There's a great article from the Inside Higher Ed website about the field of academic publishing, entitled "Change or Die?," by Scott Jaschik.
The article is a summary of presentations and discussion from the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses where the hot topic concerned, naturally, the ability of university presses to survive in the current economic and social environment.
One quote early on is from Beth Jacoby, collection development librarian at York College of Pennsylvania who states, "Students will use heavily anything that can be accessed by a computer," and follows up on the notion of "easy access" by describing the preference of students to not use "online resources that have extensive systems to limit use or that ask for a lot of verification." York College has gotten rid of 85% of its print reference collection.
Another, more "radical," though I think spot-on, observation is from Michael Jensen, director of strategic Web communications for the National Academies Press, which already publishes more than 4,000 books in free, digital form. He believes that, "[S]cholarship must be 'de-linked from print publication,' such that books are 'the exception' and no longer the norm for disseminating new scholarship...book publishing is essential to promote and spread great new intellectual ideas, [but] print distribution hurts the environment...and charging...limits readership."
I think this is true not only for academic publishing but for the publishing industry in general, especially in light of Joshua Kim's article yesterday and in relation to digital publishing. Why do I need to purchase three versions of a book in order to read it on my terms (paper, digital, and audio)? The digital and audio distribution forms are some of the cheapest for the industry, in terms of overhead, yet their pricing competes with print editions, with no sharing options, no resale, and almost no discount channels when the book is no longer a NYT best seller.
Jensen thinks that university presses will need to survive via "value-added" services, such as print-on-demand, and institutional support. The publishing industry at-large should be looking at value-added services as well, instead of charging more for less and taking away end-user rights.
I'm reminded of a start-up service of which I've become quite fond. It is called "Good Old Games" at http://www.gog.com. The premise is that they work with game publishers to make available computer games that are, generally, out of print. The games have all the necessary patches and upgrades applied and are tested and guaranteed to work on contemporary PC systems (XP and Vista compatible). They are sold and distributed completely online with prices ranging from $5.00 ~ $10.00, with weekly specials. What's more, though, is that all the games are sold completely DRM-free, and most come with extras, such as game soundtracks, original artwork, wallpaper files, avatars for other services (IM, Twitter, etc.), and strategy guides. Plus, there is a customer community providing ratings and reviews, too, along with the nostalgia factor. All of THAT is value-added!