstrating the value of the activities.

At the very least, a partnership will need to determine the potential size of the audience(s) for its products or services. This information is critical whether the service delivers local value to the host institution, generalized social value beyond the institution, market value, or some combination of the three. The greater the understanding of the target audience, the more accurate the adoption rate and usage projections for the service, which underlie the partnership’s justifications for local or social subsidies and/or its revenue projections for its services.

Depending on the type of publishing services provided, a breakdown of the audiences served by a campus-based publishing partnership will often include some or all of the following:

  • Faculty and students, at the host institution and beyond, as researchers;
  • Faculty and students, at the host institution and beyond, as authors;

  • The host institution, or a sponsoring academic or research unit (including schools, departments, research centers, labs, museums, etc.);
  • Proxies for individual faculty and students, including academic departments, research centers, and libraries; and
  • Proxies for research areas and disciplines, including scholarly and scientific societies, academic institutions (typically via their libraries), government granting agencies, and philanthropic foundations.

Tables 5-4 and 5-5 provide generalized examples of how benefits, beneficiaries, and value indicators and metrics might be mapped for a new publishing channel and for an online research or reference service, respectively.

The benefits delivered by a publishing initiative will often include some or all of the following:

  • Providing access to a new or expanded channel for publishing research;
  • Lowering the cost of access to research and/or increasing the reach of the research;
  • Increasing the visibility, and enhancing the reputation, of faculty, their host institutions, and sponsoring academic units;
  • Creating and maintaining an institutional environment that helps the university attract and retain high-quality faculty and students;
  • Strengthening programs in specified fields and disciplines at the host institution;
  • Supporting interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research at the host institution;


  • Supporting the publication component of the research cycle;
  • Reaching out to the local community in which the host institution operates, including support for state-wide programs and initiatives; and
  • Creating and leveraging operating efficiencies between institutional units and programs.

As some of the indicators in the exhibits suggest, the performance or value metrics required will often affect the design and implementation of the monitoring system; or, less happily, the inherent limitations of the monitoring data will sometimes affect the utility of the indicator. For example, to demonstrate local usage by the host institution’s community requires Web usage data that identifies local users. A high volume of use by undifferentiated outside users may reflect the broader social value delivered by the service, and may appeal to non-local funding sources willing to subsidize such access, but will often carry less weight in justifying a local subsidy for the service.

5.6.6 Host Institution Reputation-building

College and university administrators recognize that an institution’s long-term image and core mission represent its most critical and valuable intangible asset, and over the past decade, higher-education institutions have embraced the fundamental principles of brand management to differentiate and position themselves relative to comparable institutions.[74] As a result, contributing to an institution’s reputation-management efforts can deliver a powerful benefit to a partnership’s host.[75]

In this context, linking the activities and benefits of a publishing partnership to the strategic goals of the host institution will strengthen a partnership’s justification for a local subsidy. This will be the case even when it is impossible or impracticable to develop precise financial metrics that demonstrate the initiative’s value.

Reviewing the host institution’s strategic plan will provide insight into the specific areas of emphasis at a particular institution. Some institutions have developed positioning statements designed to coordinate the institution’s marketing communications. Such a positioning statement describes the attributes that are unique to the institution within its competitive set. Tying the benefits that a publishing initiative delivers to the institution’s position statement or strategy can help highlight its alignment with the goals of the host institution.

Establishing performance metrics will provide a basis for seeking capital and other resources from the institution to support the collaboration, both for initial development and for ongoing institutional support. Without appropriate metrics capable of calculating the value created, the contribution of a campus-based publishing partnership will be undocumented and significantly undervalued, both within its host institutions and throughout the academy overall.[76]

5.7 Partnership Structures, Governance & Management

Some collaborations will succeed without the participants defining a formal partnership arrangement. In other cases, a more formal structure may be required to achieve the partnership goals and attract sufficient institutional resources.

