The business model of meson press. Last updated April 2021.
“We are not so much into competition or making profit... It's about publishing good books and giving authors good opportunities to publish.” (A. Kirchner, personal communication, 17.02.2021)
meson press is a small scholar-led press. It was established in 2015. It works as a cooperative with three founding members: Mercedes Bunz, Marcus Burkhardt and Andreas Kirchner. The press publishes open access books in the area of media studies, philosophy of technology, and digital cultures. It does not publish journals. In 2018 meson press was a founding member of the ScholarLed initiative, which brings together OA scholar-led presses.
Number/ type of OA books published per year: meson press publishes monographs, multi-authored monographs, and edited volumes (some of them based on conferences). They also experiment with so-called “growing publications”, in which the text is gradually added. Their output is six to seven books per year.
Fully OA? meson press publishes OA only.
Language of publications: Most of the books are published in English, but some are in German.
Legal status: Since 2015 meson press has held the status of a cooperative.
Personnel: No FTEs. The press is run by the three founding members, each of whom has a full-time job and works on meson press as an additional project. Copyediting and proofreading is outsourced.
Licences used: Creative Commons CC-BY-SA, exceptions permitted.
Formats offered: PDF, Print on Demand. Some exceptions, where books are also made available as EPUBs or HTML.
Hosting platform: Books are hosted on meson press’s own website, which is a WordPress site.
The idea for the creation of the press sprung from the Hybrid Publishing Lab, at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. The three founding members of meson press had worked there together and were looking for ways of establishing a scholar-led OA press that would publish books pushing the boundaries of media studies and advancing “key debates in the humanities today” (About, n.d.). They were looking for a set-up that would depart from the for-profit oriented publishing options and whose governance structure would be based on democratically made decisions.
meson press is organized as a cooperative, therefore its governance structure is very democratic. Each member of the cooperative is entitled to one vote of equal importance, regardless of their financial input. The cooperative is open to new members and so-called “silent members”, however, so far it consists of the three founding members only.
Authors can submit their proposals to meson press via email by filling out a publishing proposal form. The three founding members of the press do sometimes actively seek authors or act as editors for edited volumes. In the first years of the press’s existence acquisition relied mainly on the academic networks of the three founding members.
Copyediting and proofreading is often outsourced, whereas typesetting happens in-house. meson press offers a Print on Demand option with all their books. Printing is outsourced to Ingram and Books on Demand. For some books an initial, small print run is produced with several partnering small printers in Poland or Germany and, in some cases, with the POD partners. Shorter books (about 70 pages long) also often have an initial print run produced by companies in Germany. These books are then offered for free at conferences.
For digital editions meson press also has its own repository, run on Omeka software. They work closely with a number of repositories: media/rep/ (German repository for media studies) and SSOR (Social Sciences Open Repository, based in Germany at GESIS). Their books are included in the German National Library, OAPEN and DOAB.
Print copy distribution is done by the POD services (Ingram and BoD).
Marketing is done in-house, using social media and mailing lists. In some cases meson press organizes book launches in bookstores that they have a good relationship with. Books are also presented at conferences. However, marketing is not done systematically, due to the lack of time, and it is the area of the publishing process that meson press would like to look into more.
Preservation is ensured by depositing PDFs in the above-mentioned repositories.
Meson press uses Book Processing Charges, keeping them very low. The amounts vary, depending on the book length and services provided, but usually fall in between 1,500–5,000 EUR per book. Within the German publishing tradition, where authors are accustomed to pay for the publication of their books, the introduction of BPCs proved to be relatively easy.
Total annual revenue associated with OA books for 2020 falls into the 10,000–100,000 EUR range, being closer to 10,000. The main source of revenue comes from Book Processing Charges (estimated at around 75% of total revenues). The second largest revenue component is print sales.
Copyediting and proofreading – activities which are outsourced – account for the largest component of costs.
The model, relying on low BPCs and print sales, seems to be sustainable in the German context, in the sense that the press is able to break even or make a modest profit at the end of the year. The press, however, relies on the time and commitment of the three founding members, who are not paid for the work they do for the press on a regular basis (unless they are remunerated for proofreading or copyediting), but rather receive a kind of an annual expense allowance from the profits made. While describing the model as sustainable, meson press is also looking into adapting more innovative models like platinum or diamond OA to complement the gold OA option.
Human resources and time are the most challenging areas for meson press. With no full-time employees, the press depends on the voluntary work of its founding members.
The small scale of the operation also makes it difficult to change the business model towards one with a more cooperative funding approach, as in that case meson press would not be able to act as an individual press and initiate a dialogue with libraries.
The lack of necessary infrastructure also prevents the press from exploring the cooperative funding models involving libraries, as it would be impossible for the press to handle the financial side of operations, administer billing, etc.