From the press release announcing a three-year, $850,000 grant to MIT Press from Arcadia:

Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press and principal investigator for the grant, sees it as an opportunity to explore alternatives to the traditional market-based business model for professional and scholarly monographs. “Until the mid-1990s, most U.S. university presses could count on sales of 1,300–1,700 units, but today monograph sales are typically in the range of 300–500 units,” says Brand “Many presses make up this difference with internal subsidies or subventions from institutional or philanthropic sources, but this is not sustainable and oftenfunde unpredictable. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, this generous award from Arcadia will allow us to develop and test a flexible OA sustainability model that can then be adapted to the needs of our peers.”

The sheer scale of the sales drop-off is startling.

MIT Press, with its PubPub parternship and long OA track record, is the right place to experiment. There are other like-minded projects in the works: the ARL’s Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem, the Mellon-supported Sustainable History Monograph Pilot, and the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs, funded by Research England.

The two key issues are cost and author access. The scholarly monograph can’t survive the current $30 to $50 thousand per title spending (the estimate range from a 2016 Ithaka S+R study). Nor can university presses adopt the ruinous APC practice from the OA journal article economy—$15,000, to take the UC Press example, is an egregious nonstarter, excluding all the world’s scholars beyond a handful of wealthy Western institutions.