Libraries, presses, and other university units already work together in a variety of ways, ranging from informal projects to more formally structured programs. Not surprisingly, given the experimental intent and project-specific orientation of many current university publishing initiatives, informal working alliances appear to be prevalent. As the objectives and scope of collaborations become more ambitious—requiring a significant commitment of resources and entailing greater risk—partnering organizations may elect to define explicit, even formal, operating agreements.

To provide a framework for this evolution, it will be useful to explore various types of partnerships, alliances, joint ventures, and collaborations. Identifying various partnership structures, and describing their characteristics, will provide libraries, presses, and other university departments perspective on how they might construct a practical working relationship and how that relationship might evolve. The way in which partnering organizations frame their relationship is not trivial, as a partnership’s purpose will define its structure and its structure will affect the behavior of the partnership’s participants.[77]

It requires time and effort to establish a governance and management structure that enforces a shared strategy, coordinates the partners’ participation, and broadens the basis of partner decision-making beyond the concerns specific to each organization acting independently. In the long-term, however, an integrated governance structure may well allow an alliance to operate more efficiently and effectively than a more loosely organized approach.

Without a governance structure that integrates the decision-making of each partner, every decision about project selection, resource commitment, and other program directions must be reached through an independent evaluation by each partner, based on each partner’s prevailing priorities. Although a partnership can operate in this way, such an approach will frequently require more time, negotiation, patience, and luck to succeed than a shared governance model that explicitly implements a shared strategy.

5.7.1 Partnership Typology

Existing working relationships for campus-based publishing partnerships represent a broad continuum of activities and practices that defy neat categorization. However, for convenience, we can identify several broad types of interorganizational approaches that could apply to such working relationships. These organizational structures can support partnerships formed between units at a single institution, as well as partnerships between groups at different institutions.

  • Information Exchange and Communication—

Many university libraries and presses have long-standing, collegial relationships that promote communication and information sharing between the organizations. About 11% of presses now report to the library,[78] and at other institutions, the library director sits on the press’s board and/or the press director participates on a library advisory committee.[79]

These communication channels are important in their own right, and often spark more formal and intensive working relationships between the library and the press. However, as they are ubiquitous and amorphous—and represent management communications between organizational peers, rather than the creation of discrete products or services—we have not described such relationships in detail here.

  • Informal Alliances—

Many of the existing cooperative initiatives are informal, undocumented understandings between the library and press directors. As long as collaborative activities are opportunistic—with modest objectives and requiring little investment and risk—ad hoc organizational arrangements will often prove sufficient. Often, these alliances operate on a project-by-project basis; sometimes with an overarching strategic objective unifying the individual projects, sometimes without.

Such alliances often arise organically and—as they require low levels of resources and raise modest return expectations—entail little initial organizational effort. Although the approach will not typically suffice for long-term or high-resource projects, it can be expedient and well-suited to exploratory projects. Even such an informal alliance, however, needs to identify explicit objectives, and monitor its progress against them, in order to demonstrate the value of the alliance’s activity and secure subsequent funding for larger scale initiatives.

  • Joint Ventures

Joint ventures typically represent cooperative activity between organizations for a particular project or, more broadly, for a particular purpose. As such, they can include temporary partnerships convened for a specific project, or permanent partnerships intended to serve a long-term strategic objective.

All joint ventures are partnerships that involve shared decision-making, joint responsibility, and co-ownership. However, in practice, there are several varieties, and recognizing the differences will help organizations structure a partnership that best suits their specific needs.[80]

Asymmetrical (Dominant Partner) Joint Venture—

Although joint ventures involve shared management and decision-making, one of the participating organizations may play a dominant role, including taking the lead in organizing the partnership and contributing the majority of the resources.

Symmetrical (Shared Management) Joint Venture

In a shared management arrangement, both organizations participate equally in the management of the joint venture. The resources contributed by each organization—in terms of capital and functional staff expertise—may not always be equal. However, over time or across projects, the investment and commitment of each organization will typically average out, and both organizations will share in the return from the venture.

