In July 2015 Heidelberg University Publishing's (heiUP) first book appeared; meanwhile over 70 publications display the heiUP imprint (see official Press Information). We would like to thank all authors who have accompanied us on this journey. In an interview, publishing director Dr. Veit Probst and managing director Dr. Maria Effinger talk about five years of heiUP, the future of publishing and the epochal change that they are helping to shape with the young publishing house.
Dr. Maria Effinger and Dr. Veit Probst talk past and future of heiUP
"We help to shape epochal change"
Although the online publishing house heiUP is still a young plant within the publishing industry, its acceptance among scientific authors and editors has become almost as solid as an old oak. Reason enough to celebrate the first anniversary and to talk to the publishing director, Dr. Veit Probst, and the managing director, Dr. Maria Effinger, not only about annual rings of growth in publishing, but also about the change of media and the future of publishing.
Five years heiUP: You have managed a successful beginning! Would you like to introduce your publishing house and its profile briefly?
Dr. Probst: We started as a publishing house in July 2015, primarily to make Heidelberg's cutting-edge research visible, without excluding external authors. There are two main assumptions that have guided us ever since: The first being a high standard of quality. In order to achieve this we are supported by a rectorate commission, which acts as an interdisciplinary scientific advisory board. Once a publication has been accepted provisionally by the advisory board, it must be recommended for publication by two external experts. The second rule is the online principle. We always publish online first.
On 23 July 2015 the first book was published by heiUP - the new publishing house was in the world. Which steps were necessary until this first book could be published?
Dr. Effinger: It was a process. We have been in the field of open access publishing for well over ten years. The establishment of heiUP was merely a step to make these efforts visible and to create a particularly high-quality environment for open access publishing. Although our top researchers knew that they were more visible online than in the print world, they did not want an e-publication only as PDF in a conventional library repository. They were looking for the framework of a publishing house with the high quality standards Mr Probst has just described. Our goal was to make it a desirable goal to publish at Heidelberg University Publishing. We achieved this with our range of services, and that stimulated demand even further. Events such as the Corona pandemic naturally mean that people appreciate the fact that knowledge is available online.
Dr. Probst: First of all, we positioned ourselves both technically and organizationally. Moreover, to establish a publishing house at such a renowned university, we needed political support. These were three important strategic steps.
Dr. Effinger: This also included, for example, recruiting colleagues with professional training in the publishing industry!
Dr. Probst: So the third step was and still is the integration of the university policy. We founded the publishing house based on three successful DFG project-funding programmes. In this respect, our preliminary considerations had already been reviewed and approved. Based on these third-party-funded projects, we then proposed to the university management that the publishing house be institutionally attached to the university library. This is a further success factor, because as a library we have a powerful IT department.
Dr. Effinger: We are now anchored in the major scientific hubs of our university. For example, we entered into an early cooperation with the “Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften”, for which we are not only a publisher but also a data infrastructure partner. In the meantime, however, we are also working far beyond university borders. For the Max Weber Foundation, which acts as the umbrella organization for the German historical institutes abroad, we publish publications from the Paris, Moscow and Rome institutes. And this is also useful for our primary Heidelberg authors, because it puts them into an international context.
The very first books did not originate from Heidelberg research
Dr. Probst: That's right. The book with which the publishing house started out was a dissertation by a young scientist from the University of Berne, which was awarded "summa cum laude". An ancient history topic. Our most successful book to date, with over 17,000 downloads, was written by Wolfgang Kemp, one of the most renowned German art historians, who published a comprehensive monograph on the image of Germany by Germans during the Weimar Republic in heiUP.
Was it still difficult after that to convince authors of the golden road to open access?
Dr. Effinger: The steadily growing importance of open access was not in the focus of most scientists and scholars when we began. In order to win authors over to heiUP, we had to create a framework and conditions that were in no way inferior to the service provided by traditional print publishers. Therefore, we offer professional editing, professional typesetting and high-quality print versions. An aesthetically appealing print version secures the success of an online publishing house in this time of media change - as funny as it sounds. Many of our authors in the humanities got involved in open access as soon as they realised that they would receive an attractively designed hardcover volume with thread stitching and ribbons in addition to the online version. They retained the old classic model, but realised that the Heidelberg University Library also stands for the new world, the digital, online visibility.
Dr. Probst: It is an empirical fact that open access leads directly to greater dissemination and acceptance of our Heidelberg research. In 2019, we had more than 400,000 downloads at heiUP alone - and we are not even talking about our other publication platforms, arthistoricum.net for art history, Propylaeum for ancient studies and CrossAsia for Asian studies. If we read out our statistics servers, we see that the publishing products, an ever-increasing number of which are also published in English, are received worldwide. In this respect, the accent on "online first" is the guarantee of future success for the young plant Heidelberg University Publishing.
Will the online publication outdo the print version in the near future?