Figure 5-1 provides a graphical depiction of the structures of dominant partner and shared management joint ventures. (The figure depicts ventures with two partners; however, the structures can accommodate three or more partners.)

As Figure 5-1 suggests, an asymmetrical joint venture, where the venture’s manager reports to one of the partners, can be accommodated within existing organizational structures and, as a result, will typically require less effort to establish. A shared management structure may require a fuller definition of the partnership’s governance.


Independent Management Structure

Conceivably, a joint venture could evolve so that its management acts independently of the parent organizations. Although a new partnership might be set up as an independent operation from the outset, it would be more likely to result from a joint venture evolving to the point that it begins to function as an independent entity.


The types of partnerships above are neither entirely discrete nor mutually exclusive; in reality, the characteristics ascribed to each partnership type exist in a continuum. For a variety of strategic or practical reasons, a campus-based publishing alliance might integrate elements from various partnership types into a hybrid structure that crosses the simplified types described above. To assist partners in identifying an appropriate organizational structure, Table 5-6 maps key alliance characteristics to major partnership types.

Table 5-6: Partnership Continuum & Partnership Characteristics by Type


Understanding the multifaceted nature of partnership structures allows organizations to develop their own alliance systematically.  A collaboration might progress through the various types of alliances serially, with the relationship evolving over time. Alternatively, organizations might develop a more formal or integrated collaboration from the outset.

5.7.2 Alliance Networks

Publishing alliances are not limited to partnerships between units at a single institution. As there are approximately 2,500 four-year colleges and universities in North America, and only about one hundred university presses, there may well be demand for cross-institutional partnerships.[81] Even at an institution that has its own press, a partnership with a press at another institution may sometimes provide a better strategic fit (see the Euclid case study in Section 6).

Further, publishing partnerships, at and between institutions, may coalesce to form a multi-institutional network of alliances across institutions.[82] There are several reasons why an alliance network might emerge from campus-based publishing partnerships:

  • The sheer numerical imbalance between presses and universities, mentioned above, may lend itself to the creation of multi-institution publishing alliances. Institutions of varying types and sizes may come together to share resources and combine complementary competencies. As discussed in Section 3, because presses, libraries, and other university units serve similar audiences and strategic objectives, partnerships can allow specialists in libraries and in presses to cooperate and exploit new opportunities faster than each trying to acquire the skills and expertise of the other. An alliance network can expand the power of collaborations by utilizing expertise across multiple institutions.
  • Many of the fundamental issues of scholarly and scientific publishing require transinstitutional solutions. Publication plays a critical role in tenure and promotion decisions, which operate at both a local and a national level. For most university presses, local authors only represent about 15% of their new title lists, and North American university presses already comprise an informal network serving an overarching need of the academy as a whole in terms of publishing scholarship and vetting scholars. A multiple-institution solution may prove critical to establishing the credibility of new publishing programs, as well as the legitimacy of emerging digital research publication genres.
  • Campus-based publishing partnerships may join forces to gain scale economies not available at a single institution. Digital publishing platforms, and the importance of network effects for converging technical standards, will lend themselves to alliance networks.[83]
  • Alliance networks can also deliver scale benefits in terms of market visibility and awareness. As already noted, the scholarly legitimacy of some types of new publishing partnerships will depend, in part, on their not being perceived as an exclusively local solution.

Morphologically, alliance networks may follow a path similar to that for institution-level partnerships, building on existing relationships and increasing in formal structure as the alliance evolves and the potential benefits of participation attract new members. The governance of an alliance network could consist of a governing body composed of representatives from participating organizations, or it might function without joint management, maintaining a relationship with a lead organization.[84]

5.7.3 Documenting the Partnership

The partnership structures described above represent a continuum of possible arrangements. The degree of formality with which a partnership is established will depend, in part, on whether the partners are units of the same or separate institutions. For partnerships within an institution, the extent to which the working relationship is documented may depend on the resource commitment required, the institutional reporting structure of the participants, and the quality of any existing working relationship between the units.

Documentation of a relationship might include a charter or memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the partnering organizations that defines specific responsibilities, duties, and resource contributions, a management and financial framework, and terms for resolving differences and dissolving the partnership.[85] For units within an institution, although some of the partnership’s documentation may assume quasi-legal form, the purpose is not to establish a legal contract between the parties. Rather, documenting the partnership’s objectives, structure, and operating terms serves practical operating requirements: it establishes explicit criteria against which partnership decisions can be evaluated, and it communicates the partnership’s objectives to the university administration, faculty, and other stakeholders. For partnerships across institutions, the documentation may assume the form of a legal contract, depending on the requirements of each institution.

At the same time, while a solid MOU will help get the venture launched, it is not the key to long-term success, as the nature of the partnership will inevitably evolve over time. The challenge in establishing a partnership is to ensure flexibility, maintain an appropriate balance of contributed resources, and provide clear leadership that remains focused on the partnership’s key strategic objectives. Given the need for flexibility, partnering organizations may want to construct an MOU that accommodates the possibility that the balance of contribution and control may shift toward one partner.[86]

5.8 Evaluating Staff/Organizational Readiness

As the above sections discuss, successful publishing partnerships require understanding and integration at various levels, including:

  • Strategic alignment—which ensures that the leaders of all the partnering organizations share an understanding of the strategic objectives of the alliance and that they effectively communicate the role the alliance plays within their own organizations; and
  • Operational coordination—which ensures that the staff assigned to implement partnership projects have timely access to the information, resources, and decision-making they require to accomplish their tasks.

Obviously, to achieve this level of coordination, the staffs of different organizations must be able to work together effectively.[87] Initially, only a few staff members from each organization may be committed to a partnership, with few or no staff dedicated full-time.[88] Unless the partnership establishes a strong cross-matrix staffing structure, staff member performance will be based on their primary responsibilities, which can lead to their neglecting duties relating to the partnership.[89]

Organizations that intend to establish a long-term strategic partnership, rather than pursue a series of one-off projects, may need to dedicate staff resources to the partnership. The staff commitment required from each partner to sustain the partnership will increase with the scope, scale, operational complexity, and strategic importance of the collaboration.

Frequent and candid communication to and between partnering staff is essential. It is critical that staff, advisory boards, and other internal constituencies understand the context for the organization’s participation in the partnership, as well as its objectives. The partnership’s objectives themselves should be stated in terms of specific expected outcomes, not broad mission objectives. Ambiguity in articulating the partnership’s objectives will lead to staff confusion, ineffectiveness, and frustration. Communicating the strategy to the collaborating team members and other contributors will help ensure that the activities undertaken and the operating choices made align with and support the partnership’s strategy. 

The professional and interpersonal relationships between the staff charged with launching and managing the partnership also provide a critical foundation for operating the alliance successfully and for constructive collaboration. Sections 3 and 4 of this guide are intended to increase the appreciation of each type of organization for the operating realities of the other. Resorting to stereotypes to explain behavior—libraries always do this; presses always do that—undermines the incentive of staff to resolve differences through constructive engagement.[90]  The potential of a collaboration will not be realized until the staff implementing the partnership establish respect and trust. Strong interpersonal relationships will increase the willingness of staff to share information and resolve conflicts.  

5.9 Project Development & Management

A publishing partnership that intends to create and support multiple online research or reference resources will benefit from implementing a formal project development and management process. Such a process will help the partnership identify and prioritize appropriate projects, allocate adequate development resources, create services that address the needs of their intended audiences, and maintain these services on an ongoing basis.

By implementing a systematic and explicit project development process, a partnership can:

  • Ensure that its service development efforts are consistent with the partnership’s mission and strategic objectives;
  • Respond to user needs and satisfy market demand by matching service benefits to user requirements;
  • Create a balanced portfolio of services; and
  • Engage all the partners in a coherent, unified project development effort.

Together, the steps of a phased product development process help a partnership apply its resources appropriately, shorten project development cycle times, and reduce the total life cycle costs of projects.[91]