Dr. Effinger: We have to initiate a change in mindset! The primary is the online publication and the printed edition is a derivative. Authors miss opportunities when they think the other way round. Because a sophisticated PDF layout cannot simply be transferred into an HTML version. Ideally, however, the format for online publishing is HTML. That is where we want to go. For example, we can prepare the research data on which the publications are based online. Supplementary information such as images, videos or further links can then lead to the actual books, keyword: "Enhanced Publication". For example: The reader can jump from the text of the book directly via link to the additional information. Moreover, this is also a matter of making the results available for download in machine-readable form and making them usable for subsequent use. In the sense of a network of publicly accessible networked data, the so-called linked open data, we are working on transferring the data to the world of machines. Our data can then be XML-tagged, that means they are provided with metadata, and merged with other data for further processing. This is our goal.
How can this change of mentality be supported?
Dr. Effinger: The mentality regarding online publishing would change fundamentally if money were only available for open access published results, as is the case with the Swiss National Science Foundation. The DFG, for example, has decided against strict conditions and only made a recommendation. If they were to decide in favour of a "must", publishing activities in Germany would change much more quickly.
Dr. Probst: As a historian, I am naturally aware of the parallel to another historical caesura. This is the transition from the medieval manuscript to the printed book in the 15th century. We are working on an epochal change of a similar calibre as pioneers. In the early days of letterpress printing, the first printers worked very closely along manuscript standards. Bible editions or antique classics were re-coloured by hand, miniatures were added because readers expected the same aesthetics when reading the book as what they were used to from the manuscript. We are at a similar turning point: the change of epoch is in full swing.
Dr. Effinger: In this sense, you could say that we are still imitating the classic book model. But we are helping to shape the way into a new media world.
A much-discussed topic for everyone involved in open access is the question of financing. Anyone who buys a printed book pays the author and the publisher. Anyone who reads open access publications pays nothing. Will scientific and scholarly open access publications continue to be free in the future?
Dr. Probst: That is not true. The classic publishing business model in the humanities has long since only worked in this way: The doctoral or post-doctoral student has to cover the production costs of his or her book with up to five-figure sums. A considerable part of what the book trade then earns on sale remains as profit for the publisher, while the publishing risks are covered by the authors' printing cost subsidies. We are a service institution of the university and not commercially oriented. Of course, we also have a share of the authors' production costs, but this is lower than with traditional publishing houses - incidentally, this cost sharing is lower for Heidelberg scientists than for external authors.
Making knowledge accessible is the core task of libraries. To help with actually publishing this knowledge − this is new. Is this what the university library of the future will look like?
Dr. Effinger: As a library, we used to stand at the beginning of the scientific value chain, namely providing scientists with information for their research. But now we also come into play at the end of the process by helping them with what they need most for their careers, namely the publication and the widest possible dissemination of research results via Open access.
Dr. Probst: Of course, this is also about the future prospects for this library, which was first mentioned in a historical source in 1396. That is well over 600 years. And one thing has been clear to me for many years: If media transformation and user customs continue as they have to date, university libraries that do not, like us, have outstanding historical collections and have not established new services, will struggle to survive. In the future, there will probably still be a central place of learning, a reading area, and centrally managed e-licenses for electronic publications. However, the large printed book collections that have made up the understanding and self-image of libraries will steadily lose importance. Our publication and publishing activities - just like our large digitization center - are further pillars on which we base the future viability of the Heidelberg University Library.
Do you think it would be good if other university libraries would also establish publishing houses according to the heiUP model?
Dr. Probst: We would very much welcome it, because then we could cooperate with others.
Dr. Effinger: Absolutely! Because even if we were to produce many dozens of books a year, we would still not be able to meet the demand by a long way. Our model is completely transparent: We use the open source software of the Public Knowledge Project, we make our publishing workflows available on Github, our technical modules can be reused, from programming the publisher's homepage to the platforms.
Dr. Probst: On the contrary, we are rather surprised why so few of them accompany us on our way, and to put it bluntly: We would much rather see such initiatives being promoted elsewhere.
Finally, a personal question: What was your best moment in the short but intense history of publishing?
Dr. Effinger: For me, it was the Frankfurt Book Fair last year. As a library trainee over twenty years ago, I never thought I would one day stand on the other side of the fence with my own publishing house, programme, publishing brochure and full shelves. When everything was set up in the exhibition hall, I really became aware of the extent of our success.
Dr. Probst: What always gives me a very positive feeling is the team building as such. I am pleased with the organic growth, which I would like to compare to a tree, where with every new addition and with every new task the whole thing becomes more stable. It reminds me of an old, symmetrically grown oak tree. One annual ring around the next and the next. And that's how it should continue: The forms of presentation of scientific publications will multiply, will be enriched by new elements, and we want to continue to shape this process, together with our authors.
Questions by Rahel Bräuer and Karin Seeber